Crossing The Gap
After leaving the relaxation of San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua, we got back on the road towards Panama.
Things didn’t start too well though as I had managed to block my bank card the night before so had to Skype the bank first thing the next morning to get it working before trying to get cash out. I pulled right outside the ATM – probably in a rush as we had got on the road late and realised that there was no ground to put my foot down so dropped the bike in front of a dozen people. It’s amazing how quick you can pick it back up when there are people watching! Plus the ATM security guard gave us a hand 🙂
The border crossing to Costa Rica was quite a long process. Immigration queue’s were pretty long with coaches full of people waiting to have a stamp in their passport. It probably took 3hrs to get us and the bike into the country so it wasn’t too bad.
We didn’t plan on spending too much time in Costa Rica as we had to get to Panama within a few days so spent one night in Jaco. As we arrived late in the evening there was a quick trip to the local supermarket to pick up some food and beer and then settled in for the night watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory in the hotel.
The second night was spent in Golfito which is a bit further down the coast but within easy reach of the Panama border so found a hotel for $50 a night (after discount) – which is cheap in Costa Rica apparently! Lisa asked if the price included breakfast but the manager wasn’t amused.
It felt like we were racing through the borders and were both looking forward to relaxing in Panama for a couple of days before sailing to Colombia.
The Costa Rica-Panama border was another busy and confusing border. It was the only time we have used a helper and he did a sterling job of running around between the different departments to get stamps and signatures on paperwork. It was the best $5 I have spent so far.
After riding all day through a tropical storm, we found a hotel just outside of Santiago called Vista Largo. It was the perfect place to relax and dry out after a tough day on the road.
Panama City…..We made it!!!
Another wet day of riding and we checked into Panama House hostel. Seems pretty popular with bikers…
Drying out paperwork – gotta remember to put this somewhere that it won’t get wet!
We visited The Panama Canal the next day. It is one of the wonders of the modern world and has been open for nearly 100 years. Next year they plan to open a new section that they have been working on since 2007 which will have wider and longer locks. Currently the size of most ships is dictated by the dimensions of the canal so ships are due to get even bigger once the upgrade is complete. Okay history lesson over – here’s some pretty pics…..
Last Friday morning we met up with all the other bikers that were making the trip across the Darién Gap on the Stahlratte sailing ship. It’s pretty much the only way of crossing the land between Central and South America on a bike without flying. There was another boat that overlanders could use called “Fritz The Cat” but it sank earlier this year.
On our way to Carti where we catch a ride across the gap….
The Stahlratte – built in 1903 in Holland, is on a mission to circumnavigate the globe in 3 to 4 years but has no fixed time frame. It runs a 1950’s 80L Volund diesel engine and with a maximum rpm of 280, it sounds really unique and has a great rhythm which will send you to sleep when it’s time to hit your bunk bed.
Everyone had fun loading the bikes….
We spent the first night on a Kuna Island close to Panama. Kuna people are indigenous to this area and live mainly on the islands of San Blas.
It was pretty basic with no electricity and the whole island shares two toilets. Yes, two toilets! Okay, the island was small but still there was no way I was using them. This one was the better out of the two because it had a door on it…..
The Honeymoon suite – this was the “posh” one.
The locals put on a show for us that evening….
After a long night on the island, everyone was ready early the next morning eager to get on to the Stahlratte and start the trip through the San Blas islands in the Caribbean.
This place was beautiful – small uninhabited islands with great snorkeling around the reefs.
After a couple of days eating fresh seafood, we set off to Colombia which would take 30 hours.
Lisa doesn’t travel very well (for a traveler) and spent most of the time in a horizontal position when she wasn’t hanging over the side.
The boat stopped in the middle of the ocean for everyone to have a wash in the sea. It felt great to jump back in the water and those with seasickness were instantly cured (for a few minutes anyway). 3kms deep evidently…..
South America is in sight! Cartagena, Colombia.
Everyone got off the boat and took a taxi to immigration to get the passports stamped before finding somewhere to stay the night and more importantly, a long shower.
It was an early start the next morning at 6am to offload the bikes from the Stahlratte.
They winched the bike from the ship into a dinghy and then headed to shore where four or five guys pulled it on to the pier with rope.
This was the scary bit…..
10 hours later and we finally completed customs to temporarily import all the bikes. I should probably get used to this style of work in Latin America.
The Transalp is now parked up, we smell a lot sweeter after doing a laundry, eating a good meal and drinking some local beer and are ready for some sightseeing in Cartagena tomorrow.