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My crazy adventure in crossing the Darien Gap!

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by JourneyRider.com, Dec 15, 2007.

  1. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Hey guys, I wanted to share my story about how I crossed the Darien Gap. It took me 14 days (headache after headache) to complete the journey and my parents started an international search for me during the 2 weeks I was out of contact.

    After doing some research on Darien motorcycle transportation I decided that the standard sailboat rate of $550 from Portobello, Panama to Cartegena, Colombia was too much. Flying the bike and myself was also too expensive. While I was searching the previous shipments by travelers section on horizonsunlimited.com I found a review from a guy who shipped his bike (and himself) on a cargo ship from Colon to Cartegena for only $200!

    This daring traveler warned others that many of the cargo ships smuggle drugs or have untrustworthy captains who extort money from you. He also gave a warning about the poor mechanical condition of these old cargo ships.

    Feeling confident that I knew what to look out for I split ways with my riding buddies Wayne and Mike who opted for sailboat transport with Mark on the Melody in Portobello.

    Upon arriving in Colon I suddenly started to feel sick in my stomach. I knew at first sight that I had made a mistake by not traveling safely with my friends. If you have ever seen the movie Black Hawk Down, Colon looks like downtown Mogadishu in this movie. The buildings all look like they are ready to fall down and it makes sense because almost all of them were constructed by the French and Americans when they were building the Canal in the 1900-1920s.

    Every other man on the street appears to be sizing you up. To give you a sense of how afraid I was, I kept my helmet on anytime I had to walk on the streets. There are dumpsters blocking access to alleys for no apparent reason and many of the man hole covers are missing from vandals trying to make a quick buck recycling them.

    I followed my instuctions and made it to Calle 5 Pier 7 (I think it was this, do not follow this info). The dock has about 5-10 cargo ships docked on average. Some are going to Venezuela, some Brazil, and some Colombia. The ships to Colombia do not leave regularly (grrrr) like the guy on horizons said they did. After inquiring for 30 minutes about finding a ship to Cartegena the gate attendant told me to come back one week from now (Saturday) to catch a ship.

    Not wanting to wait a whole week I drove to another Calle called Coco Solo. I could not believe that there was a more dangerous looking place than Colon! The buildings around Coco Solo are all in ruins (no roofs, no windows, and collapsed walls) but people actually live in them! Occupancy seems to be around 100%! To get to the dock you have to drive your bike past this group of buildings and through a road of standing water that is hard to tell the depth. After finally finding the dock, the aduana man quickly informed me that this dock only has ships that travel North to Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala.

    Next I drove to the Panama City Yacht club which was also a great waste of time. My lonely planet told me that there was a post it board listing adds from captains willing to transport passengers to Colombia. The board had not adds like this and the lady working the counter knew nothing about transportation to Colombia.

    I decided to return to Panama City and stay with my friend until my ship left to Cartegena the next Saturday.


    BTW: Please check out my website JourneyRider.com
    If you would like to make a small donation ($5) press the donation button on my website or send by Paypal to venturepaintball@hotmail.com I would appreciate it right now because my bike broke down. I am a 23 year old who is paying for his journey himself.
    #1
  2. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Day 1:

    I woke up at 5 am the next Saturday and after saying goodbye to my friend I left for Colon. Upon arriving, I was disappointed to find out that my ship to Cartegena had already departed the day before. Schedules in Latin America often seem to be more of an optimistic goal than a realistic expectation.

    The guard informed me that there was a ship called the Lyadelmar leaving to Puerto Obaldia (closest town to the Colombian border). He also told me that a ship going to Cartegena was arriving that day, but that it would not depart for 3 days. Lacking further patience I began searching for Captain Sierra of the Lyadelmar.

    After a couple hours of not finding him I noticed 3 foreign backpackers who had just entered the gate to the dock. They called Captain Sierra for me and negotiated a price of $100 for the bike and I. They also found out from the Captain that he was running behind and that the ship would not leave until the late afternoon.

    My 3 new friends and I killed time at the bar accross the street. We were warned not to walk further into town because a possy of thugs wanting to rob us was waiting at the next steet corner (we could see them).

    After about 10 hours of waiting the crew was finally ready to load my bike at 1:00 am. I knew that this was going to be quite the challenge because the dock was 6 ft taller than the deck of the ship. Of course, the captain was no where to be found and the only crew still awake were 4 short skinny guys who looked exhausted from loading the ship the whole day.

    Fortuantely, my new friend Rudolph (Rudolph toured Europe on his motorcyle) agreed to help us load the bike on the ship and translate directions to the crew from me (My directions were defintitely not from experience, lol).

    Nervously, I wheeled the bike to the edge of the concrete on the dock. Rudolph and I slowly lifted the front of the bike over the edge of the dock and down to the 4 guys who were waiting to catch the front end of the bike. I assumed that these guys had experience doing this before, but they must have never done this before . As the bike began to fall towards them instead of working in unison and grabbing the bike together just 2 of the guys grabbed at the front tire and did not manage to pull the bike far enough into the interior of the ship. My bike just about fell into the ocean but Rudolph and I saved it barely by supporting the rear end. A crew member who was woken up from my nervous yelling also saved the bike because he was quick to tie a from the frame to an overhead pulley so the bike could be hoisted.

    We finally got my bike on the ship and moved it to the very shitty location that the captain had left me. The bike was parked sideways on the ship. It had to be stored next to 2 generators that I thought were welded to the ground, but turned out to be unmounted to the deck. The crew also said that I could not tie the bike to the nearby pole because they needed to open the cargo hatch there.

    [​IMG]
    (ship behind ours was being investigated for drugs.)

    btw: More to come later
    #2
  3. pike

    pike Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    :ear
    #3
  4. Springs

    Springs Shipping Wars

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    Wow, you got some guts there kid! But as they always told me...no guts-no glory! I believe it.
    Glad to hear you are Okay and still doing your thing!
    Quite and adventure.
    Nice to know you have so much support eh? The power of these web sites is to behold.
    You'll probably have smooth sailing for a while now. You've weather a fairly good strom and now it'll calm down for ya!
    Stay smart, and most of all enjoy this time you are having!!!!

    Good luck and how do I send you a few bucks for your bike?:deal

    Springer
    #4
  5. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Thanks Springer, it is amazing what these websites can accomplish when everyone works together. Memebers here were able to figure out the full names of the fellow tourists who were on the boat with me. I didnt even know their last names!

    Thank you for wanting to donate. You can donate by clicking the donate button on my website or you can send it straight to my paypal account at venturepaintball@hotmail.com (small donations only please)
    #5
  6. Mini Trail

    Mini Trail n°°b

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    I wondered if you ever turned up. I figured something happened because they un-stickied your thread. I tried to search for it couldn't find it. Glad you are, presumably, alright.

    Call your parents.
    #6
  7. Lobby

    Lobby Viel Spass, Vato!

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    :lurk
    #7
  8. Stranded in Iowa

    Stranded in Iowa couch adv`r

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    Sure would like to buy you a beer or coffee when you make it back to Des Moines.:freaky
    #8
  9. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Nice to see another guy from Iowa on here (especially Des Moines). We will for sure have to meet up and do some riding. I was looking at the pictures of your Alcan ride. Those looked pretty awesome.:freaky
    #9
  10. grizzzly

    grizzzly The Pre-Banned Version

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    :ear
    #10
  11. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Days 2, 3, and 4

    To my surprise after waking up from the previous stressful night there is a pig that has been crammed up into the small space where my bike sits on the ship!
    [​IMG]
    (my bike is not shown in this picture but it was sitting right where the pig is standing in the picture.)

    I am immeadiately pissed about this, but than I think that maybe he will leave my bike alone. I was sure wrong about that. As the journey continued the pig started to go crazy because of hunger and he would kick the hell out of my spokes, or jam his snout into them. The bastard would also jump up and kick the side of my bike if someone was trying to move him.

    The first day on the ocean was very rough. Everyone had to find a spot where they could brace themself. My 3 tourist friends puked multiple times over the course of a few hours. I have never been sea sick before in my life but towards the end of the day I got sick and puked. (Hopefully my greatgrand dad who was in the Royal Britsish Navy, my great uncle who was one of the first Navy Seals, and my other great uncle who was tugboat captain).
    #11
  12. jb

    jb waystupid

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    :lurk
    #12
  13. J.W.Mudd

    J.W.Mudd "Moto Loco"

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    Keep on young man, this is good! :thumb

    :lurk
    #13
  14. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    The food on the Lyadelmar was quite interesting. The cook was sick, so instead the crew switched off in making meals. Sometimes they were great and sometimes they left a lot to be desired.

    [​IMG]
    (Fish head looks shockingly repulsive, but because I was very hungry I ate it and the meat in the head of the fish is the best! Yummy!

    Fortunately, Rosa (a Colombian backpacker and the gf of Rudolph) took over the kitchen later on in the journey. Wow! Can Colombians cook! The crew kind of took Rosa for granted, but the captain was nice and bought her some ice cream towards the end to say thanks.

    [​IMG]
    (A great meal that Rosa made. Fried plantains that taste a lot like french fries and spiced chicken.)
    #14
  15. Klay

    Klay dreaming adventurer Supporter

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    right here on my thermarest
    :lurk
    #15
  16. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    It sure is a crazy adventure.. sometimes the least expensive option isn't the best, but you did get an adventure out of it.... :thumb

    Thanks for sharing it with us :lurk
    #16
  17. Cauldron

    Cauldron Now in DESMODROMIC!

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    Nice thread. I am so looking forward to seeing the rest of this.
    #17
  18. Grad

    Grad Wannabe

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    Wow, you have my attention! :eek1
    #18
  19. salcar

    salcar Riding 4 Health

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    Nicaragua or Mexico or ?


    Here is the THREAD :deal... it got moved to trip planning. a great read:evil!

    GG I'm looking forward to the rest of the story! :freaky
    #19
  20. JourneyRider.com

    JourneyRider.com Long timer

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    Days 4, 5, and 6.


    Captain Sierra told us that the journey would only take 4 days, but early on it became evident to us that it would be a lot longer. On the first day when we had big seas the bilge pump would not start and we were taking on a lot of water from the waves coming up and over the deck. The ship was getting tossed around like a kite in a tornado (I have a new found respect for those crab fishermen who work the Bering Straight).

    Problem on Day 1

    After a while we were all getting a little nervous because as the crew tried to fix the pump the level of the water on the deck was increasing (I think it was because the ship was sitting lower in the water because of all the water in the cargo hold. Finally they got it working and ran the pump for about an hour to get all the water out.

    Problem on Day 2

    On the second day the engine started to act up. It slowly started to die and we were stranded on the open ocean many miles from the nearest mechanic. Rudolph and I both starred through the cargo hatch down at the incredibly dirty engine. We wondered when the last time it had an oil change was. By the looks of it, never!

    After 2 hours of tinkering with the engine, the same crew member who fixed the bilge pump was able to fix the engine. I have to give this guy credit because he most likely had no formal education, but could probably give many educated mechanics a run for their money.

    Problem on Day 3

    Rudolph and I were hoping that the ship would carry on without anymore problems, but than we hit a sand bar and got stuck. We were dangerously close to land and the Captain was reversing the engine off and on for 30 minutes. Finally we managed to get free and it was strange because you would think that the Captain would have been mad at the first mate for driving us on to a sandbar, but he didnt seem angered at all and went about things if this was a normal event for a Panamanian cargo boat captain.

    After 3 days of traveling it felt like we had made zero progress. On the 4th day we finally started to make some miles and for the next few days we saw many of the San Blas islands where the indigenous Kuna people live. They have managed to block out the majority of Western influence ever since Colombus first landed on one of the islands in 1502. The Kuna people mainly barter fish and coconuts to the outside world in exchange for goods.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    (the Kuna method for getting Diesel barrels off the ship and on to the beach)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]

    My largest problem with the Kuna Islands is not being able to find a place to take a number 1 (bathroom wise I mean). The houses are so closely packed together on the island that if you do go it is going to be running into someones house. There will also be about 5 people who walk past you while you are trying to go. The tiny rickety outhouses are built over the ocean and are always locked!grrr
    #20