January 27, 2000
Punting in Panama
Anyone who's done any travelling knows that crossing a border into another country can sometimes be tough. Now, try crossing a border with a group of roughly 250 people.
Moving from Costa Rica into Panama was our group's third--and probably most tedious attempt. The ride itself was fairly easy. We were expected to peddle 62 miles-- check out of Costa Rica and be welcomed into Panama. But sometimes leaving is hard to do if you don't have enough calones.
Getting out of Costa Rica cost about three hundred of their local currency called colones (about a dollar and a half.) The receipt came in the form of a stamp a woman sitting in a wooden chair handed out. Then there's Panama.
Getting into Panama is a three step process. You have to buy another stamp, take your passport to a small office and then pay five dollars at a third window. As the line started to get long, word got out....the people filling out paperwork at the second window were taking lunch. Remember, roughly 200 riders are now milling around...waiting for two people to fill out paperwork on each person's passport. A 20 minute exercise was quickly becoming an exercise in futility.
After a lunch that lasted close to an hour, the workers returned.....and something amazing happened..something you'd never see in the U.S. Two of our riders who speak Spanish offered to help the overwhelmed border workers. Ethan and Jamie walked into the border office, sat down and for an afternoon became Panamanian Civil Servants. That spirit of cooperation got us back on the road and proved to be one of just a few high points for me during our trip through Panama.
Many of the women I talked with said the minute they crossed the border they noticed a lot of men noticing them. I'm sure most if not all of the cat-calling was harmless but it made me realize that riding alone wasn't a smart option. Panama was the first time I felt ill at ease on the roads. My perception-perhaps flawed--became a reality. My week in Panama was spent hoping I didn't get a flat I couldn't fix. Next stop Chile.
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