Our last week in Colombia was spent in the atmospheric city of Cartagena. The old historic and preserved quarter rubs shoulders with the not so well preserved quarter of Getsemani, which we had made home for the week. It was a week of forced relaxation with the heat and humidity rendering us helpless to do much between the hours of 9.30am and 4.30pm but we made up for it in the evenings.
Our aim in Cartagena was to catch the relatively new ferry service running to Panama City. In case you were wondering ‘why a ferry?’, there is no road between Colombia and Panama. The 65km area called the ‘Darien Gap’ remains a jungle and that seems to suit both countries. Makes it a tad more difficult for us overland travellers though. The ferry has been running for a short while and is supposed to take 18 hours. A visit to a shipping agent confirmed that we should arrive at the port at midday with our bike cleaned and ready for fumigation. Ferry to leave at 7pm. As we have learned in South America, practice very rarely mimics theory. We arrived with a spotless Bertie to find 7 other bikes covered in dust and a man who puffed a couple of jets of something at the bike and relieved us of $35. Parking up we were then invited to rest in the shade…. for the next 5 hours followed by a further 5 hours queueing. Our experience though paled into insignificance to the lads in the queue who had booked to arrive Tuesday from Panama and return Thursday only to be told when they arrived in Cartagena that the ferry back on Thursday was cancelled so they were invited to rejoin the queue and return to Panama never having made it out of the port. The ferry is a rental from Italy, too large for the service and will cease on 20 April after only 6 months. There are plans to rent a smaller vessel so hopefully service will be resumed soon.
Scheduled arrival time to Panama of 1pm was pushed back to 7 pm. There followed a protracted period of time while the 8 bikes cleared customs and immigration (you need 4 copies of… no 2 copies… no 4 copies!!!!) At 10.30 pm a couple of guys went off to find pizza while our bike was processed. An hour later the problem of why the UK was not recognised on the bike tab of the computer was resolved and we were officially in, all 3 of us. We rolled into Panama City at 1.30 am promising to meet up for coffee the next day.
Where else would you get the chance to forge friendships with a couple of lads from Venezuela who live in Panama, a married couple from Italy, a Portuguese, an Argentinian and a 77 year old push bike rider from the USA all on one short ferry trip; magic.
Our couple of days in Panama City showed us a vibrant place where the old rubs shoulders with the down at heel, sitting alongside the modern and wealthy. No trip to Panama would be complete without visiting the Panama Canal and it doesn’t disappoint. Built 100 years ago it, between 30 and 40 vessels a day pass through its massive locks where each gate weighs the equivalent of 300 elephants and a modern visitors centre gives a fantastic view.
All too soon though, the road beckons. The countries will be smaller than in the south and it will not take as long to traverse them. They do present fresh challenges and are more of an unknown quantity. We try not to believe everything we read and to just take each day as it comes.
Two days riding saw the Interamericana road change from a dual carriageway to a 2 lane road with much construction already underway to dual more of the road.
Although driving is slower than we have seen before, accidents still abound and we passed a car totally wedged under the back of a lorry, a sad reminder to be vigilant. Police checkpoints, as in South America are always in evidence and on the first day we were stopped. The police are formal and unhurried and seem oblivious to the little fact that we are melting in our riding suits as the temperature rises to 38c. All was in order although he was at pains to point out that our insurance runs out on 01 May. We reassured him that we would vacate the country before then.
A hot day’s riding and an unexpected T-junction just after a sharp bend saw us take a tumble off the bike but thankfully with no injuries other than to our pride.
The little town of Boquete was our destination for the night and brought us Jose who we had met on the ferry and who was also in town, so another excuse for more Panamanian coffee. Apparently Panama produces a coffee that sells for US$100 per 1lb. Needless to say we didn’t have that one.
Today is our last full day in Panama and we have ridden north crossing to the Caribbean side of this small country. The road although asphalt is poor in places with water filled potholes you could lose a small child in. The landscape has changed from dry and dusty to lush with rainforest plants and trees and people living very often in what amounts to a raised platform with palm matting on the roof. Very different from the high rise buildings of Panama City. A country of contrasts.
Tomorrow we tackle our first Central American border as we cross over into Costa Rica and lose yet another hour against UK time making us 7 hours behind.
More photos after this short message !!
PLEASE DON’T FORGET WE’RE ALSO TRYING TO RAISE MONEY FOR SHELTERBOX ON THIS TRIP – AN AMAZING CHARITY. JUST CLICK AND MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO PEOPLES LIVES. A DOLLAR OR FIVE, EVERY LITTLE HELPS SO SKIP THE EXPENSIVE COFFEE JUST ONCE AND DONATE – THANK YOU. https://www.justgiving.com/James-Mitchell15/