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Discussion in 'Latin America' started by cruthas, Dec 17, 2008.
Bump for Mr Jones.
Today I went to Yavisa. The road is ok. There are places where parts of it are missing, but they are well marked. By the time you get to Panama you should be used to the road not being there.
There was biblical flooding in Yavisa. Many people are now living in Red Cross tents. They have been in the tents since before Christmas. They do not know when, or if, they are going back to their houses.
Many people are now living in the houses that were flooded. Most houses are on stilts, but they also use the downstairs as living space. The houses being lived in are not all in good shape.
There is basically no electricity. All the electricity was shut off. They are gradually turning it back on in houses that can prove, via certified electrician, that their electrical system is good. So most houses do not have electricity. Some of the bars have electricity, which is good because people need to drink. Most of the men were very drunk. Many women were drunk. I also did not want to stay where there were too many drunk men and women. In those times either I get into a fight or I fall in love with the wrong woman. So I left when it got dark. It is not hard to travel 300 km in the dark when you are glad that you did not get into a fight or fall in love with the wrong woman.
I spent some time with the Panama Army today. They are fobidding everyone except local indiginous from crossing the river and certainly from going up it. Anyone who tries will be arrested and it will not end well. Anyone who tries will be considered an enemy smuggler, and might even be shot. Seriously. It is a war zone. It is currently a quiet war zone, but still a war zone. It is quiet and they will keep it that way, even if it means shooting people. After they told me about the danger, we petted their mascot, a pig, and then played some futbol. Their uniform is very strict. They wore soccer uniforms even though it was 100 degrees. Everyone else playing futbol wore no shirts, because this is Panama.
It is quiet but there is more smuggling now than ever. I know some details but I will not put them here. But there is smuggling and the smugglers have very good ways to use tourists. If you keep your wits and do not spend any money and do not take any gifts from anyone then I can not guarantee that you will be ok but it will reduce your risks.
The only way to penetrate the Darien is to get permission, in the form of specific permission, from the police controller. He is in charge of all the police in Panama. You need to apply in Panama City, not in Yavisa. You need to get his specific permission. He does not give permission to anyone.
There were many more police checkpoints. Sometimes they were every 20 km. The checkpoints were not as strict as they used to be. I was only searched three times.
It is still very worth the trip to Yavisa. I suggest that anyone who is riding to Ushuaia, or Panama, not just tag Yavisa, but actually spend at least a few hours there. Especially those who are on a mission to get to Ushuaia, they need to stop for a moment and see Yavisa. It is a vanishing place. For example, already I did not see any naked Indians. There used to be many. Now they are wearing regular clothes. Exactly like in the city. The only naked I saw were very young children being bathed from the barrels of water by the road.
There is a water crisis. Because the flooding contaminated the clean water places. So there are barrels of water in front of houses next to the road. I do not trust that water either. For example, they bathe children in it. Is that the water you want to drink?
The road to Carti is completely paved. There is a big sign that says "Carti." Gone are the days when I would tell people, "There are steel bridges. When you come to the last one, there will be a road to the left. It is the only road to the left." The bridge over the last river is now fully operational. The days of getting epic photos there and having them on the front page are over. Lucio, Paula, and I have the last good photos from there. Now it is just another pavement. Oh well.
Thanks for the report. You've got the gift of conveying the essential flavor of the place without having to actually say it all in words.
"In those times either I get into a fight or I fall in love with the wrong woman." IME, the best you can ask in those situations is that the choice of which to do is left up to you. Other times the decision is made for you.
It is easy to describe something so powerful. I have never before seen so many people living in Red Cross tents. Also I did not know the tents were of such good construction. They are actually very good. They are better than the houses used to be. Smaller, but better, with very good mosquito netting.
FWIW, I am taking malaria medicine and for sleeping in the Darien and the Interior, a very light weight sleeping bag and a mosquito net. I forgot for a while to spray myself with DEET, so when I was sitting for the Choko Embera woman to paint my body, I was bitten on my feet by very small flies. It is itching very bad. Next time I will keep my boots on. You can buy regular Off! in the grocery stores for $5.00, which is the 35% DEET Deep Woods Off! They also sell the 25% DEET regular orange Off! and the kind that is supposed to be good for your skin. Right now I have an itch on my finger that I think came from being bitten by a mosquito. Damn it itches. I will go now to have cold beer. Maybe then it will stop itching.
Here is the route from Panama City to Yaviza Darien... I when a few weeks ago.
I have must of the police checkpoints and some other waypoints such as gas station that if somebody need it I can send it by email.
Hope this can help someone.
while you are in Panama why don't you call the Panama number of that new cargo airline. Just out of curiosity to know if they do ship bikes and how much.
I tried to call the Colombian number but I always get the answering machine!! not a good news!
I'll try to remember tomorrow.
Yesterday we sent en engineer to try to go to Cocuye but the road was bad. The rains took out bridges and destroyed some of the river crossings. At least that is what he says. Maybe he just has a girlfriend in Cuango and did not want to pass. There are no tail lights on the landrover and my pig is in Wisconsin but tomorrow with luck I will try. Hey, it is Panama, right? Who needs stinkin' tail lights anyway. Or blinkers. I'll just use arm signals like in the old days.
Edit: I explained about the current condition of Yavisa more for my own fun than for information about getting from Panama to Colombia. The one thing everyone needs to know is that there is a new kind of old trouble in the Darien and the Panama military will NOT tolerate any kind of problem. I will not be responsible if anyone ends up injured or dead. If you create a hastle for the Panama military, then you are being an asshole. Those guys are working very hard in an extremely hostile environment. They really do not have time or energy to help the sorry asses of wandering thrill seekers.
Nobody answers. I've tried a few times and the number doesn't even have an outgoing message. Nobody has called me back, either.
Left message too at the colombian phone and nobody called back... :huh
A company that actually had a jet as big as the one in the flyer would have a person to answer the pnone, no?
Today I spent some time in Porto Bello. I helped a couple of the captains with their normal maintenance. They had small private boats and take only a few backpackers occasionally to Colombia. Backpackers and motorcycle riders are a pain in their ass. They always want everything on a schedule. But what the fuck. This is Panama and the passage is dependent on the wind and the weather. You have to go all the way to Panama City to get shit for the boats and that is a bitch. It is easier for them to go on the schedule of the wind and the tide. If you want to find a boat ready to go, then go to Porto Bello and spend some time and maybe you will find a boat. Otherwise, fly the fucker. You should fly it anyway, unless you can get on a truly big boat, because a motorcycle on a small boat gets wet and nothing wrecks motorcycles like getting doused with sea water. Fly the fucker from Tocumen, then take a nice easy week or two to get your ass to Cartegena via boat and San Blas.
I went as far as Cuango, and then on the private road inland over one river, until the Cuango River. Holy shit it got bigger. In Porto Bello a landslide last month killed several people and even damaged the really old Spanish fort. Even for Panama this is crazy rain. Tomorrow I will try again to cross the river. Holy shit I have some photos of gigantic trees washed into the middle of pastures. To walk across the river I carried a five foot tall bamboo. I prodded like a blind man because the water is still dirty and you can not see the bottom. Sometimes there are very deep holes. It is very bad if you accidentally ride or drive into one of the holes. See my sig line for more info.
Tomorrow I will try again in the landrover. No motorcycle could cross the Cuango. The water was over my knees and sometimes up to mid thigh. This was me walking. A moto will sink another six inches or even a foot because of the weight and the pressure. But if you could get to Cocuye, it is now silly, because the road to Carti, just 10 km away, is paved. Why risk wrecking your ride if the road next door is paved.
I met three austrailian kids just off "Wild Card." I do not have contact info. But they said they had a meal of lobster that was absolutely incredible, and, according to the kids, the lobster was 2 kilos each!
Yesterday I explored the road to Santa Isabel. This is the road to Cocuye. This is the road where I drowned my bike in the river. I will post photos later. And video. For now I want you to know that if you are really crazy, then you can ride to the very last town on the atlantic side. Carti does not count as the very last town because it is an island.
You take the Trans Isthmian highway (free, and very slow) or the Corredor ($5 each way, no speed limit, basically Panama's autoban) to Colon. Turn right at Sabanitas, where there is a McDonalds and an El Rey. Follow the road toward Porto Bello. Continue on all the way to the end of the real road, in Cuango. You can ride in Cuango all the way to where the Cuango River meets the sea.
Be very careful in Cuango because the women are beautiful and they will encourage you to get into a fight with a very big Cuango man. Also stop and watch a baseball game. They are always playing. It has been a while since Rod Carew played in Cuango, but there are many who can play almost like him. And every year a few make it to the big leagues. This is worth seeing.
In Cuango there is a dirt road to the south. It will come eventually to the Cuango River. I crossed this with my 1996 R1100GS in 2008. I crossed it yesterday with a landrover defender. I do not think you could ride any motorcycle across it under the bike's power, unless you have a tall snorkel and are expert at river crossing. the water when I walked it was to mid thigh. You have to factor the weight of the motorcycle digging into the river bottom. By then the water will come up at least three feet on the motorcycle. But if you have enough people, you can maybe push the motorcycle across, with the motor not running, and the intake sealed. The old road was destoryed in the floods, so for a little ways the new road goes along the river bank. Then it turns back to the old road.
There are several more real rivers to cross, including the Culebra and the Negro. You should be able to cross them under the bike's power, but you should certainly walk each first. Occasionally trucks go by and cause deep ruts. This is how I drowned my bike, in 2008.
After about three hours I reached the town of Santa Isabel. There are no more towns on the Atlantic until you reach Colombia. It is the last town in Central America. I did not stay long mainly because I was there too late to make it back to Cuango before it would get dark and I especially did not want to be crossing rivers, especially the Cuango, after dark.
You can not find a good boat in Santa Isabel, but you can find a panga, and it is very close to El Porvenir. Maybe someone as crazy as Throttlemeister can go to Santa Isabel, and then take a boat around to Carti. It is only about 10 miles from Santa Isabel to El Porvenir.
A quick note about Captain Jacks, a fairly new hostel in Porto Bello. The owner, a man named Dennis, seemed to be a huge asshole. I went to his bar with a friend of mine. My friend has his boat in San Blas right now, and just needed a place to rest last night before catching a 6 Am launcha from Miramar to San Blas, so he ended up staying the night with Dennis and I hope it went well. I preferred to come home to Panama City.
A quick note about the Porto Bello dive shops: what I observed in the last few days would probably cause them to lose their PADI certification. I have done almost all my diving in what you would call "Third World" countries, but it has all been extremely professional. The Panama dive shops in Porto Bello kept trying to explain to me that they would do things "Panama Style." It looked to me to be a good way to die. Since the last time I dove in Panama, a friend of a friend did actually die. So if you want to dive in Porto Bello, maybe rent your equipment in Panama City, or bring your own.
nice excursion! why do you say it is the last town? you mean that can be reached by road? what about puerto obaldia? there are also a few very big Kuna villages on the coast (not islands) in San Blas, but ok we cannot call them "towns"; I guess puerto obaldia either...
Rule #1, according to Bananaman: You aren't included in the "you" when I say you can't ride to any other town farther east, on account of you being some kind of, I dont know, some kind of extra. Most of what I suggest is meant for people who can ride better than me, but not as good as you, which is, really, just about everybody else. The only other FF I know who can be as nuts, is Throttlemeister. And Lucio, who can do everything a normal guy can do on a dirt bike, except on a 1000cc Vstrom, 2-up, with street tires and tennis shoes.
I wouldn't say so. You are most probably a better rider than I am, I am just a bit more audacious or adventuresome...
great! me too. let's go sailing around
It might be that no overland rider has ever ridden all the way to Santa Isabel. If you ask the people along the way, they will tell you that they have never seen a motorcycle other than mine, three years ago.
On the Atlantic side, I drove the Landrover Defender to Santa Isabel. It took me two tries over two days. On the first day, the Cuango River was too high. On the second day, I drove for three hours from Cuango to Santa Isabel. If the road was dry, it would take less than one hour. The distance by road is only 25 kilometers. When I was a young man I could run that far in 90 minutes.
In Puerto Bello, if you are looking for a boat, you can find men who look like these ex-pats. Men like these sail all over the Atlantic. If they like you, they might let you strap your bike to their boat. If they really like you, they will tell you to fly your bike, and then sail with no cares. This is in Porto Bello.
The Panama Government is eventually going to repair the road to Cuango, and the last bridge, and then install bridges on the road to Santa Isabel.
The Cuango River flooded recently, with the same storm that flooded Yavisa, and killed people in landslides in Porto Bello. Now that the river is lower, you must first walk it. Because there can be invisible holes big enough to swallow a bus.
I do not remember is this is the Culebra or the Grande. Either way, you can see that it flooded. So you have to walk it first.
Some of the bridges are not quite up to US Interstate Highway codes.
It is a good idea to stop and repair the bridge before you drive over it. The boards are not fastened down. They flex under the weight of the last vehicle. There can be gaps. You must also be sure to align your wheels with the underlaying beams.
Finally, you will come to Santa Isabel. They almost never see any vehicles. Most of the people here are Kuna who have become more Panamanian, or who have married Panamanians.
Thanks for the info bananaman!
Looks like your D90 needs a LONG snorkel and some Simex tires for that terrain.
My dad's defender was fitted for a snorkel, but it never got installed, because going through such deep water is just crazy. On the Cuango, the current is very strong. Even at just 3 feet deep you can feel it pulling the jeep downstream. It is hard to walk against it. If it was much deeper, I do not think it would be possible to go across without being swept away.
My cousin has a big diesel Landcruiser with 12-inch wide tires and a snorkel. He keeps saying he wants to try to drive it to Cocuye. When it is dry, and the rivers are low, it is possible to drive a Honda Pilot to Cocuye. My uncle has also driven his Audi SUV there. So it all depends on mud. When I am solo, I do not like to take chances in deep water. My dad would kill me if I lost the defender.
I agree 100%. Unless it's absolutely necessary I would not try it alone.
Cuango? I'll give it shot. You think I could make it in early June or will I need to build a Bear Grylls style raft?