Archive for the ‘Panama’ Category

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?! 🙂 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….


Diving in Panama

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Panama

Thanks to my buddy Hamid who lent us his GoPro Camera, Katia and I were able to shoot some of the diving we did in Bocas Del Toro, Panama and Katia has put together this short video. I guess I should mention that this was Katia’s first time diving in the ocean and she deserves congratulations for getting her PADI open water diving certificate.


Posted: April 8, 2011 in Panama

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The crossing from Costa Rica to Panama was a bit rough like through all large Central American borders. I hired a guy for 5$ to help me out but he tried to rip me off more than a couple of times. He tried to get an extra 5$ for the insurance papers, then another 5$ with some BS to rush paperwork… etc… but that’s how some of them do their business. Either way, it was a bit faster this way than me trying to figure it all out by myself. I was in a bit of a Rush since I had to meet Katia in Panama a few days later.

The first city I hit was called David. It looked a lot like a North American city with good roads, large malls and most of the same franchise names as in the US. I went and did some shopping at one of the malls for some camping stuff. When I came out of the store, I met John. He lives in David and owns a DR650 that he rode all over the place too. He invited me over for beers and we chatted all night.

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The DR

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In David I stayed at the Purple Hostel. It’s a cute lil place that’s all purple in and out. It also turns out that the the day after I arrived to David, there was a big fair starting so I decided to stay for another night and check it out. I didn’t take any pictures as it wasn’t the best place to bring a camera. The fair was a lot like the Stampede in Calgary. Roller coaster rides and lots of bars and clubs. I have to say that the Calgarians have lots to learn for their Stampede from the Panama fair. The clubs here were 10 times better.

At the hostel I met James, who’s traveling on a Honda Super Tenere 750. We rode together from David to Panama city.

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On the way to Panama, we came across this car racing so we checked it out for an hour or so.

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Finally in Panama, I waited for Katia. She arrived late at night after a crazy trip with lots of headaches through the US customs. It seems to be a custom these days to have issues through the US customs. Her luggage on the other hand didn’t make it on the same plane.

The next day, while waiting for the luggage, we checked out the old part of Panama city. Here is the view from that side:

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And here I am waiting for the luggage to show up. It came in a bit late so we had to stay another night as the tickets for the bus we wated to take to Bocas Del Torro were all sold out.

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Finally we made it on to the islands of Bocas Del Torro on the Bus. I left the bike at the Hostel during Katia’s visit and we took buses all over the place. A chep way to travel, but pretty stressful and the options are a lot more limited than on the bike. Bocas is a very touristic area of Panama with elevated prices and more white people than locals. At least the scuba diving is really cheap there, priced at 50$ for 2 tanks.

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From Bocas, we headed into the mountains to Boquete. Another small tourist town where old people go to retire and die. In Boquete, we went on a small day trip and checked out some local hot springs.

After taking the bus, we hitched a ride on a small dirt road to the springs. Here is Katia sitting in the back of the truck

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And here are the hot springs

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After the mountains, back to the beach by Pedasi

Here is Katia saving a butterfly from the water

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From Pedasi, we went to a nearby small town called Chitre where we stayed for a couple of nights. For some reason, all the pictures taken in our hotel room would come out pink. These pics are not reworked at all…

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From Chitre, we did a few day trips around the area. This pic is of a church from a small local town

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Katia running after the birds

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The 2 of us posing

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Our lunch

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On our last day, we went up to Colon, to catch a train that goes between colon and Panama city. Colon itself is not really worth visiting. A dangerous, dirty, guetho city with not much to offer. We checked out the free market part, the 2nd largest duty free market in the world.

These are the mannequins they use here. If only all women had the proportions of the middle mannequin…

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Even though Colon had lots of photo opportunities, the only place we kinda felt safe taking the camera out was by the boardwalk along the water

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From Colon, we took the train back. It’s an old school train that rides along the canal for an hour. It’s 22$ which is a bit steep, but worth doing once in a lifetime. You get to see the canal along with jungle bits from one end to another.

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A Korean friend we met on the train.

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The canal

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That’s it for now. Katia had a safe flight back home and I rode up to Portobelo to try and catch a boat to Colombia. Getting a boat is an adventure on it’s own and really stressful. More to come on that later…