Category Archives: Panama

Panama – small but vast

The first thing you notice about Panama are the vast contrasts.  As we arrived via San Blas on the Caribbean side, we were surrounded by isolated islands run by local indians,  dirt roads and dense jungle.  After riding just a mere 70km or so, and upon approaching Panama City, you come across your first McDonalds followed closely by Burger King and KFC. Moving along you´ll ride past a shopping centre which could easily fit straight into any developed western city.  After riding past the 15th McDonalds we finally arrive to Casco Viejo, the historical part of town.  Casco Viejo, going through a well deserved face lift as the wealthy return after leaving it to the lower class and squatters for the past 20 years or so.  Interesting to see a multi million dollar building located right beside a 6 story block full of squatters!

No visit to Panama would be complete without a tour to the Canal. Thanks to Marco, who came on tour with us in Chile /Argentina, we received a VIP tour of the Canal. Bloody amazing to think they completed this huge feat at the beginning of the 1900`s. In the video we have sped up the footage x 4 , in the scene in which they are lifting the boat by raising the water level. This will give you an idea of just how quick the process is.

From Panama city we met up with one of our friends and SAMt customer who kindly invited us to his weekend home in the hills. Great relief to get away from the heat for a while.

After a few relaxing days in Boquete, we headed towards another set of Caribbean islands called Bocas del Toro.  Again, the contrasts were vast from the poverty stricken villages spread along the banks of the river which lead us towards the spectacular archipelago lined with world class sailing cruisers and yachts.

Motorbikes aren’t made to swim

There’s just 3 ways to get yourself and the motorcycle to Panama from Colombia.

The first and second are the normal channels. Use a customs broker and either fly or ship the motorcycle and catch a flight yourself. The third, to find a yacht which takes backpackers to Panama via the San Blas Islands. Transporting passengers to and from Panama on these yachts is legal but transporting cargo is a very different story.

Unfortunately for us, a catamaran transporting roughly 16 backpackers and one motorcycle sank off the coast of Colombia about 2 weeks before we were due to sail. Whilst the people were saved by a passing vessel, the bike wasn’t so lucky!  Can´t imagine how the owner felt watching his bike go to the bottom of the Caribbean as it was pushed over board in an unsuccessful attempt to save the boat. (that black thing you can just see on the right hand side of the stern is the bike)

Anyway, this caused us a problem as customs decided to clamp down on this practice and prohibit any motorcycles to be transported under this method. Their argument (which makes perfect sense) was that the loading and unloading of the motorcycles onto these vessels was unsafe ( believe me, as i found out later, not a truer word spoken!), that due to the lack of inspections drugs could be easily smuggled with the motorcycle (well it is the drug capital of the world after all) and thirdly, none of the vessels are designed to carry cargo.

Whilst all the above points are extremely valid, we would have lost at least 2 weeks if wehad to change our plans. Therefore we lobbied for three days at the port authorities and customs offices until we finally broke them at 4.30 on Friday afternoon. The boat was to depart at 8.30 on Saturday morning.

 

The excitement continued –

-Getting the bike onboard : more than once I though, how the hell could the Port Authorities allow us to do this!  With the bike onboard, relief was short lived upon seeing the rusty tie-downs the Captain expected me to use.  Needless to say, I had to make a quick trip to the hardware store.

 

 

– A visit from the water police to inspect all the documentation of the passengers and motorcycle and of course, drugs.

 

 

– And of course, getting the bike out of the boat at the other end!

 

 

The trip was an adventure in all senses. We were lucky enough the share the adventure with 19 young travelers (we were the oldest on board apart from the Captain) of which about 8 were Australian.

 

Young people make you remember what its to the live the moment rather than concern yourself over the future. Nothing wrong with that for a while.

 

Hope you enjoy the video footage below