Written by Neon
After the Darien Debacle, we eventually made it to Panama; though we paid dearly in time, mental and physical energy, as well as financial cost. Once in Panama – very much shut down on the hope of crossing the Darien – Fidgit and I tried to cut our losses and look on the bright side of things. We took some time off to rest and both came down with chest and head colds. I think it came from running ourselves ragged for months on end.
After recovering from illness, we looked into renting bikes and heading back down to Yaviza to cover what ground we could before flying back to the states for a proper rest (flights were already booked). We were able to find a place that had bikes they’d drop at our hotel. We planned the route simply: road biking from Yaviza to Colon along the roads. The skinny-tired road bikes were dropped off, and we took a night bus to Yaviza- it was terrible to try and sleep though we made it.
After sleeping for a few hours at a hostel in Yaviza, Fidgit and I changed into our bike shorts and were off! The road out of Yaviza is newly paved, so the first day’s challenge was more the oppressive heat and humidity than potholes and cracks. We cycled most of the day, resting a few times to eat and attempt to cool off. Making it to Metiti for the evening, we exhaustedly fell into our beds for the night.
The next day, Fidgit and I moved along slowly through the heat and humidity. Dripping in sweat by lunch, we stopped on the porch of a small shop. We were immediately approached by an intoxicated local, who harangued us for a few minutes before moving on to harassing a nearby dog. Wanting to put my head in their cooler, I grabbed the coldest gatorade I could find and sat gingerly on the bench (saddle sore-ness is real) next to Fidgit as we ate our lunch. Leaving the shaded shop’s bench, it seemed to get hotter as we moved into the afternoon sun. Thankfully, the afternoon rains came in fast and hard about an hour later.
Unfortunately, during that downpour was also the time Fidgit’s rear tire decided to get a pinch flat. We found a covered bus stop and attempted to fix the tire. Double unfortunately, we were unable to fix the flat along the roadside due to lack of usable tools. After hours of trying to fix the tire, and with the sun going down, we limped into the small town of Torti for the night. The next morning, we discussed our options. We could stop, or we could try to fix the flat and continue. Fidgit went to each tire place in town, trying to get a patch or replacement tire or new tube. None of the shops had such narrow tires or patches. At the end of the day, exhausted and beyond frustrated, Fidgit decided to take the bus back to Panama City. I would continue to Colon solo and meet her in a few days.
The next morning, I set off early and alone. Biking along, I had mixed feelings. I felt guilty and sad for continuing without Fidgit, worried about what could happen to myself or my bike, as well as excited to see what ground I could cover along the roadside. I rode along and ended up making it over 60 kilometers before stopping at another roadside grocery store for lunch. After finishing my sandwich, I snacked on salty chips while drinking another ice-cold gatorade before once more getting onto the bike and riding on. I ended up making it to the edge of Panama City before calling it a day- 134 kilometers, according to the GPS. I stood in the cold shower for a while that night, washing off the coat of dirt/sweat/car dust.
Waking the next morning, I was sore from the waist down. I put on my bike shorts knowing it would be a rougher day and also knowing I could likely make it to Colon. Leaving Panama City was scary on a bicycle, dodging potholes with vehicles zooming past. I thought it may ease up as I got further from the city, but it wasn’t until 30 kilometers out that I was able to find a useful side road to follow. I pedaled along, trying to be gentle on my rear end when on the saddle and struggling with the roller-coaster-like hills. Stopping for lunch at an open-air restaurant, I sat (gently) in the seat and nearly stayed there, drinking three sodas and staring longingly at the dark clouds in the distance, trying to will them in my direction. After an hour or so, I stiffly stood up and pedaled on, the two women from the restaurant coming out to watch me head off. The clouds never did find me that day, though I did make it to Colon that evening, just barely. I walked into a hotel, got a room, and laid in bed for a while gathering energy to go find dinner before passing out for the night.
I had the chance to pedal around Colon the next day. It was disappointing, to say the least. At the north end of the Panama Canal, Colon is a port town without much else. Along the Caribbean coast, there was razor wire and fencing around a swath of land labeled on my map as a park. Housing projects and huge shipping warehouses made up the majority of the city, so after a quick cruise around, I headed to the bus station and made my way back to Panama City, rest, and Fidgit.