For the first time since we left Montreal more than five months ago we got stopped by the cops as we were heading to Panama City. We were on a highway following 3 other vehicles. Suddenly everybody slowed down after seeing a car coming in the opposite direction flashing his lights (in Panama, drivers warn you about upcoming police by doing this). I checked the odometer and we were going about 75km/h in an 80km/h zone. Sure enough we came upon a motorcycle cop who pointed accusingly at our bike and motioned for us to stop. Once we got off the bike he asks to see my driver’s license. After a brief inspection (very brief, the license is written entirely in French) he grabs his radar gun and turns it around to show me that I was apparently going 107km/h….
Before I go on I have to explain that after having several conversations with different people on the topic of getting stopped by the police it seems there are 2 trains of thought. There are those that will tell you the best way to get out of a shakedown is to plead ignorance, hope for the best and probably end up paying a “fine”. Others will tell you that you simply pretend not to speak a word of Spanish and hope that the cop eventually gets fed-up of trying to explain why you should give him money for absolutely no reason. Marie and I had decided that if needed we would go for option 2 (not much of a stretch really, our Spanish isn’t very good)….
“107km/h ??!!??...That’s not possible!” (I say this in pretty damned clear Spanish, so much for our preplanned strategy!)
“The limit here is 80” he says, as he starts to point the radar gun at oncoming traffic. Once he finishes taking the reading he shows me the result. Oncoming traffic clocked at 65km/h. It’s at this point that I realized that we might be here for a while and proceed to take off my jacket and start getting ready for a lot of back and forth with him.
“Single lane roads have a limit of 80 and double lane highways have a limit of 100” he explains calmly. Marie nods at this. He then leans a little over the windscreen of his bike and lets my driver’s license kind of dangle lazily with his hand in a kind of “I dare you to take it” gesture. Never one to back down from a dare Marie gingerly takes it from him.
“Are we good to go?” I ask. We barely get a response from him (which I took as a yes) and seconds later we are off.
We were happy that he let us go without collecting his bribe but we still have no idea what it was about the encounter that made him decide that we were not worth his time.
Once in Panama we ended up staying in Casco Viejo which is the old part of the city. Until recently this area was a no-go for security reasons but this is apparently improving. Despite this, we were warned by the hotel staff that we should not go beyond the street to the left of the hotel as muggings there are common.
The view from our hotel in Panama...
We spent our time in Panama arranging to ship the bike to Colombia. We decided to go with a company called Girag which can ship the bike via a cargo plane for 550$ (cash only). The procedure was quite simple. You simply show up with the bike and after a bit of paperwork you drive it into the hangar and disconnect the battery. In our case, we were asked to make sure that the gas tank was near empty but nobody checked this. Once you have gotten the bike ready for shipment you make your way to the aduana office at the entrance to the cargo terminal area where an official will stamp your bike’s paperwork and your passport “out of the country”. We then went to the international passenger terminal, bought our tickets and 2 hours later we were in Bogota. I was hesitant to leave the country without the bike but Girag assured us that it would fly out the following morning at 3:00am. By the way, according to the people at the Girag office about 10 bikes per month are shipped this way.
Our little one at the Girag office waiting to be shipped...