Day 227-235 Panama
Crossing the border into Panama was another quick and easy process. Mehedi remembered that there was a delicious Palestinian grocery store in Paso Canoas just over the border. We asked around and eventually found it -- and proceeded to load up on some incredible food we haven’t had since we were back home in the states -- stuffed grape leaves, za’atar, olives, tahini and more. What a treat! We found a little cafe where we could eat our grape leaves and other goodies, made some calls to family and started to pedal out of town. As we did, the rain started coming in so we started looking for a place to camp. We came to a mosque and thought, "Perfect!" We stopped in to give salaams, make salat and were given plates of food - curried lentils and rice - and then put up just down the road. Incredible hospitality from some wonderful Indian Muslims. What a nice welcome into our seventh country. We are thrilled to see what else Panama has to offer, though our time in the country would be short...
The next morning we headed out early for the city of Davíd. We stopped for a cheap and delicious breakfast of platanos, lentils, rice and fried bread that reminded us of sopaipillas back home in New Mexico. What an awesome start to the day! Locals were extremely friendly and chatty with us as we ate. Mehedi stopped at a wood shop on the side of the road and picked up a couple nice pieces of Panamanian hardwood (unfortunately, customs confiscated them when we hopped on our plane to Colombia).
The gradient was extremely mellow and pleasant, and we even had a little break from the sun with overcast skies. About halfway into our ride, we were stopped in our tracks by a sweet dog who had just been hit by a car. We helped her off the road onto a patch of grass. We asked around to people living in nearby houses, but everyone told us the dog was a stray. It seemed her injuries were internal and as a few minutes passed we knew they'd be fatal. This scenario is every dog lover's nightmare traveling by bicycle! We stayed with her for about 20 minutes, comforting her, stroking her fur and giving her water. It was clear she was not going to make it and her breathing became more shallow as the minutes passed. She took her last breaths on the side of the road as we stroked her face. We said a prayer and pedaled on with heavy hearts. Erin had a good cry when we started to pedal again. Poor pup! At least she was not alone in her last moments.
We made it to Davíd by late afternoon and found a cheap hostel in town, absolutely thrilled to have a room with air conditioning. Have we mentioned how HOT it is in Panama? The heat and humidity is so. unbelievably. intense.
The following day we pedaled to Tolé, a small but charming town on the way to Santiago. It was an extremely hot ride but mellow gradient. There was road construction, leaving an entire five lanes of empty highway for us to pedal - every cyclist's dream come true! We arrived in town and began looking for a place to camp. After asking around, we stumbled fortuitously on la Casa Miguel Angel, owned by a Panamanian man and his Mexican wife. They were thrilled to hear about our adventures and quickly invited us to stay the night in their spare bedroom. They fed us and chatted us up into the evening.
tolé to santiago
When we pedaled out of Tolé, we had another break from the sun. Overcast skies were always welcomed! But overcast skies turned into sheets of rain as the day wore on, and we were forced to take shelter under a roadside construction tent. We tried our best to make it to Santiago, but with heavy rains coming in over the course of the afternoon, we were unable to pedal the final 20 or so miles, and had to hitch a ride to meet our friends Paco and Stephanie.
Escaping the heat in Santiago
In Santiago we met up with our friends Paco, Stephanie and their daughter Maya, as well as their friends Kayla and Earl. It was great spending time with two wonderful families for a couple days at Kayla and Earl's house in Santiago before heading onto Panama City. The highlight for us was visiting a natural swimming hole near Santiago, where we enjoyed an entire afternoon of swimming, splashing, diving and floating in the cool refreshing waters. Anything to escape the heat!
onto panama city
We caught a ride with Paco, Stephanie and Maya back to Panama City. Even though our time there was short, visiting with them and and meeting Stephanie's lovely parents was nothing short of wonderful. We cooked dinner, played music and went out on the town together. Stephanie and Paco both work at the US embassy doing interesting legal and cultural diplomatic work. They generously put us up in a beautiful hostel near their apartment, where we rested, worked on our blog and prepared for our flight to Colombia. We can't believe this was the end of the road in Central America -- what an amazing experience it has been!
on leaving central america
Cycling Mexico and Central America was nothing short of awe-inspiring, life-changing and rich. From the wild, big city roads to blissfully quiet countrysides, camping on beaches and fincas and family compounds and even some gas stations. From the days we spent pushing our bikes up too-steep hills to the nights we spent cowering in our tent amid lightning and thunderstorms. I can't pick favorites because every place was rich in its own way, but this family was one of the handful that we will never forget. We met them outside of Usulután, El Salvador, and they invited us to stay the night under their portal to escape the rain when we stopped for mangos outside their house. We spent several hours chatting with them about the woman's eldest daughter's harrowing experience with coyotes (human traffickers) smuggling her into the United States. It was clear this family didn't have much, but when we showed up at their door, they greeted us with open arms, fed us and made us feel right at home. This kind of treatment was entirely characteristic of most of the people we met in Mexico and throughout Central America. They'd give you the shirt off their back and then ask if you're hungry. In the nearly 8 months we spent cycling, we never felt we were in danger... except the night we camped in that lightning storm. The people though? Filled with generosity.
After cycling about 5,000 miles, we are now waiting to board our plane to Colombia to begin the South American adventure. It has been a humbling and beautiful experience so far and we can't wait to see what awaits us down south. Thank you to all who helped get us here, from donating to hosting and feeding us along the way. We mean it when we say we could not have gotten this far without your love and support.