8th October 2015

8 – 14 October: Panama – Columbian … Pirates of the Carribean Stahlratte

Thursday morning we leave Panama early and drive the approximately 120km to the junction with the Stahlratte crew. First through Panama’s morning traffic jam, then on the Panamericana towards the Darien Gap. After uneventful 90km then the tap towards Carti. We are driving now through the "territory" of the Kuna Yala, an indigenous tribe that lives largely autonomous and has thus obtained their original way of life. They live in large part to the 400 San Blas islands, often without electricity and in the simplest bamboo / palm huts. Accordingly we are required to pay a fee to drive through their country. The road itself is already a little adventure: dens jungle on both sides of the street, after blind bends often a 4-5m wide unpaved part, not-ending curvy, sometimes extremely steep ups and downs - and with steep I mean around 40%! Then finally the sea comes into view, the Stahlratte anchored a bit outside and there are already quite a number of motorcycles and bikers on the pier, changing clothes and dismounting the luggage. 
Of course I'm very curious who else will be on the Stahlratte the next days; look forward to share stories, experiences with other bikers. There are finally 18 motorcycles, 23 passengers (including 20 bikers) and 6 crew members on the sailboat. We all cannot imagine right now how all the luggage and the bikes will fit on the Stahlratte. We help to ship the luggage to the Stahlratte and then we are brought with a "day-pack" to the island "El Porvenir". The crew and their Kuna helper want not to be disturbed by concerned motorcycle owners while loading the bikes to the sailboat; probably better anyway, they have plenty of experience with it. On El Porvenir then cozy paddling in the sea and during dinner with fresh fish or octopus, beer and rum we get to know each other: 1 Romanian, 1 Italian, 1 Turk, 1 Australian, 2 Spaniards, 3 German, 6 English, 4 Swiss, 2 Americans, 2 Dutchmen - an eclectic little troop, some of the bikers for several years on the road, some big on the first trip. So the conversation goes from us in no case ;-)

On Friday morning we are driven back to the Stahlratte where our bikes are professionally and secure packed on deck. After a sumptuous brunch and after all our documents and passports are back from customs, we sail towards the San Blas Islands. After about 3 hours on the Caribbean Sea we anchor in the range of 4 small islands, all in easy distance to swim. Due to seasonal factors, we are not really sailing but travel "only" with engine power and not with the sails. Although a pity that I cannot see tha sailing ship but the sea is nice and quiet and my stomach will probably prefer if it stays that way. I am anyway quite curious how well I get along with the constant swings - have, however, for safety's sake, of course, pills against seasickness with me. We will stay until Sunday morning here: beach barbeque, snorkeling, enjoying the sun is all we “have to do”. 


Saturday some of us go with the small motor boat to an island with 1 palm tree – that’s what Robinson Crusoe must have felt ;-) A great place to snorkel as there is a small reef around the island. Unfortunately we have to stop the pleasure soon, the next rainstorm pulls with horrendous speed. The small boat has to go twice to get all persons back to the Stahlratte and I'm in the second group - why I am again the only woman here? The sea now pretty stormy, it's pouring cats&dogs. 2 people are shoveling permanently water out of the boat that every wave swells into it. A slightly queasy feeling is there, we are all very aware that we make it back just in time. Bigger waves and more rain would have been slowly critical for the small boat. Back on the Stahlratte we brave the storms in rum and coke and an again opulent lunch: Pirates of the Carribean ... .. what a life :-)
The next morning the Stahlratte launches finally the engines and is picking up speed in the direction of Cartagena. By pulling the anchor I take the first pill against seasickness – just to be on the safe side. Although the sea is relatively calm, the rocking of the ship is very well noticeable. I sleep deep and tight to 8 clock and only wake up because of the coffee’s smell. Out of experience the crew has prepared only a little breakfast and actually there are already at least 10 of the 23 passengers on the ropes and feed the fish. Although I have a slightly strange feeling in my stomach I eat a huge birchermuesli and still feel splendid – I feel almost a little guilty towards the less fortunate. The trip to Cartagena takes 30 hours and I spend most of my time listening to music and daydreaming at the bow on the net that hangs right over the water.

In the afternoon, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, the captain stops the engine so we can cool down briefly in the water. That's really a funny picture: about 15 people in the sea, as far as the eye can see nothing but water. The captain makes jokes like: hey bye bye then, was a pleasure to meet you, have a good time .... Although the slowdown was a great idea, we all are happy to get back to the Stahlratte. And the next morning, finally: "Land in sight" !!!! We moored in the port of Cartagena and after a last breakfast the crew brings us ashore. Since it is a holiday and the customs anyway requires hours to do the import documents - everything seems even a little more leisurely in South America - we have the afternoon free for choosing the hostels and explore the city. Cartagena is again a mix of wonderful old town (expensive, all famous brands available) and seedy side streets with all kinds of people, shops and odors. How nice taking a nice shower and sleep in a not-moving bed after 5 days; we all go to sleep quite early because the next morning we have to be at 6am ready to unload the bikes. Later, it has too much "traffic" in the port and the swell is very dangerous for our motorcycles that are shipped on a pontoon on land. 

Quickly the bikes are loaded from the ship and we all drive together to the customs. There the bikes are checked for the accuracy of the information and then we have to wait about 5 hours until the papers are issued !!!! After picking up your luggage from the ship - it is already 4pm by now, we are officially registered and free to drive on the streets of Colombia ;-) Oh, I forgot: we still have to buy the insurance which can only be done between 8 and noon…. So another issue that has to be done the next day.

One last drink with all bikers of the Stahlratte as some set off the next morning early, the most directly towards Medellin. I'll stay another night in Cartagena to prepare in peace my further trip - and as terrible as it sounds for me right now: I have to start to organise my return: flight, transport of the bike, etc.

So that is another milestone of my journey: the South American countries Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile are waiting for me, a bit more than 2 months to spend. What I have already decided by now is that I will not drive down to the very bottom Ushuaia. A tough driving program, too many beautiful places I would have to skip. I will drive as far as Valparaiso / Santiago de Chile – still a good end on my first long - both in time and in kilometers- motorcycle trip. But first, of course I'm looking forward to the next days and weeks. Hasta luego mi amigos!