Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

Before the Ecuador Border

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Colombia

I was on my way to the border but stopped in a small town called Popayane for the night. A small colonial town, really well maintained with white buildings. Everything is pure white and it all looks the same.

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The views along the way

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And I also met another biker, Jason, who rides an old Honda 250cc from the 70s! That lil bike can haul ass pretty good for it’s motor size. We were doing about 80-100 km/h.

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I wanted to spend the night at a border town called impiales so that I could visit the Santuario de Las Lajas in the morning. Jason continued to the border as he was freaking out aobut not having bike insurance which is mandatory in Colombia. As you get closer to the border, there are a lot more check stops, so he just wanted to get it over with. So anyway, I spent the night in Impiales, at a hotel close to the bus terminal. You can find some nice cheap hotels around the terminals, the only downside is that it’s usually a pretty bad area.

In the morning, I went and checked out the sanctuary. Here’s the pics

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A couple of pictures on the wall there… don’t show this to my guinea pig back home!

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As many others, when I left Canada, I thought that because of “safety issues” in Colombia, I’d be unloading my bike and just passing through. The only people who will tell you not to go to Colombia are people that haven’t been themselves. Funny how people always “know” things they haven’t touched. While traveling down from Canada, I have met quite a few people on the way traveling up. ALL of them told me how much they loved Colombia and what a beautiful place it is. Most of them renewed their visas to stay longer. Such a discrepancy in opinions between the ones that have visited the country and the ones that think they know the country because they have some internet access or because they watch the late news on TV before taking a sleeping pill to have a good night sleep.

From what I have seen up to now, Colombia is by far the nicest country I have visited. Not just for it’s mind blowing scenery, but also for it’s amazingly friendly people. From a country that I thought I’d just pass through, I have changed my mind to moving there. As for the security part, the guerilla have been pushed deep into the Amazonas about 20 years ago, there is Police and Military everywhere and I haven’t felt threatened or scared once. Actually, I’d say that Colombia is the most secure country below Canada.

My last couple of weeks, I have spent in Medellin (where I’m thinking of moving) and Cali. I don’t like taking the big camera around cities as it weights too much and it can attract unwanted attention so there wont be too many pictures. I did go to a few Zoos and botanical gardens so get ready for a flower overload.

This is one of the Teleferics of Medellin. Part of the metro system. If you have a metro ticket, the transfer is free to the teleferic.

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Flowers from Medellin

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Around the science park… which BTW is WAY nicer and WAY more advanced than the one in Calgary… not to mention about 10 times the size.

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Some more cool parks in Medellin. This one is really unique. You go bare foot in there and there are small pools with Jets where you can get a water foot massage… all free of course… not to mention SUPER clean!

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Scientific (super technologically advanced) building

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From Medellin I rode to a town called Jardin. Really nice litle town fueled with Local and almost no international tourism.

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You get a taste of the area every time you drink some Colombian coffee. Coffee plantations everywhere.

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Between Medellin and Cali, I stopped in Manizales, a college town. I visited a coffee park there which didn’t have much to do with Coffee but more of a botanical garden.

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With a crazy orchid garden

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The zoo in Cali

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A few hours away from Cali, back again towards the Manizales section, this is what you can see…

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… Josh taking a leak! ๐Ÿ˜€ Met up with the big guy again in Medellin for a day and then here for another day.

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I ended up spending about a month and a half in Colombia. I also renewed my visa for the motorcycle when I reentered from Venezuela as you only get 60 days in one shot.

For all of you thinking of visiting Colombia now, don’t do it just yet! Lets just say that ummmm…. it’s still dangerous? Actually, just wait till I move there and open up my hostel, then come and give me your tourist $$$. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In the mountains with Yesid

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Colombia

From Venezuela, I crossed back into Colombia through the Cucuta Border. Spent the night in Cucuta, a city that is a bit dirty, messy, and seems dangerous, although everyone says that it’s one of the safer cities as they don’t want a bad rep with tourists. Either way, it was getting a bit late and I wanted to renew my temporary import papers for the bike for another 60 days, so I slept there in a jail cell like hotel room.

The next day, after renewing the paperwork for the bike (for free btw), I started riding the Colombian mountains. After a few hours, mainly through deep fog riding where I couldn’t see more than 2 feet in front of the bike, I ended up in Bucaramanga. A pretty large city that did seem pretty clean and looked nice from the top of the mountain. This is also the last place where you can buy Venezuelan black market gas for cheaper than at the gas stations.

While riding through the streets and trying to find a hotel, I saw a bike shop with a tone of tires. I stopped there and sure enough they had 3 different tires for the size I needed which I haven’t seen anywhere else yet. The owner was just shooting a video as well for a TV channel where they have a show going on. He interviewed me too, even though my Spanish is nowhere near TV quality.

While in front of the bike shop, talking to everyone who was trying to pull my brains out about the trip, Yesid shows up with a small 100cc bike and we start chatting. Turns out he has a Yamaha 600 sitting at home and invites me to spend the night over at his place in a town near by, and then the next day go out riding up by his chalet in the mountains, so I can’t refuse such a cool offer.

We end up stopping by his mom’s house where I have the best stuffed potato ever! He also hooks me up with a free Pirelli rear tire that he doesn’t need from the Yamaha. We go back to his place where he has a gym, an internet cafee and other business and I meet the rest of the family. They treat me so nice it’s unbelievable. The next day we go up to the mountain roads by his chalet. I end up spending 2 nights there and enjoy 100% pure colombian mountain culture. We ride around, talk to his neighbors, drink coffee, drink LOTS of coffee, watch the views…

I’ll just let the pictures do the talking from here on…

Bucaramanga fron the hill top

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Yesid’s Challet

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Yesid with the Yamaha 600

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Pictures from around the neighborhood

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This is Peter, his father in law. He takes care of the Challet when Yesid is not there. Super nice and relaxed guy.

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The breathtaking surrounding views

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The house seen from the top at nighttime. Hard to tell but there are 2 smaller homes there, one with a Rottweiler and one with a Doberman guarding the larger one.

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And he also has an old school Al Capone style chrysler from the late 30s that’s still in running condition. There was though a small land slide just not long ago that covered a bit of the front of the car.

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It’s ALWAYS coffee time! Locals here drink about 2-3 litres of coffee a day… more than pure water. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Surrounding area during the day

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View from his chalet porch

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And the man himself

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His lil daughter, Michelle

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I feel Colombian now

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I would like to say HUGE thanks to Yesid and his family, for the amazing hospitality and for showing me a great time! It was truly a surreal experience that I wont forget. I have a new Colombian brother. ๐Ÿ™‚

Valledupar Colombia

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Colombia

I wanted to head over to Venezuela, but Katia said she had some airmiles to use up so she was coming to visit me for a few days in Santa Marta. Since I had a few days to use up before her arrival I decide to go and do a short loop around the mountains.

I kept riding with Josh up to Riohacha and we spent the night there. Then we separated and I went inland while he rode up to the peninsula and from there to Venezuela. I rode from Riohacha up to Valledupar, a small city that doesn’t see too many gringo tourists.

In Riohacha, the fisherman just returning with the catch of the day

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Lunch I had on the way to Valledupar

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In Colombia, I feel a lot like in Romania as you can see Dacia cars everywhere. Old ones, new ones… some even really pimped up ones. Colombia probably has about the same number of Dacias as Romania, so I took a few pictures while having lunch just for a good laugh

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I rode into a small town and there was this cool church there too

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In Valledupar, I tried to find a hotel downtown but they were all pretty expensive. It so happened that when I arrived was the first night of a big Accordion festival, one of the biggest ones in South America. I didn’t even know that Accordion festivals existed?! I was also starting to look for a front tire for the KLR as the thread was getting really low. It’s not an easy job to find a 21″ 90\90 tire around here.

As I was riding from bike shop to bike shop, I ended up in front of this one

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And this is where I met Edgar, a new brother! He didn’t have the tire I was looking for, but after I told him that the hotels in town were out of my budget, he offered me to stay over at his place for a couple of nights so that I could check out the town and the festival. I couldn’t refuse such a generous offer! What I didn’t know was that in order for me to stay over at his place, he had to have his wife and 2 month old baby stay over at his mother’s house. Seriously, how many people do you know that would go out of their way this much to help a stranger they just met?!

We went to the accordion festival that night and had a blast. No pictures of the festival as I didn’t bring the camera. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. They had national and international groups playing and they were pretty good, I have to say. I also tried for the first time their local liquor called Aguardiente.

Edgar, thanks again for everything bro! Had an amazing time!

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Next to Edgar’s store, there was also a small bike repair shop run by Dan.

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And a billiards place where workers go to shoot some pool during lunch time or really any time of the day…

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… unless they’re busy working ๐Ÿ˜€

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The next day, Dan invited me over to his house where his wife cooked us an amazing supper. After eating, we went for a swim by the local river with his family. Had a great day and got to enjoy some local fun.

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Dan’s brother

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Wife and kids

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At 6 years old, he’s already a biker

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Dan’s brother and lil girl

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Fun by the river

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I just realized that I don’t have any pictures of Edgar’s family. I didn’t have my camera when we went to visit. Gotta take some next time.

Guys, thanks again for the great time and hospitality! I had an incredible time in Valledupar.

Cartagena Colombia

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Colombia

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When arriving by boat from Panama to Colombia, you will most likely end up in Cartagena where you might have to spend a few days to get your paperwork ready for the bike. 3 nights should be enough to get to know the city. The old town is a touristic attraction these days surrounded by big fortress like walls which were built back in the day to protect it from pirates. Before the walls were built, the city had been taken down and rebuilt a few times due to insurgents. Cartagena is a huge city these days with sky scrapers and over 1 million inhabitants but one of the only places worth visiting is the old town.

Here are some pictures

Right outside of the old town

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Inside the big walls… notice the small dune buggy? It’s the police car…

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Around the hostel

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Guy hanging out in the park across from the hostel

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Sailing from Panama to Colombia

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Colombia, Panama

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We’re in the 21st century and the Americas are still not connected by a continuous road. Truth to be told, I didn’t really know that till a couple of months before leaving on this trip. The 2 countries are separated by the Darien Gap, a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest. The only way across is by sea or air.

There is some information on how to get a motorcycle across but it’s not too clear on how and pricing. By air it’s probably the easiest and most expensive at around 1400$ but also providing the least amount of fun and adventure. I of course opted for a sailing boat which ended up being one of the highlights of this trip.

I booked a sailboat through Mamallena Hostel. I also lucked out a bit on the pricing at 750$ since most boats charge around 1000$ these days. Inflation is crazy, since just a couple of years ago they were charging about 500$ for the same trip. If you’re traveling with a bike, I strongly suggest shooting this hostel an e-mail. You can also go straight to Portobello and check out the sailboat list at Captain Jack’s hostel where you will end up staying anyway since your sailboat will most likely get delayed. All the captains get together at Captain Jacks so you can talk price and negotiate in person. Somehow, they try to charge more there than through the hostel as they know you’re pretty desperate. Either way, booking ahead doesn’t really mean that you will leave on the set date.

My sailboat was supposed to be the Green something and leave on the 7th of April. The captain delayed it till the 9th because he didn’t have enough customers. Then on the 9th, he delayed it till the 11th. Then he came to the hostel with an infected arm he injured while fixing the motor on the boat and said he had no idea when we were going to leave. He introduced us to another captain named Umberto and we transferred boats. Umberto was a bit of the same story, delaying the departure date 2 days at a time because there weren’t enough people on the boat to cover his budget. Luckily, Josh and John showed up with 2 more bikes. 3 guys with 3 bikes would have been fine to cover costs as the bikes cost almost as much as a person. Are you still following?! ๐Ÿ™‚ Me and Josh loaded up our bikes onto the boat but John kept having 2nd thoughts. Sometimes changing his decision a few times within half an hour. He was worried about getting sea sick on the boat. Anyway, long story short, John didn’t get on the boat but another guy, Mike showed up with a KLR from another hostel so we finally had 3 bikes on there. Slept the night of the 11th I think on the boat and sailed out in the morning. I had been in Portobello going back and fourth between dates and boats for about a week. The town itself is not that bad, but 1 night is more than enough there. Captain Jack’s hostel is not the greatest either. It’s filled with crappy, burned out old American and European captains who just see a green sign on top of your head. They bad mouth each other and try to pull you in on their boat, but 9 out of 10 will not take motorcycles on there.

So anyway, this brings me to the next and last subject before the pictures… pick your captain well. We got lucky to have a Colombian captain that really liked sailing and doing trips on the boat. Most of the other captains, like the one from Fritz the Cat are burned out taxi drivers that fill up their boats like pig trucks and charge you crazy $$. We had a 42 footer and there were 4 of us on there, Josh, Mike, Umberto the captain and me. We had lots of space on the boat…

Pix time…

It rained most of the time in Portobello, but we did manage to visit Isla Grande on a sunny day before leaving. If you have a few days to spare in Portobello, Isla Grande is worth a visit.

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These pictures are from Portobello. A landslide took out some of the homes at the town entrance a while ago.

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And it’s not the cleanest town

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But there is a cute monkey that lives there on a leash. Careful if you play with him so that he doesn’t grab onto you as he will not let go. You might be stuck walking around town with him for an hour…

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There’s also an old fort in town. Kinda run down, but interesting to check out.

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And finally, here’s our sailboat, the Odysee.

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And we’re out sailing… Umberto on the left and Josh on the right

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In the San Blas Islands, we stopped at this small island town to get some Diesel.

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One of 300 some islands you can find in San Blas.

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Pure paradise! No words can describe the beauty of San Blas.

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This one island was going to be our home for the next 2 nights… well, it ended up being for 4 nights… We had already spent 1 night anchored up at another one where we did some snorkeling by a ship wreck.

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Food on the island was mainly coconuts, lobster, crab, squid and fresh fish. Not a bad menu, huh? One night we had for dinner all of them… Here is Umberto helping the fisherman clean up the fish. A decent size fish cost 1$. Lobster was around 5$ a lb but really negotiable. Lets just say that prices on fresh seafood were ridiculously low and the fisherman were not really selling the catch of the day, but the catch of the hour.

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Pictures of the island. They don’t to the island justice as it’s hard to see the nice clear water and natural beauties in them…

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My camping site…

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And we would have this amazing sunset every night

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While on the island, most of us were keeping busy. I went spear fishing for hours pretty much every day. My whole back got sunburned. We tried to fish for crab right off the shore, one of the guys caught a squid right off the beach and I did catch a couple of fish once I figured out some spear fishing tricks.

After 4 night of paradise on a pretty much deserted island, we set sail again. I could have easily stayed a month….

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Tuna we caught while out at sea on the 1st day after the islands. We ate most of it raw as sushi. Best sushi I have EVER had! Ahhhhh… raw tuna…

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Almost no camera tilt here…

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I don’t have pictures of night time sailing but that was quite the experience too. We took 2 hour shifts. We were using my GPS, the captain had a cheap hand held one too, but mainly the moon and the stars. Since we had some motor problems, we had to sail where the wind took us which wasn’t always the right course. I learned a lot about sailing and I have to say, I’m hooked. Nothing beats being in the middle of the sea on big waves and only the moonlight to guide you.

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The inside of the boat with our captain doing the cooking

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Next day’s catch. A dolphin fish, or also called Muy Muy I think. It was a 3 course meal for the 4 of us. Sushi as breakfast, soup for lunch and friend fillet at night.

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After some rough sea sailing for a couple of days, we came close to land again, but the wind has brought us a few hours south of Cartagena. We ended up using the motor for a few hours which was cooperating again.

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Here’s Mike

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First Bouie in Cartagena

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Cartagena entry

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So relaxing

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In Cartagena, we tied up the boat to this smaller 37 footer. It’s Umberto’s Nephew’s. He bought it for 5000$ and is living on it for free. No docking fees here.

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Getting Mike’s KLR ready to be loaded onto a lancha.

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We got a bit ripped off for 28$ a piece to get the bikes off the boat and onto land with small lanchas (canoes). The bikes made it ok though even though they had some major salt water everywhere. I soon realized that I had lost my front brake though and I had no pressure what so ever. Turns out it was the caliper piston that had taken in salt water which mixed with dirt had clugged it up. Rode around town for a couple of days with the rear brake only. Josh shoed me how to clean the brake system all up and bleed it. I had never done it before but now I know how. Brake is up and functional again.

Here is Cartagena… more pics to come on the city later.

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Our dorm at Media Luna Hostel. We have been here since Tuesday I believe. Because of Easter, everything is closed and we need insurance papers for our bikes. If you get caught without insurance here, they can take your bike away, so we’re not risking it. It’s been a good time, but hopefully we get our insurance tomorrow and head back out on the road.

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So over all, what can I say about the sailing trip?! An AMAZING experience. This trip normally takes 5 days, but we spent about that just in the islands alone! Add on top of that the week long wait to get on the boat, and now almost another week of waiting in Cartagena… and I would not do it any other way.

If anyone reading this is thinking of the sailing trip too with the bike, (or without), here are a few tips:

– You can just catch a boat right from Portobello. You don’t need to make big arrangements months ahead like most do. Show up to Portobello and talk to the captains at the Captain Jack Hostel. Be ready to spend some time there as you will most likely not leave on the same day as you arrive… unless you’re super lucky.

– Try to get a local captain from Panama or Colombia. You will get to inhale some more culture and knowledge. These captains also enjoy their work a lot better than the burned out American ones. They also don’t run ass wipe boats… in other words, they wont wipe your ass for you like some other more luxurious ones.

– Bring some food and lots of snacks and fruit. The captains will feed you, but not much unless you are lucky to catch some fish.

– Make sure they will let you sleep on the San Blas Islands. Some will bring you to the islands, but you’ll not be able to get off the boat to go camping on the islands.

– Buy sea sickness pills before you leave. It’s gonna get pretty rough out there.

– WD40 your whole bike. It will get lots of water on there.

Contact me with any questions as I’m sure I left out lots….