The Journal  

9 January 2006


Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Santiago , Veraguas , Panama

December 20-21

The Pan-American in Panama was the best highway we had encountered south of the border. It was four lanes and well-paved with shoulders and it went around, rather than through, major cities. Crossing the border at the Paso Canoas station, an area clogged with Costa Rican holiday shoppers buying Christmas gifts duty-free, was painless, but time consuming. I stood in front of the customs office for 45 minutes, watching five officials ignore me by staring at their computer screens, while Holly sweltered in her gear by the motorcycle.

A Panamanian agriculture official told us we would have to have our bike fumigated. This had happened at most borders and usually involved someone spraying our tires with a hand pump. But at the Panamanian border, all that was available was a drive-through fumigator that dispensed spray like an automatic car wash. When I asked the official what I was supposed to do, he motioned for me to ride through and be sprayed as well. Our fumigation papers were already signed, so when the officials turned their backs, Holly and I rode around the fumigator and were on our way.

As we left the border, the Pan-American passed through green farm country full of well-built fences and well-fed cattle. Gas was cheap in Panama , at around $2.50 a gallon, and so was food, with a full meal and drink for less than $5. In-head price conversions weren't necessary because the Panamanian Balboa is the American dollar, with Panamanian coins duplicating the size and metal of American coins, with different engravings of long-dead historic figures on them.

Fifty miles from the border we passed around David , Panama 's second largest city and continued east towards Santiago , the half-way point to Panama City . Though the country's third largest city, Santiago got one sentence in our guide book. But with Panama City still four hours away, we decided to take a break when we reached the town. Without any suggestions from our guidebook, we stopped at several hotels before deciding on the Hotel Gran David, where the staff allowed us to park our motorcycle inside the courtyard. We found the guidebook's lack of information on Santiago to be justified and went to bed early in anticipation of the next morning's journey to the Panamanian capital.


We take for granted the mowers and bush hog machinery that cut the grass for us in the medians in the United States , but just outside of Santiago a team of men with machetes hand-cut miles of median grass.


All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus