Not overly extensive in its’ cycle lanes, Panama city had a wonderful path along the Malecon from Old Town to new town!
We didn’t leave ourselves much time for Panama trying to max out our time in Costa Rica and then make our flight home for Christmas. Needless to say we were a bit rushed. We crossed into Panama on the main InterAmericana Highway December 2 and had eleven days to reach Panama City 500 kilometers away where our flight home departed December 13th. Five hundred kilometers we estimated would be about 6 days of riding barring no extreme headwinds, broken bikes or lost spouses (I have to keep an eye on Karen she often strays at right and left hand turns).
Overall riding was pleasant if maybe a little dull but we didn’t expect much as we had no time to explore some of the backroads we’d heard about from other cyclists. With the heat we found ourselves waking up before dawn and catching the first glimpses of the sun on the horizon during our first pedal strokes.
Sun rising over the mist
The InterAmericana got busier closer to Panama City but the shoulder got wider which helped. We managed a quick diversion to the Pacific seaside town of Santa Catalina to do some SCUBA diving. The town was a fair ways off our route so we managed to store our bikes in the town of Santiago on the InterAmericana and hop a bus to Santa Catalina. Diving here was hyped to be quite spectacular and was known for the abundance of large fish and the odd shark sighting. It was great to be back in the Pacific and see the contrasts from the Caribbean with different shapes and colors and many different species of fish; diving didn’t disappoint. We were fortunate to see white tipped reef sharks and the very odd looking Frog Fishs. Secretly I was a bit disappointed by the lack of sharks but understand the reasons behind there absence and also realize that nature has its own rhythms and if the sharks weren’t around that day that had better places to be.
The strange and unusual Frog Fish
Dive boat off the stunning and geographically unique Isla de la Coiba
However, the main reason for the lack of sharks is because of shark finning, the process of fishing sharks, cutting the fin off and releasing it back to the ocean where, without their dorsal fins the sharks are unable to propel themselves through the water and thus as a result suffocate and die.
Shark finning has increased over the past decade largely due to the increasing demand for shark fins for shark fin soup and traditional cures, particularly in China and its territories, and as a result of improved fishing technology and market economics. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group say that shark finning is widespread, and that “the rapidly expanding and largely unregulated shark fin trade represents one of the most serious threats to shark populations worldwide”. Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion. Shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products worldwide, commonly retailing at US$400 per kg. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, a bowl of shark-fin soup can sell for $70 to $150. For trophy species like the whale shark and basking shark, a single fin can fetch $10,000 to $20,000. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_finning
The dive shop was aware of shark finning boats in the area and has noticed a marked decline in the number of sharks over the last few years. Some people might say ‘what’s wrong with getting rid of the sharks, it will make our beaches safer to swim at?’ The true number of shark attacks around the world is minuscule compared to vehicle related accidents. Sharks are a key part of the Ocean’s ecosystem, a top predator in the very intricate food webs. Sharks are at the top of these webs and are considered by scientists to be “keystone” species, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse.
Education is needed that if we continue to demand shark fin products our sharks will be gone causing irreparable damage to our oceans. There is some hope though, a recent article by the International Association of Dive Professional (IADP) tells how new brides in Hong Kong are opting out of shark fin soup for their wedding dinner, a traditional dish part of the ceremony. Shark fin soup is not just found in exotic eastern designations but also throughout the Americas. I was surprised to find it on the menu of a popular Chinese restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, Canada – The Silver Dragon.
Please, don’t support restaurants or markets selling shark fin and tell them you won’t return until they take it off the menu or shelves.
Recently, during the 16th CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) convention, shark finning has been a to topic. Recent legislation has come into play whereby anyone fishing for oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead shark will now require strictly controlled permits to export the fins. This is a huge step ahead in the battle to save the oceans sharks after 178 nations at the world’s biggest wildlife summit voted to crack down on the trade.
Additional Readings on Shark Finning and the Recent CITES Convention are listed below:
– Five shark species win protection against finning trade (March 13, 2013)
Returning to our bikes and after two big riding days including a 167 kilometer day, we arrived in Panama on December 10th. Riding into the big city wasn’t that scary except we lost the shoulder on the bridge over the Panama Canal which didn’t give us much time for sightseeing. Rather it was a head down/ass up experience to get over the bridge before getting clipped by maniac Panamanian drivers. With our flight not leaving for three days we had time to begin the process of packing the bikes up for the flight and checking out the town.
What happens when a beer truck loses it’s load on the PanAmerican? Free beer! We could smell it for a few km’s before we hit the site.
Inevitable, tire punctures but at least there was a wide shoulder in the side of the PanAm to fix it. Right before reaching the city.
Panama City is not the most bike friendly city on the planet but that said there were a couple of beautiful paths, one along the ocean near downtown and one out on the Amador Causeway. The Amador Causeway juts out into the Pacific and with its nice bike path makes for good views toward the city and to watch ships exiting the canal.
View of the city from the Causeway
Not quite sure what this sign means but I think Mike’s got the idea
As two bonfied nature geeks it is with a bit of shame to admit that one of our biggest highlights in Panama was in fact the Panama Canal. It’s hard not to be amazed at this engineering feat and the visitor center at the Miraflores Locks (one of three sets of locks that helps move the ships through) does an excellent job of describing and displaying all the ingenuity.
The famous Panama Canal
Mike’s taking over the control room … not a good idea as he was ordering pizza
Karen, a little excited about her 1st 3-D movie, even if it’s an educational video on the Canal (well done by the way).
Other than sight-seeing, our days in the City were filled trying to obtain cardboard bike boxes and then filling them with bikes and gear careful not to overweigh them according to airline restrictions. It took about 4 different bike shops to find salvageable bike boxes and a trip to a local dumpster found us with the comfy packing material we needed (Thanks Karen for being my little dumpster diver). With copious amounts of tape applied to our boxes and backpacks filled we were ready for lift off and excited for a Christmas vacation that included family, friends and fluffy white snow.
Packing the bikes, one of our least favourite activities.
strolling through the market and exploring old town.
The beautiful crafting of the Kuna people.
On December 13th we flew home to -10 degrees Celsius, Edmonton and miraculously our bike boxes held together and everything arrived. We knew our time was short as our flight back to Colombia was on January 1st and within those two weeks we planned to overhaul the bikes, visit with friends and family, Christmas and attend the wedding of two of our closest friends, Faith and Lionel. It was definitely a world wind and a good prelude to the start of 2013…
Back to winter and tobogganing at Karen’s best friends’ pre-wedding festivities.
Mike working away in the cold on the bikes, he spent a good portion of the 2 weeks we had at home taking the bikes apart, greasing, installing new cables and housing and overall polishing. Thanks to Paul and Paula for going to Mexico and having us look after your place
The beautiful bride, Faith and her wonderful bridal party! Worth coming back for.
Beautiful snowy wedding! So glad we were able to come back to witness the marriage of Faith and Lionel!