Panama finished fantastically for us, we were able to enjoy time with the family and have great respect and fondness for them. We watched the cousins play some American football, saw their daily lives and work as well as shared great food and friends. A part of our research was accomplished at a local manufacturer, the tour and questions were very interesting and our host was a real pleasure to meet and get to know. My regards for such a good interview.
It was difficult having to leave, I must admit discovering some relations in Panama was outstanding and the family was just very enjoyable to be around. However, guests are like fish, they begin to smell after a few days so we had to force ourselves out. The family didn’t make it easy for us I might add. We initiated the departure by heading to the Panama Passage ( http://www.panamapassage.com/ ) to tent for the night, this would help cut the cord for us and get us along our journey again. We cleared Customs through a lengthy process and found out that our entry into Panama, though we had the right documents, was never recorded. We had this corrected but it highlights the tip of the iceberg in systemic problems that seem to plague borders.
The route out was easy but would take several hours to reach Carti on the Atlantic coast of Panama, crossing into the province of Darien; the only vehicles you see there are jeeps. Just before we turn off towards Carti we stopped to confirm our directions in a bus stop. As I left the bus stop I made several mistakes that seemed very amateur. First, I stopped at a paved bus stop in Latin America (Oil covered pavement from crappy, unmaintained busses?); second, it was hot and raining lightly but not enough to wash the oil away; third, I accelerated fast to get up to highway speed as I merged. The result was a fast impact on the ground, left side. Deya said I went down like a champ and manoeuvred wildly to try to control the bike but that’s a joke. I went down like a chump, just about broke my leg and left at least three meters of aluminum scrapped into the asphalt as proof. The glory is that Touratech Panniers held like champs and the new hole in the bottom corner drains any water nicely that might get in there during the heavier rains. The Wolfman bags on the front also go a long way to save the bike from any other damage, sweet!
Not deterred by the fall but with a painful leg to remind me I carried on, the road almost totally paved all the way, towards Carti and the Stahlratte. Deya was a little stressed because of the rain and the oil sloshed all over the road from dilapidated trucks and steep hills, though the oil was mostly superficial. This made her experience tough, also because she tends to see me crash when I’m supposed to be the seasoned rider...lol… It was a wild ride and in ideal conditions would be absolutely fantastic with so many twists and turns and mountain vistas. Of course the route is steep and the corners are not engineered to any degree of sense, speed would be hazardous and having 3-4 tonne Land Cruisers cresting hills on your side of the road with no way to see each other is pretty common, so take caution there is no where to run off the road.
After a 9 dollar toll and a 2 dollar entrance fee each we got to a dock where we would load the bikes onto the Stahlratte (http://www.stahlratte.de/ ). The Stahlratte is a 230 tonne steel hulled motor sail. It was commissioned around 1903 as a fishing vessel and had many modifications since then. It’s owned by a non profit organization and has volunteers on board for several months at a time. The money goes to support the boat’s operation. The Captain, Ludwig, is simply fantastic and inspires confidence. The bikes are safer on board than with any other sailing vessel offering the same voyage from Central to South America. This is because the ship is huge and even in heavier seas bow spray does not soak the bikes with corrosive salt water. After the first day of sitting by the water our break discs were starting to corrode, I can’t image what a single wave of sea water would do to all the other bits and pieces on the bike.
We loaded the bikes and to be honest, unless you’re a sociopath your heart twitches a little to see your bread and butter swinging out over open water. With both bikes aboard the relief was immense.
We spent the first night on the boat in Carti and a BBQ dinner with the Kuna people that night including a dance on one of the hut filled islands. One of the huts was sporting a Quebec flag and the lady preparing the BBQ was the Kuna wife of a Canadian, this is not common. The next day we loaded more people.
The other biker, Daniel, is worthy of special mention, his bike Natasha is truly a masterpiece, a center of attention and a real draw, pun intended, for the kids as he made special stops to let children in different community draw on his bike. Daniel had made his way to one of the Kuna islands by canoe and was loaded onto the zodiac to transport to the Stahlratte. More interesting than Natasha though is Daniel himself, a well travelled young adventurer with a talent for languages, photography and unexploded ordinance, Daniel has a nice portfolio of stories (http://www.dantpeters.com/) and adventure in various parts of the globe.
The rest of the passengers all had an interesting story to tell, I think typically these trips contain back packers more than anything else. Young, fun and out to explore the world, these folks make for interesting times and a lot of energy.
Once everyone was aboard and accounted for, the Captain laid down the rules, pretty much don’t do anything too stupid, help out in the kitchen, eat, drink and be merry. Awesome.
By early afternoon we were headed to the San Blas Islands under full sail and steam. It was only a few hours before we got to our destination where we would stay for two nights. Simply this is not enough time. San Blas is Paradise and I almost don’t want to mention it in case the hordes go there and spoil the good stuff. While the sun burns the body the ocean cures and invigorates life in this little gem of the sea. I wish people could do more to protect what we have abused for so long.
Regardless, we got there in good time and parked between a few deserted islands amongst the reefs and clear blue sea.
It was spectacular, the Stahlratte being a huge platform for snorkelling, and jumping off. The evening would be spent on one of the islands having a massive lobster BBQ and listening to Ludwig sing and play guitar.
and jumping into the water when ever you want, swimming from island to island or cruising the reefs looking at all the oddities, sharks and coral things around.
We enjoyed fabulous food, wine and beer, played some games that will crack you up and keep you going well into the night. But as all things must and should, time comes for change and we had to depart.
Nearly all passengers and crew were feeling the drain of the sea. Some of us slept below, other wandered from place to place on deck laying down randomly to find just a moment of peace, but there was little.
Only Ludwig, a Master of the Sea, stood stoically behind the helm, spinning the wheel left and right, shouting something like, “AHHAR, THERE BE MOSNTERS IN THAR SEAS BEYOND!” or something like that, I can’t be sure.For lunch everyone was trying their best to man up and get to the table and if I had half the wit required I would have had my camera to capture some self defecating photos and scenes like Robin, who could be seen by all, ghastly looking having disappeared into the abyss of the boat all day, crawling on his hands and knees with a stick of bread hanging from his mouth towards the table on the top deck. It was such a funny scene yet nobody was able to laugh and I kicked myself for not having the forethought to capture such an incredible moment, which was sure to materialize, for future enjoyment. Good job Robin!
By day two almost everybody had sea legs and was able to eat and move about the boat. The day was certainly uneasy though despite the new mobility, I felt like I had been punished badly from the inside out and would take a couple more days to recover for sure. By early afternoon we would arrive in Cartagena, Colombia but would have to wait for both Immigration and Customs to clear before we left. The rest of the passengers would go ashore and wait for their passports, Deya and I stayed aboard with the bikes. The following day we would unload the bikes and clear Customs, before venturing into the old fort city and one of Colombia’s most important ports.
Thanks to the Stahlratte, Ludwig and crew for an amazing journey and a safe departure and arrival. We hope to sail with you again.