Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 89 (146km): Fritz the Cat, take two

We got up bright and early only to find an email waiting in my inbox saying that the boat trip had been postponed a day and there was no need for us to rush. Great. I got up ungodly early for no reason. Oh well, we were up so we left at the planned 7am.

Once again we said goodbye to Panama City and paid the toll roads to leave. When we arrived in Chepo the same police barricade was up but this time we had a plan. Alberto came up with the idea that he would tell the police that we were visiting a friend so we could get through. His plan worked and they let us pass. The weather was starting to look dubious so we pulled over and put our rain gear on. There was flooding on either side of the road. We should have recognized the foreshadowing. 
The flooded road that awaited us; the water was past the pothole on the left by the time we left
Shortly after, we arrived to a flooded section of road. It was only standing water so we tested the depth. It didn't look all that deep but we decided to wait to watch a vehicle drive through. One came by shortly and the water wasn't higher than the vehicle tires. The consensus was to walk the bikes across, but of course Alberto wanted to drive his. So that's what he did. Off he went into the flooded section of road. He got to the middle, the deepest part, and the resistance was so great that he no longer had any power. He killed the engine and started walking. Daryll and Angela, what good friends, came to his rescue and helped push him across. He couldn't start his bike, so we left him on the other side trying to figure it out. The three of us walked the rest of the bikes across. 
Alberto full speed ahead
Angela and Daryll coming to his rescue
The water was mid-thigh high. It was hard work, like being in an aquafit class. Also there were snakes and spiders in the water, and I guess whatever else was lurking beneath since we couldn't see. Of course our boots were filled with water, and our pants were soaked. We had all the bikes on the other side but Alberto's bike still didn't start. I suggested we try hill starting it. We tried this about 5 times. The bike would start but it would immediately die. This was going nowhere so we started the painful task of checking the air filter and spark plugs. Anyone who has an F800GS will know the pain of getting to the spark plugs. The side of the road in the pouring rain is not a place you want to be doing this. 
Angela and I helping a concerned Daryll take his bike across
Crossing back across the lake
While Alberto was taking care of business a car with a bunch of tourists inside pulled up to talk to us. Lots of emergency vehicles had been passing us all day. Some stopped to talk, others would continue on their way. This lady specifically asked us if we were going to San Blas though so she caught our attention. She told us that the road was closed and that they were evacuating tourists from the islands because of the weather. What?!! One of her passengers was an Austrian BMW mechanic so he went to help Alberto. While that was happening I borrowed her phone and once again called Fritz. Apparently our sailing had been postponed indefinitely and that he had broken his rudder. So we had nowhere to go and a bike that wouldn't start. We thanked the lady for stopping, since without her we would be mindlessly heading to Carti to meet the boat. 
Alberto working hard on his bike. Thanks for the tarp Dad. 
Ferrying our stuff across the lake. Note the intense rain. Photo by of Angela blog
It was raining hard and the water level was rising. We took the 3 working bikes back across the flooded section. The water was still low enough that it didn't cause any problems for the bikes. Alberto was still frantically trying to fix his bike. It now had a new air filter, and the spark plugs were confirmed dry but it still didn't start. It didn't matter we were racing against time and had to get the bike across the flooded section of road. The emergency crews had a dingy they were using to ferry people across. They graciously let us use it to take all our things across. Alberto frantically put as much of the plastic back on his bike as he could. Those screws can be a huge pain in the butt when they want to.

Daryll, Alberto and I pushed his bike across but the water level was much higher now. In the deeper section some of the water creeped into his exhaust. No matter, the bike didn't start before, and it didn't start now. We were all on the safe side of the flooded river, but we now had to figure out a way to leave. There was a huge army truck with a boat inside that agreed to take Alberto's bike to Chepo when they returned. So we were playing the waiting game. Cold, wet, hungry and waiting at the side of the road in a frantic emergency scene. It was a bit bizarre. As the day went on it was clear that a major evacuation effort was under way and we were just some stupid tourists stuck at the side of the road.

In the meantime Alberto had befriended a mechanic and was trying to hill start his bike again. It wasn't working. Still determined to get it started he got a vehicle to tow him, thinking that he just needed a bit more speed to get the engine started. I was a little worried about this situation but there was not much I could do about it. We were stranded. Daryll and I watched as the car towed Alberto down the street. Then, miraculously we heard the engine start. Both of our expressions turned from shock to joy. Daryll had turned around and was walking towards me when I saw Alberto crash. He was about 500m away so it was hard to see exactly what was going on. Like a trooper though he stayed on the bike with a death grip on the clutch; determined not to let the engine stall. Some guys helped pick his bike up and all was good. A few scratches but more importantly the bike was running.

We quickly packed up our things and headed for Panama. It was very deja-vu. Once again we paid the toll roads and once again we returned to Residencial Alameda. We got back into the city just as it was getting dark. We essentially spent the whole day at the side of the road going through a kaleidoscope of emotions: determination, adventurousness, concern, despair, joy. It was a rollercoaster ride. 
Returning to Panama City
After we got some dinner we all crashed. The icing on the cake was the email waiting for me when we got back to the hotel. At 7:04am (we had told Fritz we'd be leaving at 7am) Fritz had emailed us saying he broke his rudder and that the boat trip was delayed. If he had sent his email 10min earlier the day would never have happened. Sometimes you can't help but laugh.


  1. Wow! That is one hell of a day! I won't ever complain about having a bad day again!

  2. Holy cow guys. That's one heck of a day. Glad you made it back safely.

    1. It was! haha but getting stranded there was a blessing in disguise! because it turns out that the boat we had to catch had suffered damages in a storm. So even if we had made it to our destination that day (which was more dangerous due to landslides) we would've had to turn back and do it all over again ;)