Xplore2Gether - California to Ushuaia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by JimsBeemer, Mar 6, 2019.

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  1. jowul

    jowul Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2014
    Oddometer:
    238
    Location:
    Cambridge, ON
    Nothing two or three garbage bags cannot solve. When I had hard panniers on my K75 S I always used those "special" liners. Great following your RR. I grew up in Colombia and a part of my family still lives in Bogotá. I look forward to reading about your experiences and impressions.
  2. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    282
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    We made it to Colombia!

    We met up with Chris and Sharon Struna for the ride form Panama City to Carti, which is where you meet the Stahratte on the Panama side. Once you turn off of Hwy 1 (the Panamerican) and head towards the coast, it becomes jungle and mountainous. The road is paved - but twisty and steep. But beautiful - as long as it isn't raining, which it wasn't. The captain of the Stahlratte, Ludwig, told me that the he started out transporting backpackers between Panama and Colombia about 15 years ago, and in those days the road to Carti was dirt and nearly impassible except by 4wd. A few years in, someone contacted him about motorcycle transport, and he replied "if you can get to the dock, I'll take you". The guy made it, through mud and hills and river crossings, and with his success word leaked out and others followed, and today motorcyclist and their rides account for almost 100% of his passengers. I cannot imagine that road without bridges and asphalt - it must have been quite a journey.

    Side note: A week or so before we were to set sail, Captain Ludwig sent us all an email saying that due to issues with corrupt officials in Cartagena, our itinerary was changing. We would be landing in the city of Turbo instead of Cartagena. He offered refunds to anyone who wanted to cancel as a result (none did) and also gave us a pretty detailed history and explanation as to why. Overall I think we were all happy to have someone else dealing with customs and immigration for a change. Since then I've been in contact with Ludwig; he has been in Cartagena to try and "fix things up", and tells me he believes that his next group will be able to use Cartegena. That's good - because Turbo was not a highlight of the trip (more on that to come).

    On the ride to Carti with Chris and Sharon, we were passed by "the Canadian Mikes" on their Suzuki DR's (we've crossed paths with them off an on since Guatemala) just before the Kuna checkpoint. Though we arrived an hour early, we found we were the last ones to arrive at the dock, just behind the Mikes. Once we got there, we found the Stahratte anchored off-shore, and the Captain and crew on-shore welcoming us and preparing the bikes. We were directed us to remove all luggage and panniers, and the crew with some Kuna helpers loaded all of our belongings into a small boat that then delivered the goods to the Stahlratte.

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    Our route from Panama City to the Stahlratte. I had the gps below deck once we set sail, which is why the perfectly straight line to our first anchorage in the San Blas islands.

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    On route to through the Jungle to Carti.

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    Pulling out from the Kuna checkpoint (where we had to pay to pass). Chris and Sharon in the lead on their Suzuki's.

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    Captain Ludwig and his helpers rigging up our bikes to be hoisted onto the Stahlratte (anchored off-shore in background). He has done this so many times and has seen every possible type of bike - best to just stay out of his way and let him do it! In immediate foreground is Peter from Switzerland - another rider who came with the Stahratte from Mexico-Cuba-Jamaica to Carti. Our Panama to Colombia trip was Ludwig's first voyage of the season, he had been doing Mexico-Cuba trips prior to this.

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    Ready to go! The Stalhratte still anchored off-shore in the background. Note the blue rope on my bike - rigging for the upcoming hoisting operation.
  3. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    282
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    The Stahlratte pulled up alongside the cement dock, and in quick succession, all the bikes (10, one was a Ural side-car rig) were loaded. The Stahlratte then moved back and anchored off-shore, and we all got into a small boat and motored out to meet it and climb onboard. After a going below deck to find our berth and securing our belongings, we went up for a briefing by the Captain, and give him our passports. Our passports were taken by an agent by boat for processing, and we then headed off for our first anchorage, which was a short ride under motor (not sail) east where we anchored between some small islands for the night (end day 1). We stayed there the whole next day (day 2), enjoying some snorkeling around the nearby coral reefs, and got underway after dinner. The next morning (day 3) we stopped at a border port where the Captain took off in a boat to take care of checking us (but not our bikes) into Colombia, and after dinner we set out for our final port (Turbo), where we arrived early then next morning (Day 4).

    And yeah! Advrider now allows 10 pictures per post!
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    My R1200GSA going on board.

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    Carol's F700GS making the trip. We removed all panniers and luggage first.

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    Lunch on the upper deck.

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    Captain Ludwig Hoffman (left) directing the loading. He has done this more than just a few times!

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    Our berth, below deck.

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    Stahratte underway, heading through the San Blas Islands. This was the first day - we anchored not long after this.

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    Day 2 we were anchored all day between several small isalnds, and the Kuna indians came out to sell stuff. Captain Ludwig purchased a bunch of lobsters and fish, which the Kuna's cleaned and then we had a feast that night.

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    There was some good snorkeling where we anchored - this is a spotted eagle ray.

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    Carol and I - snorkel selfie.

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    I had to try it - swinging by rope off the bow to drop into the ocean below. Just don't forget to let go!
    roadcapDen, jowul and NSFW like this.
  4. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    282
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    I made a short video of our Stahlratte experience.
  5. oneway

    oneway Tehachapi CA

    Joined:
    May 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    4,420
    Location:
    Tehachapi, CA when I'm home
    Brings back memories!
    The sound of the “rat” is still running in my mind.
    JimsBeemer likes this.
  6. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    282
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    The Stahlratte was a wonderful experience overall. However, as I hinted at earlier, the port we disembarked at, Turbo, was a low-light. Ludwig told us that he had a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A was to try and get permission to unload or motorcycles on the Coast Guard dock. We arrived in the harbor early in the morning, around 7:00AM, and docked at the Coast Guard dock, and Ludwig got off with some Cuban rum and I'm guessing some money to try and grease the skids.

    After a few hours (Rum taken) the answer was "No" - we could not unload the bikes there. So we had to go to Plan B. Plan B was to go back into the harbor, anchor, and get a local cattle boat to pull up beside us. Once it was tied to the Stahlratte, we loaded the motorcycles into the cattle boat (you can imagine what it smelled like) and then we all boarded and rode it across the bay and in through a little canal. The ride down the canal, with the jungle pressing in, reminded me of the movie "The African Queen".

    We landed at a corral (of course), and rode the bikes off the cattle ship. To this point, it was actually an intriguing and interesting aventure. The bad part was the ride from the corral to Turbo customs, where we had to check our bikes into Colombia.

    Ludwig hired a guide for us, who was on a little scooter, and he proceeded to lead us through the streets of Turbo, which were muddy beyond imagination (for city streets), congested (with scooters zipping every direction) and just not fun. I dropped my GS once at the corral before we even got to the mud (put the wrong foot down), but once we got to the mud several others went down, including Carol several times. She dropped it once next to a car and her windshield hit the car door - that cost us $50 to make right. Another of our team was on a R1200GSA with stock Michelin Anakee 3 tires and he dropped his bike several times. We were going by residential areas, and people were living in this mud - it reminded me of the cartoon "Dilbert" and his fictional "Elbonians" - if you know the comic, you'll get that. I can't imagine living with that.

    Anyway - we eventually made it to customs, and that was a highlight. They were so organized and helpful! Wow - after Central America, it was quite a change. They worked into their lunch hour to get us all processed, and even brought us cold water. Then some more mud-ridding to get out of town, and finally onto tarmac. We rode to the town of Arboletes with Chris and Sharon Struna, and the next day, ironically, wonderfully, and thanks to Sharon's research, we visited and swam in a mud volcano. Next post.

    P1310981.JPG A couple on a Ural was part of the Stahlratte passenger list (10 bikes, 11 people on this trip). Loading the Ural from the Stahlratte to the cattle ship was quite .... interesting. Made loading the bikes look easy.

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    Carols bike being loaded into the cattle ship.

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    Crew of the Stahlratte. Ludwig takes on temporary volunteers who want to learn to sail and see some of the world.

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    Here comes Plan B.

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    All loaded and ready for the ride to the corral.

    P1320125.JPG The Ural needed a little assistance getting out of the cattle ship.

    P1320137_stitch.jpg Everyone unloaded, ready to leave the corral and head to ... muddy Turbo. I dropped my bike shortly after this.

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    Some of the better streets in Turbo - it got worse.

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    This is the outskirts of town - once we were in town, there was a lot more water covering the streets and just mud-holes, and so many 125CC bikes and scooters zipping around it was hard to navigate. The Continental TCK70's did great given the conditions - I only got real "slippery" once. But TKC80's would have been welcome in this situation, and Carol would have fared better with knobbies, I'm sure.

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    Finally - customs office and some pavement. Completed importing our bikes and said goodbye to the Stahlratte alumni - but have run into several of them since! Small world.
    roadcapDen and NSFW like this.
  7. JimsBeemer

    JimsBeemer 2017 R1200GSA

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    282
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Yes, that sound! Also reminded me of “The African Queen”. 4 cylinders, ~300hp, you can practically count the reps. I have a recording of it . Got a tour of the engine room one day, was fun.