It sounds like a war is happening in town.

1st January 2024

Las Brisas De Amador, Panama

Most famous cities have their own favoured form of transport. Amsterdam is built around the bike, in New York the car reigns supreme and in Venice the only way to get around is by boat*. We were in a big new city and we had to find its primary mode of transport.

Our anchorage in Las Brisas was brimmed with a cycle path on which we watched MAMIL’s* zip along at breakneck speeds on their Carbon TL5000’s which appeared to weigh the same as a feather and cost the same amount as the earth. Seeing this we resolved that Panama City was a city designed for the bike and we thought we would fit right in as we tottered about on our Brompton’s.

Under the funny looks of the military men on the dinghy dock we wheeled our Bromptons onto the smooth cycle paths and the miles slipped under our wheels. We cycled past mausoleums, monuments to multiculturalism, trains with no tracks and a convention centre that was housing no conventions. We decided that Panama city was only second to Amsterdam in its love for the bike so decided to venture further.

The destination we identified for our new adventure was a laundry in the old town. We mapped out our route and sped along the cycleway until it abruptly stopped. We then found ourselves on the edge of a throbbing dual carriageway which led us onto tiny roads surrounded by dilapidated housing, piles of rubbish, gangs of men hanging around and lots and lots of scary stares. This was not the part of Panama we wanted to be in but took amusement in the thought of being mugged for our stinky Laundry. Suddenly cycling was not the ideal form of transport (but we did manage to get our laundry done by bike) and we had to find another way to get around.

The next form of transport was the bus and this was perfect for Ruffian. Tickets were a flat rate of 25cents, they ran from the dinghy dock and could take us to every corner of Panama City. Like wide eyed children we shopped in Panama city picking up engine filters, DIY bit ‘n’ bobs, and exciting chandlery purchases. We even ventured into posh malls where Gucci, Tiffany and Cartier had huge frontages where security guards prowled and shop assistants tottered on scarily unstable heels.

One of the items at the top of our shopping list were Autopilot spares and the bus duly dropped us off a stones throw away from the shop. We wandered care free until suddenly Fiona’s heckles were raised and we started walking 3 sides of a square to our destination. At this point a uniformed employee told us not to continue, not to venture too far down the road and he stood guard making sure we were safe.

With our treasured autopilot spares purchased the small talk began and Luis asked where we had parked. His eyes grew wide as we told him we’d walked and as we departed, with exacting directions, we could almost feel his eyes willing us to safety. The bus was proving to be a great form of transport, but with the bus always comes walking.

The next form of transport to take on was that of boating. After our canal transit Ruffian was not happy and we had to address the plumes of black smoke, the lack of power and low revs our engine was giving us. Taking off the exhaust elbow the problem was clear. Over the last 1000 hours soot had built up and while Iain started chipping it away Fiona started researching.

Iain’s brute force gave way to Fiona’s gentler approach as the elbow was plunged into a bath of where it fizzed and bubbled. The acid bath was as black as night, as were Iain’s hands, and with everything reassembled we gingerly pulled up the anchor and pushed the throttle lever forward. Instead of black smoke wee were greeted by 2700rpm (that’s a lot of revs), 7 knots (that’s a lot of speed) and a bargain eBay bill as we placed an order for a shiny new elbow.

After line handling another transit of the Panama canal to say thank you to Horst and Lady Blue for helping us, New years eve was upon us and it seemed the preferred form of transport was the car. The whole promenade, now devoid of bikes, was filling with cars. They parked on the verges, parked in the cycle lanes and as things became increasingly congested, just the the clock was approaching midnight, they started parking in the middle of the road.

As we heard the first chimes of midnight the whole of Panama City erupted. Fireworks were launched from all along the causeway, across the skyline of Panama City and far into the distance. Some fireworks flew high into the sky while others blasted horizontally through the anchorage, bouncing on the water and skimming past boats. The displays looked equally dangerous in the city as the sounds of explosions echoed off skyscrapers and explosions happened worryingly near plate glass windows and ancient monuments.

After biking, bussing and walking all over Panama and watching the chaos of cars on New Years Eve we’re not sure what the favoured form of transport is in Panama city we are however sure that there is still lots to discover and every form of transport has its very own special challenges.

*Middle Aged Men In Lycra

** the notorious district El Chorrillo!

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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