San Vito, CR to Volcan, Panama - Central America - CycleBlaze

January 22, 2023

San Vito, CR to Volcan, Panama

I think last night I had the best sleep on the whole trip. Two big dinners, and a real tired body, but I think the biggest difference was that it was so quiet and I had a really nice bed. I actually had the window open for the first time to help dry out my clothes still and it got to be nice and cool. I had the bed sheet, a middle blanket and a top blanket on me all night long. I like to be covered up when I sleep but I don't like the noise of the air conditioner so usually I just have the top sheet on me because usually that's all I get anyway in most of the hotels. But it was just really rare here to not have motorcycle noises, or any vehicle noise, dogs, roosters, or bars. Really nice town to get a good nights sleep in.

There is a really nice botanical garden about 5 miles away that I would have liked to have visited in San Vito, but I was too tired when I came in yesterday afternoon, but I considered it for this morning, since they opened at 7 o'clock. Supposedly, Costa Rica holds 5% of the worlds diversity of plant and animal life, and this is a good place to see a lot of it.  but I'm just not sure how long the border crossing was going to take, plus I have to go down to 1800 feet and then climb back up to about 4500 feet on my planned route, so with tired legs already, that might take a while and I'm not sure how hot it will be. I can't see it all in one visit anyway. Will have to save something for the next trip! 

Today was the first day of the whole trip that I did not get on the bike from my hotel room and start sweating immediately. It was probably 15 minutes into the road on my first real big uphill. But even then, it was noticeably cooler the entire day, up and down the hills, wow, the hills around here are absolutely stunning. So green and lush and beautiful. 

I got to the border station about 8:30.  It took quite a while to get through there, mainly because both Costa Rica and panama had one window for both people coming in and leaving the country. I don't think that was the case anywhere else. But these were really small offices, everything was very makeshift. Anyway, what took so long was that there was a family of Costa Ricans in front of me that were coming into the country and it probably took them about 45 minutes to get their stuff done. As I was waiting in line a couple from Hungary came in behind me and we were chatting for probably 30 minutes.  They live in Costa Rica and had to get out for a few days in order to get back in because of the limits to stay in the country without being a resident. They wanted to live in Columbia, as they do tours for birdwatching and butterflies, and apparently there's a lot of that in Columbia too. They researched places to live quite a lot and really liked Columbia. It is good right now, but it could change any time, and apparently they said there have been about 2 million Venezuelans cross the border recently, so that is not going to make things any better certainly. Then they said that Panama was just not as friendly as Costa Rica. Anyway, after the family finished, it took me about three minutes to get my passport stamped and then he told me to go to Panama!  Actually, while I was waiting in line talking to the couple from Hungarian, I had to go down the street to the agriculture store to pay for an exit tax. The only other way to do it is to scan a barcode at the border station which I tried to, but it was all in Spanish, and you couldn't pay at the window kind of strange. So I went down to the agriculture store and paid for it took a picture of the screen for my receipt and the officer at Costa Rica didn't even ask me for it. So then I walked a couple hundred meters to the Panama office where there was no line and there were two officers there, but they looked like they were really inconvenienced that I came into their little hut. He asked a few questions like how long I was going to be in Panama, what my occupation was, and then did something that I haven't experienced yet at any border station: They took all of my fingerprints and took a picture of me as well. From what I researched online including the state department, I didn't see that coming. I did bring proof of onward travel (only Panama, and Costa Rica require that – hey don’t want you staying in their country apparently), and I researched that Panama wanted to see either $500 or a credit card to make sure that you can sustain yourself while in Panama. But they didn't ask me for that. Anyway, I was through there in about five minutes. Then back on the road.

I had two choices of roads to go on, both about the same distance, but one had about 1000 feet less elevation, so it was obvious that was the one I went on. I had to cross this big river, so the road went down to the river crossing and was super steep. I mean, this was the steepest slope I have seen on pavement on the entire trip. I don't know how cars can make it up and down there.  When I got to the bottom, I could small my brakes smoking I was on them so hard.  Unfortunately though that is where the road stopped. I mean, there was no way to cross it (see picture below). There were a couple of families behind me, that I'm not sure if they knew about this or not, but they went ahead and try to cross it by walking upstream where there were some rapids and so obviously a bit more shallow. One family had a baby in a stroller. I stuck around a little bit to watch them walk upstream to see how bad of a crossing it really was. I was actually considering crossing; just taking off my pannier's and such, but, the river looked really hard to push a bike up the shore just to get to the rapids part where I thought I might be able to cross so, after contemplating for about 20 minutes or so I decided to give up and just take the other route which had about 1,000 feet more elevation. It's sucked, but there just wasn't really a good option either way. Then, trying to push my bike up that massive hill again was super, super hard.  It took everything I got to try to push it up there. It was so steep that I couldn't walk flat footed. So I walked the entire kilometer or so on my tiptoes just because it was so steep. And the sun and heat at this low elevation (about 1,800 ft.) were just brutal.  No shade at all.  I could just feel myself melt and all my clothes were just dripping again. I really am getting too old for this crap.  After enough liquid and cookies in me, I got to the top of the hill and then started the trek back to the other route that added another thousand feet to the day. I looked at the time and it was getting late already. Why had so much time elapsed? Then I realized that, I lost an hour crossing over into Panama. I had forgotten about that this morning, otherwise I would've probably started earlier. So, then it was just a lot of big hills again on the other route, but then I got up to the elevation of the mountains, and some dark clouds started to roll in. Eventually, it started raining to the point where I had to don all of my rain gear. Then it stopped, and I was sweating to death, so I took it all off. Then it started raining again, so I put it all on. And it was like that for a while. Finally, around 3:30, my legs were just done with these massively-sloped hills with nearly 100 lbs between my legs, and I still had probably two hours more to cycle, so I made a call that I was just going to pull off to the side of the road and wait for a pickup truck and flash a $20 bill to see if I could throw my bike in the back of a truck and get a ride in for the last 15 miles.  My waterproof shoe covers did not allow me to lock in to the pedals, which had been fine in Mexico on the flats, but on these hills, I really needed those clips. Finally, a really nice Panamanian family pulled over. He said the money was not necessary, but I really wanted to pay him – he was a good man.  I loaded everything up (he helped me) and we were off.  This guy drives mountain hills like me; going completely in the other lane on curves so he can go faster. He was going super fast, which I didn't mind, because it was raining still, and I figured it was less time in the rain. But some of that rain hurt as the drops were so big and we were going so fast. It was fun riding in the back of the pickup truck, though, holding onto my bike, watching that their box of bananas did not get squashed. I don't think I've been able to ride in the back of a truck since the 80’s! It was quite the thrill ride actually! Given that I paid $12 for a 90 second zip coaster ride, this $20 for a half hour thrill ride in the back of a pick up truck again was well worth it! As we were traveling along, I saw some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen in my life. The way the clouds rolled over the lush green mountains, plus a couple of little spots of sunlight, it was just absolutely magical. How can so much beauty be so torturous at the same time? Although I suppose, if you're in a car, it's not so torturous. I was holding on for dear life so I was not able to get any pictures of the scenery though.  Hopefully tomorrow.

I feel kind of torn - that I cheated on those last 15 miles. But I was just so done with elevation for the day, and after that surprise at the river, I needed a break, and plus the rain is always a little bit more dangerous. And in my shoe covers, that would have made it miserable to try to get up those hills without clips. But I'm really curious as to what the community here and my friends think about that, so, please feel free to leave a comment if you feel I was justified in my cheating for the day (it supposed to be a bike trip after all), or, if I was just being a wuss.

For the second night in a row, my hotel room does not have AC.  I just don’t think hotels in this higher elevation have AC.  It is just a lot better for drying out clothes, and I have a lot of wet clothes tonight.  In fact, I didn’t even do laundry today, since I got rained on so much.  My hotel tomorrow in Boquete is supposed to have a hair dryer at least, so that will help.  Or I’ll try to find a laundromat, as I’m going to take a day off there. 

There's a small runway in San Vito (see the plan in the distance coming in for a landing?)
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Rode by this massive tree. It was like a Redwood.
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The scenery here at this high elevation is just spectacular
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There were some really nice homes in CR right before the border
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Panama border crossing, right next to Costa Rican.
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Costa Rica Station
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I was wondering what the roads looked right on the other side of the border in Panama. Well, here they are!
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But they soon got nicer. At least there was a shoulder identified, although I was not about to go anywhere near that big ditch. This pic answers the question of what you do if your car gets a flat tire too!
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This nice road led to the river crossing (next pic)
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Here is what Google Maps looked like for crossing that river. Komoot was very similar.
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And here is what it looked like in reality! There's the road on the other side.
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You'd have to drag the bike along the shore for a long ways, and even without panniers on, I'm just not sure it would have been possible.
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Clouds rolling in.
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My holding my bike in the back of a Toyota Hilux
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While trying to sit on the wheel well and hang on for dear life around these curves.
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Please watch the box of bananas
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I didn't even get the driver's name, but he was sure nice!
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The main road in Volcan is laid out quite differently than I have seen anywhere else. You can park along the side there, then to the right of that is a wide sidewalk, and I think it is supposed to be a bike lane too, but there were too many people in there. But it was planned nicely!
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Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 1,695 miles (2,728 km)

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Rich FrasierHi Ken - you asked for opinions on getting a ride. I’m one of the wimpiest cycle tourists on this site, but I’ll tell you that for me, you didn’t “cheat” at all. The only way to cheat in cycle touring is to cheat yourself by not doing something you want to do.

You’re having an amazing adventure and I’m awe-struck at everything you’ve done. It’s all part of the adventure. Whether you pedal every friggin inch or not won’t matter when you’re sitting in your chair at 95 years old reminiscing.

Looking forward to how this trip ends. Hang in there!
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6 days ago
Ken DyckmanThat's very insightful, Rich - to consider what opportunities might be missed by stuffing every day with riding for riding's sake. Thanks for the wisdom and kind words of encouragement!
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5 days ago