Some motorcyclists from Europe pushed forward into a different world. The vacation through Costa Rica and Panama ended up with a lot of adventures and surprises.Note: This tour happened before the American operators of the Panama Canal and the US Army pulled out of Panama at the end of 1998. The canal now is under contract with a Chinese company. Please do your homework and research with diligence. Things may have changed a lot - politically, economically, socially and even environmentally.
It has rained all night long, and the railroad track on the bridge is soaked and slippery. There are two rows of boards lining the bridge to allow cars to pass. After careful scrutiny, we choose the more stable-looking row of boards on the right side. After only a few meters, though, our lane is covered with holes and gaps everywhere. Some of the boards are missing entirely! I try to concentrate while driving at a snail's pace behind Gernot, a police officer from Kiel. Sometimes I have the feeling I'm not driving at all. Instead, I try to keep my balance on the bike by pulling the throttle and stabilizing while applying the rear brake. The thin lining in my Gore-Tex jacket is wet, totally wet, and it seems to stick to my skin like Super Glue. Then, suddenly, it happens: Gernot is losing his front wheel on the wet track. Just now I realize that the right side of the bridge is missing a railing. And 20 meters below is the river. Our quick-witted "Commandante," as we will call Gernot from this moment on, somehow managed to let himself fall to the left - the bike and he are saved. I shudder to think what would have happened if Gernot had lost it totally. In addition, our German tour guide, Jost, tells us that it is not uncommon to find crocs in the rivers over here.
Next morning the "Commandante" is the first of us to sit on his bike again. He is running his engine to warm it up and gives us the signal to take off. He mentally got over his accident of the day before pretty fast. One hundred fifty boring kilometers (94 miles) of Pan-American Highway are waiting for us before we get to the capitol. The bridge Puente de las Americas, the symbol of Panama City, connects North and South America. While driving over it we have a great view to the Bahia de Panama with many yachts and boats to the south and the Panama Canal to the north - important for passenger and cargo shipping. The canal is not only a fast shipping channel, it is also a wildlife and nature reserve with plenty of small dammed lakes.
After a long boat tour with Harald, a real "Viking" from Sweden, Jost and "Commandante" Gernot are blowing their horns for the assault on Fuerte San Lorenzo. A nine-kilometer long (5.6 miles), dusty dirt road is ahead of us. It leads us right to the middle of the Fort Sherman US military base, that serves as a Tropical Jungle Training Center. Finally, we arrive at a plateau high above the mouth of Rio Chagres and the town San Lorenzo, fortified by the Spanish as a defense against pirates and the English fleet of Admiral Sir Francis Drake.
Tough dirt roads are taking us to Lago Bayano farther west. There we take off on a suspicious, shaking canoe toward streams that empty into the lake. Rocking and rolling, the canoe makes its way through reeds to little bays in the middle of rocks and to mysterious caves with tons of bats. Suddenly, a crocodile shows up in the dark water right beside the boat. For our tour guide, Jost, and the skipper it is nothing special, but for the tourists from Germany it's a totally new experience to look right in the mouth of the reptile. A touch of panic adds some movement to the game, and the skipper reminds us to calm down, "Tranquilo, tranquilo!"