- Panama: David, Panama City, Portobello -- boat ride to Cartagena, Colombia
- Distance Travelled - Bike: 134 km, Bus: 445 km, Boat: 500+ km
Bikes, Boats, and Buses...
About 8 hours later, we arrived to Panama City. Our first challenge was putting our bikes back together in the chaotic bus station. People stopped in their tracks to check out our bikes and see what we were up to. We also had to resist the initial urge to stair at the Panama "Chicken Buses": old buses with colorful spray paint, chrome, horns, accessories, neon lights, and any other odd addition a bus could have.
The following day, we rode our bikes 114km to the port town of Portobello, thus crossing from the Pacific Coast to the Caribean Coast in a single day. The most difficult part was getting out of Panama City, as road conditions and road signage were not the best. A failed attempt at escaping the city occured along the 'Autopista', which is basically the Panamanian interstate. After 15km or so, we eventually ended up at a police checkpoint where they stopped us, made us turn around, and exit the interstate about 1km back. To add to the confusion and stress, Adam suffered our first flat tire. This couldn't have happened at a worse time, as Cole was at the top of a hill and around a corner, far out of sight from Adam at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, Cole had the tirepump in his possession, and we both spent about 15 minutes sitting and waiting for eachother, unaware of what was going on. Eventually, Cole gave up and biked back down the hill to Adam's rescue, only to grudgingly bike back up minutes later. .
Prior to doing some research for our trip, we were completely unaware that there isn't a road connecting Panama and Colombia. Instead, the Darien Gap, a vast reagion of forests and swampland and one of the most dangerous places in teh world, seperates the two countries. Flying was of course an option for us, but we didn't want to find a box and go through the work of packaging up our bikes. Our only other option was taking a boat to Colombia. Thus, we ended our day of biking in the port town of Portobello, knowing that we would quickly need to find a boat that would cross the Caribbean.
In a race against time (the boat was scheduled to leave that night and we still needed to secure a spot on it), we woke up at 5am and caught a bus into the town that had the ATM. Luckily, we were fortunate enough to experience the Panamanian "Chicken Bus". These are usually old school buses from the United States that have been sent to Central American countries and converted into Public Transportation buses. They get their name from two potential possibilities: 1) people get crammed into them like chickens, and/or 2) people can bring pretty much anything with them onto the bus, supposedly including chickens. The buses are color coded based on their route, which means that we spent the morning waiting for the "bright red" bus. The interiors are usually decked out with graffiti art, colorful lights, shiny decorations, and enormous speakers that bump music even at 5:30 in the morning.
Upon our arrival to the town, the pleasure derived from our interesting bus ride instantly faded--our card didn't work in the ATM... We couldn't get money out. Our other card didn't work either. We tried two other ATMs, and they didn't work either. Disheartened and without cash, we got back on the bus for another hourlong ride back to Portobello.
We contacted the captain immediately and she agreed to let us pay with paypal. Unfortunately, after about an hour of trying to transfer funds, it appeared that our paypal accounts had been blocked (our spontaneous attempts at transfering money abroad may have seemed a little suspicious). One payment was somehow able to go through, but we still needed more money for the other ticket. Out of options, we got back on the Chicken Bus and went to Sabanitas, hopeful that by some miracle, we would find a different ATM and our card would somehow work this time.
One hour later, we were in front of an ATM praying. After a quick kiss to Cole's debit card, he put it in the ATM. Thirty seconds later, a wad of cash came out! Whoa. BACK TO THE CHICKEN BUS! This time the Chicken Bus lived up to its name. It was so full, that Adam and I were last ones on. This meant that both of us had one foot in the bus, one hand hanging on for dear life, and the rest of our body hanging out the door of the bus. We both thought we might die during the one hour bus ride (all the while it started to rain). Nevertheless, we made it back to Portobello alive and with the money.
Taking the bus with bikes:
Getting our bikes on the bus ended up being pretty easy. With a little bit of foresight, we can now say that bus drivers will charge anywhere from $0 (a rarity, but it happened to us once) to about 10-15 bucks per bike. Depending on the bus, you may be asked to take the wheels off. We always detached our rear derailer and bungeed it to the bikes to that it wouldn't be damaged. Also, be sure to ask before buying your ticket the size of the bus. Some buses will be to small to fit anything on it.