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Old 12-15-2012, 03:31 PM   #241
Dracula
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Guys, until the next part of the ride report, just wanted to say that we are enjoying Cartagena and here... Holiday Spirit can be felt all around!



On a more serious note, the bikes are out of Aduana today so tomorrow we go explore Colombia
Congratulations! Why not stay for a while enjoy the view
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Old 12-16-2012, 05:45 AM   #242
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@Dracula: hehe, we went on as we might find other nice views along the way... ;)

And here it is, the last country in Central America we've visited during this trip:


Panama: 3-7 December
We are in Panama and still don’t have a clear plan, except the fact that on December 7 we have to take our motorcycle to the pier and prepare it for boarding. We are slowly heading to Panama City. We see a lot of bananas plantations and we are craving for some.

You can basically stop anywhere by the side of the road and get 2 or 3, just like picking some plums in Romania. It wouldn’t have been polite though. So we keep riding, enjoying the warm weather and interesting landscape.

We stop for lunch by the side of the road. We’re not the only ones who need a break. I am looking at this man and it feels rather unusual to see him using a cell phone. A machete or a cigar would be more appropriate. I know… it’s just a stereotype.

The road goes up slowly and soon enough we are so high that we can see the Pacific in the distance.

The road is excellent. We stop every kilometer to take pictures. These are the moments when you realize why you went on this journey. “THIS is why you do it!”

Clouds are dancing on the sky and their choreography is amazing, from another world. We almost feel sorry that the road has to descend. We would have wanted to stay longer there, in the mountains.

We ride towards the plain where we meet PanAmerican highway and discover that apart from the wonderful landscape Panama has also speed cams. In only 3 hours we see more than we ever saw in the whole Central America. The moto-policemen park their motorcycle in the shadows, prepare their radar and wait for the “customers”.

We stop for the night in Santiago at a doubtful hotel (price was by the hour) where we sleep with our clothes on and don’t dear to use the shower.

But it happened to us many times to meet nice people in the most unexpected places. So it happens once more, we meet at “Hong” two more very friendly motorcyclists. They are Dutch and they will be on the same boat with us, trying to cross in Columbia.
Panama City is a surprise. Tall buildings, suspended highways and a totally different image of what we got used to in Central America.

Right as we enter the city we encounter 2 novelties: traffic jam and… rain. We are stuck in traffic but we see a gas station just 200 meters away where we can find shelter and put on our rain gear. Unfortunately we cannot go forward and by the time we can do it it’s already too late. After only 5 minutes of rain… our gear looks like this…

But the 14:00 o’clock (we were to discover that it rains around the same hour everyday) rain doesn’t last too long and we can ride relaxed in the city on the way to our hosts, David and Vincente. After so much time without CouchSurfing – since US – we meet a Panamanian and a French who invite us into their homes offering us a great time with them.
We go for a walk in the evening to discover another side of the city. The modern and cosmopolitan one. There are people running, walking their dogs, you can hear more than Spanish on the streets, we hear German, English and other languages, we feel somewhere… special.

And the tall buildings look even better during the night. We buy a pizza and imagine it’s the best dinner in the world enjoying it by the waterfront. At least the view is nice.

In the sunset light we can see the ships aligned to cross the Canal that connects the two oceans.

Not too many people know that Panama used to be for a long time a province of Nueva Granada (Columbia) when Colombians gained their independence. There were a few separation attempts afterwards but nothing really happened as they didn’t get any outside help. Later on, in 1903, USA tried to negotiate with the Colombian authorities the rights for exploring an inter-oceanic canal… on Colombian land… in Panama province.
As Colombia refused the terms offered by the Americans, Panama all of a sudden got US’ support to claim their independence and only one year later, in 1904, an agreement was signed between US and the newly created Central American state for the Panama Canal project to start (actually the works started by the French were resumed). Selfless support for national assertion or just economic interests? Hmmm…

Ironically maybe, much much later, in 1989, American president W. Bush authorized a military intervention for protecting the canal. 10 years later, this wander of engineering was “returned” to Panama and US troops had to leave the country.

It is interesting to know that before the canal went to Panamanian administration an entire area around the canal was practically US territory. You even needed a passport to be able to get to the canal locks and visit them.
Luckily now you can visit them without problems.

The canal locks are really impressive, especially when a big ship crosses. They are now building a third row of locks, much bigger ones for the bigger ships.

There is not much after Panama City for us. There is an area named Darien Gap between Central and South America that cannot be crossed.There is jungle, marsh and there are certain people that make this crossing impossible. So all traffic between North and South is done by air or by sea. We choose to cross Darien Gap by sea, on board of a fishing boat built in 1903. Now owned by some enthusiastic Germans and used for “cruises”. The day of our departure we wake up with the sun

and get ready for the last hundred and something kilometers to Cali, the boarding point. One by one we meet other motorcyclists that were to be on the same boat like us.

We met some of them repeatedly in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. Others we new from the travel blogs or emails. Very different people, traveling by very different motorcycles to different directions.


But today we all have the same destination: Stahlratte (Steel rat), te boat that was supposed to take us far away across a sea and a… country in Columbia.

After a nice windy and steep (from time to time) road and 15$ tax entrance in the National Park we are in Carti and find ourselves a spot on the pier full of motorcycles.

What a great view. We are not the only crazy people doing this. And besides taking this trip now we have to be crazy enough to trust that a steel rat can sail.

I take my key out of the ignition and I realize that this is it, the last leg of our trip through North and Central America. Next time Gunnar will roll its wheels, it will be in South America. But for now, this is the end of the road! WE MADE IT!

There is no complete route map for this story as the road to Carti is not on Google Maps:

View Larger Map
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Old 12-16-2012, 06:16 AM   #243
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Alex, another great report. I see the photo of Radka. Deb from Tasmania told me she was on the boat. Your reports are so engaging. But winter has come to Northern Sonora Temperatures will be near freezing overnight next week but no snow for Santa Claus. Keep the reports coming
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Old 12-16-2012, 07:03 AM   #244
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Hi Tom! Well, we will try to compensate the low temperatures in the North with some hot images from the South. Let's see what we will be able to find down the road...
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Old 12-17-2012, 03:37 PM   #245
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What a great ride report. Sounds like you guys had a great trip.
I just finished reading the last of your report and it sounds like a
trip I would like to do in the near future. The Pics were great.
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Old 12-18-2012, 10:05 AM   #246
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What a great ride report. Sounds like you guys had a great trip.
I just finished reading the last of your report and it sounds like a
trip I would like to do in the near future. The Pics were great.
Hey NightShadow, thanks for following. And I hope you will tune in for the South America leg as well...
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Old 12-20-2012, 09:19 PM   #247
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The Central America vagabonding had a nice and sunny end as I was writing you here.
But, in order to continue with the next part of the trip, we had to get in South America. And in order to get to South America we and the bike had to get on Stahlratte. Hmm with the people is easy. The girls just took a lancia and off they went towards the big boat.
But with the motorcycles it will not be that simple. In order to get them on board, Stahlratte got close to the shore

And we started the loading, lifting the motos by crane, one by one.
No matter how much you trust those sailor knots, you cannot help to feel a “little” bit uneasy when you see your motorcycle hanging in the air above the sea. I do not know how my face looked like, but I imagine I was not far away from my colleagues…
At the end, Joop’s cruiser was lifted. It was by far the heaviest motorcycle in the group. And that’s saying something if you consider we had a bunch of GS 1200′s in the pack
But it all went OK and we were ready to counquer the seas!
OK, now what? Well… now we relax. You see, this is supposed to be a water crossing between 2 continents, but this is so much more than that. Normally the crossing would last around 30 hours, but the trip will be 4 days long. The rest of the time means just relaxing around the San Blas islands.
So this is the “cruise” part of the trip. I usually do not like cruises and the hole concept of “you pay x dollars and you can spend 7 days on a luxury ship, all inclusive somwhere”. But this is different. We did payed x (a lot) dollars but this is no luxury ship and for sure it is not big. No private cabins here with amenities. We get bunk beds. I like it! First of all, everybody is trying to organize a bit the “orderly disorder” from below the decks.

Then we go to a small island, inhabited by the Kuna people. (it seems that in 2011 the naming changed to Guna as “K” was not the proper equivalent in the native language. The island is packed with houses and the pathways are very narrow.

And the people from here try to keep their traditions.

But, as in so many other places, the modern life creeps in. In the native huts, you can get electricity, phone coverage and even internet (we did not use any of those while on the island). Of course, I am not pleading for an archaic life. After all, I am writing all this on a computer and you are reading it with the help of the Mighty Internet. But, that being said, care should be taken in such places (in all places to he honest) in order to have some kind of sustainable approach to integrate “the new”. What happens with all the plastic and garbage from the “modern” age things that come to the island? Well, nothing. it just takes it’s rightful place in the scenery.
And yet again we see that kids will do their job -their job, as kids, is to play – anywhere and with determination and resilience. It takes so little for a kid to be happy. We, the so called “grown ups” might learn (or better said, remember) this more often.
To be hontes, I liked the island. It seemd very much “in your face”. It didn’t hide anything about their lifestyle. You could walk and see the day by day life of Kunas (or Gunas now?). With good and less good things.
Next day we return to Stahlratte where we find the motorcycles packed up. Salty water is not the best friend of metal parts and so they were covered with plastic sheets.
We on the other hand, made sure to be as little as possible covered and started to do… nothing. Just anjoying the day.

And to discover the sub-aquatic life. Unfortunately the pictures made with a GoPro are not doing justice to the wonderful life found below
Corals, colorful fish, an old wreck to explore and a lot of other super interesting things. For me it was the first time doing snorkeling so maybe that’s why I was so excited.
The day goes by slow and lazy. The sunset finds out without any worry. I am trying to remember when was the last time when I didn’t had to do any plan for the next day, when I was not worried about the route or a place to stay or something else. It’s all good. No complaints here!
Next day we set sail and we have some companions for a while.
The funny thing is that the dolphins left us rather fast because they got bored with our slow speed. They wanted to play, but we were quite slow for their taste. Stahlratte is a ship build in 1903. So it has more than 100 years. Initially a fishing boat, now it is owned and maintained by a group of enthusiastic Germans voluntars. It is a solid ship, built as they used to make things, to last. But the age shows here and there… and the speed is not one of the main highlights. And as we do not have wind from the direction we need, we cruise slowly and nice through San Blas islands.
Did I say “nice and slow”? Hmm that might have been true when we were protected by the reefs. Once we hit the open sea things start to change. And Romanians are not known for their seamenship qualities. The only positive thing is that we manage not to “feed the fishes” which, given the amount of rocking that the boat was doing, was a nice thing! Unfortunately I seem to misplaced the few photos I took from the deck but I do have the raw movies. Now I just hope I’ll get to edit them.
We go to sleep rocked by the waves in the sound of the engine. At least tomorrow we will be in Cartagena. I wake up at some point. I do not know what’s the time but it is still dark outside. And there is a problem: I do not hear the sound of the engine anymore. And we cannot be in Colombia already, it would be too soon. And plus, the boat is rocking in all directions so hard, that these cannot be the protected waters of a port.
Finally, I get up and check what’s happening. The motor is broken. We are in open seas some 60 miles from the Colombian coast. And the wind is not blowing as we would need. So we are stuck in the water with no propulsion means. We look at the bright side: it is good that we are not in a plane with same problems. Far less time to get a fix. But as we are, we have food and water on the boat for a lot of days. So we should be fine. At some point.
But right now we are stuck, in open, agitated sea with the boat rocking on all sides. Since I cannot do anything to help anyway, I try to go back to bed. But somehow, the sleep doesn’t want to come easy…
Next time we find out how did we manage to get out of the tight spot and see how will Cartagena greet us. Stay tuned!
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Old 12-21-2012, 04:22 AM   #248
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What a tease!
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Old 12-21-2012, 06:00 AM   #249
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I like how you write Alex. Nice to read over our trip across the seas. I have still yet to catch up to here in my report, but hey, it's Christmas. Enjoy your ride and thinking of you both on your journey south. Happy Christmas!
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Old 12-21-2012, 08:05 PM   #250
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I like how you write Alex. Nice to read over our trip across the seas. I have still yet to catch up to here in my report, but hey, it's Christmas. Enjoy your ride and thinking of you both on your journey south. Happy Christmas!
Hey Deb, thanks for the kind words. I wish you Merry Christmas as well. And when you come back to sort out very easily your bike and go on :)
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Old 12-22-2012, 02:06 PM   #251
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A couple I am acquainted with went through Colombia some months ago, heading for Alaska - kind of your route in reverse. They are being interviewed on one of our local radio stations every Friday morning and their story is as fascinating as yours, without pics, of course!

Asked about if they felt unsafe in Colombia, the answer was 'only if we look left or right!'. It may have been tongue in cheek...

Nevertheless, you have shown the ability to negotiate the situations you are faced with and my wish is that all your experiences are safe and enjoyable.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a long way from home. I am quite sure we will in due course see a pic of you two in Romanian National Costume, celebrating that special day.
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Old 12-22-2012, 03:46 PM   #252
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@duncanmac: do they have a blog? We are kind of readying other people's blogs right now, trying to find a nice (and not very expensive) place to spend Christmas and then New Year's eve. So if anybody has any suggestions from South Ecuador and North of Peru... please share.

We just went out of Colombia and into Ecuador. I do not know about other's experiences in Colombia but we had only EXCELLENT times there. Never felt unsafe and never been in trouble. Though... we never when out looking for it :)

And I think this is the key: we are trying as much as possible to avoid potential problematic areas or places. We try to be in-house after dark, we don't go out to bars or clubs (yeah, a lot of you might say we are not fun...). I am not saying that if one does all of these it will get in trouble...it's just isn't our style. We don't do much of these things at home neither.

Oh and we try to smile as much as possible to everybody which seem to help a lot. To be honest people met in Colombia were very very friendly and we have some incredible stories about it (coming soon).
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Old 12-22-2012, 04:36 PM   #253
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Just passed the Equator line today. It was a very exciting moment for us


There, in that empty parking lot, near the "center of the Earth" we realized that we've never been so far away from home. And we plan to keep going, until the day to return will come!
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Old 12-23-2012, 02:10 AM   #254
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@duncanmac: do they have a blog? We are kind of reading other people's blogs right now, ......
Here is a link to their website. There is a lot to read and I don't know if it will be all that helpful, but you may find it interesting as they are also on their dream ride! http://www.aussiesoverland.com.au/
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Old 12-23-2012, 05:26 AM   #255
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@duncanmac: do they have a blog? We are kind of readying other people's blogs right now, trying to find a nice (and not very expensive) place to spend Christmas and then New Year's eve. So if anybody has any suggestions from South Ecuador and North of Peru... please share.

Here's another ride report, if you haven't found it already, that you may find useful. You may need to skip through it to get to where you are now. Good luck and Merry Christmas.


http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=620023
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