Sweat and Pain in Western Panama

After some minor mechanical problems near Panama City, I headed west towards Costa Rica. As usual, I did not do Panama justice. I did not see the canal or many of the sites in Panama City, I did not see Bocas del Toro, etc. But as I described in my previous post, the San Blas islands were a real treat.  That’s the downside of cycling– you don’t travel very fast so unless you have a LOT of time, you have to miss a few things. And I was itching to ride after several days doing nothing.

So I hit the road hard and pushed nonstop for five days to the town of David, about 500 km from Panama City. I will cross into Costa Rica tomorrow. It has been brutal. Very hot and humid every day. I´m talking 110 deg F, or 43 deg C. Lots of short steep hills too. Nothing like the Andes, where you go uphill for 40 km, but rolling hills all day, so your total elevation gain for the day is quite high. I was just sopping wet the whole time. Luckily I found places to shower at the end of the day, even a  small stream once when I camped out.

I did not stop too much for photos, but here´s  a few for the record.

This family was interested in my trip. I stopped at their bar for a drink and all the kids came out to chat with me. Note the beer for 50 cents.

A typical Panamanian road.

Here I am near the end of a hot, sweaty day.

I would look out for these bits of shade. What a relief!

Here’s how the locals keep cool: bathing in the river.

A Bit About the USA and Panama

As I read up on Panama I was surprised at the extent of involvement the USA has had in their history. When Panama gained independence from Spanish rule in 1821, it was still a province of Colombia, and in 1846, Colombia signed a treaty with the USA to construct a railway across the isthmus, including the right to protect the railway with military force.

At the height of the California gold rush in 1849, tens of thousands of people traveled from the east coast of the USA to the west coast via Panama in order to avoid hostile Native Americans (I hate that term, but it seems to be common now. I prefer to call them the First Americans. Anyway, it’s better than Indians) living in the central states.

The idea of a canal was discussed as early as 1524, when King Charles V of Spain ordered a survey to be undertaken to ascertain the feasibility. Later, Emperor Napoleon III of France also considered the idea, Finally, in 1878, Colombia contracted with a French firm to build the canal. But malaria and yellow fever decimated the workers. Over 22,000 died, mostly blacks brought from other Caribbean countries. The project was abandoned in 1889 due to insurmountable construction problems.

Enter the USA. The US government pressured France to sell them their rights to the canal, although the Colombian government refused to agree to the deal. So the USA covertly agreed to support a sovereign Panamanian government if they could separate from Colombia, and on November 3, 1903, A revolutionary junta declared Panama independent from Colombia. The USA immediately recognized the new republic and sent troops and battleships to defend it against the Colombia army. In  fact, Colombia did not recognize Panama’s sovereignty until 1921, after the USA paid Colombia $25 million in “compensation”

Before the fledgling Panamanian government could act, the deal with the USA to build the canal was ratified, further tying the USA and Panama together.

Although control of the canal passed wholly to Panama in 1999, there is still quite a strong American presence here. They have a bilingual newspaper for example, and they use the US dollar for currency.

8 thoughts on “Sweat and Pain in Western Panama

  1. maudie January 28, 2008 / 11:54 pm

    Hi Kevin, Thanks for the education on your travels. You are very brave. Your Dad is very proud of you, of course he probably won’t tell you that as he is a man of few words, but we all enjoy your excellent writing and pictures of the areas. I feel as if I am riding along with you. Take care and be careful out there. Martha/Maudie

  2. steve January 30, 2008 / 2:57 am

    Your “typical Panamanian Road” is a dead ringer for Cliff Drive. Are you sure you don’t have your slides mixed up?

  3. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. January 30, 2008 / 3:10 am

    How did you get through Panama without crossing the canal? Or did you get dropped off west of the canal?

    Our Republican congressman, Phil Ruppe, in response to a question posed to him by a right-winger:

    RW: Phil, can you please explain your vote to give the canal to the Panamanians?

    PR: I thought we stole it fair and square and now is the time to give it back.

    RW: (Red-faced, abashed. Sits down to a big laugh from those present)

    Incidentally, Phil retired and we have a Democrat now, Bart Stupak.

  4. Nicole February 1, 2008 / 5:43 pm

    Hey KKoski,
    Well, you’re almost done with this portion of your journey…BRAVO!!! Kat told me you were going to Japan in April, just in time for the Fertility Festival…HAHA. That should be interesting. The Boston Globe featured an article on Hudson on the front page of their Travel section. Here’s the link
    http://www.boston.com/travel/getaways/us/newyork/articles/2008/01/27/life_on_the_river_blends_old_and_new_in_hip_little_hudson/?page=1 Maybe you’ll grace us with a visit after you come back from China.
    Anyway, take care and be safe.
    Love, Nik

  5. Kevin Koski February 1, 2008 / 7:47 pm

    There is a bridge across the canal near Panama City. They wouldn’t let me ride over it but I got a lift from someone. Phil Ruppe’s comment is right on.

    Nik, great to see good ol’ Hudson in the news. I should have bought property there.

  6. Willis Forrester February 4, 2008 / 3:25 pm

    Hi Kevin – nice to meet you here in San Jose, CR and I will certainly keep up with your travels via the blog. I love reading about these adventures and viewing the photos.

    I leave San Jose in the morning for my home in coastal Georgia, so I wish you the best as you proceed. I love Thoreau quotes, and one of my favorites is: “Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, so that you can live the life you have imagined.” Seems as if you are doing just that.

    Willis Forrester

  7. DAD February 8, 2008 / 12:48 am


  8. jojo February 9, 2008 / 3:22 pm

    Hey Kev,
    I echo Stevie’s comment about the road looking like the Cliff Drive…although I was thinking more of the Gay Road…could also be Elm Street here in Calumet, but much nicer…
    You’re looking good. It’s a beautiful day in the U.P. today. Little sun peeking through the clouds, about 20degrees. We have blizzard warnings posted however for tonight and tomorrow. It’s hard to have empathy (if that’s the correct word) for you in 110degrees, although I’m sure that’s not what you’re looking for. Take care! Really enjoying this Kev!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *