Saturday, April 25, 2009

Everything was fantastic, and then I went 30 hours w/o food or water...

(Panama City, Panama - Cartegena, Colombia)

We headed out of Panama City after eight whole days wandering, reading, enjoying our little apartment, while also gearing the bike up for our South America adventures. New tires, fresh oil, new chain, and a full-body going over by Adam, we were ready to hit the road.
On a ferry ride from our Easter Sunday island trip, we heard about a little village in the Darien Province where the Wuonan live near a river in huts on stilts. To get there, you first have to meet someone who's been there as a volunteer. Done. You then have to contact him to have him contact the local Peace Corps volunteer, Johanna, who is an American living with the Wuonan for two years teaching English. Done. Then you drive several hours, cross the border into Darien (chat a bit with the local military) and find a sign with rainbow lettering that is the only way to mark where the dirt road heads off the main road, and then an hour's driving to the village. The women wear no tops, but when visitors arrive they tend to cover up. There are 500 people living there, and they are just about the friendliest people we've come across. They set us up in a big palm-thatched palapa with a mattress and a white curtain for a door. There was a French couple who had arrived just a few hours earlier, and we got acquainted with them and a few of the local women and men who were to be our hosts, and also our cooks! In a fire pit in the floor they put together a delicious dinner of flavourful rice and fresh fried fish, fried chicken, and a lemoncillo tea which seems to be made of boiling tasty grass in water. After the guests eat, the family sits nearby and eats the rest. They made our dinner, then three meals the next day, and breakfast the morning we left. All really delicious, and each meal with a new tea or coffee.
We took a long jungle hike, Adam played a seriously long game of futbol (and made headshots!), and I made friends with about 15 of the local kids who borrowed my camera and jumped all over around me showing off their tumbling skills.

Two nights enjoying the change of pace, and then we headed toward the coast to Carti, where we would set off on our Boat Adventure to Cartagena, Colombia. Our plan: drive to the beach sometime around 11am, find someone with a canoe, load the motorcycle into the canoe, and then ride the canoe out into the bay where we would then load the motorcycle and ourselves onto the Stahlratte. Oh, and while still on shore someone would call the boat to make sure they were ready for us.
For more information on the boat, visit them at
We had a fantastic ride from Chepos to Carti along slippery, muddy roads through a jungle, a river crossing that required me to slip out of my riding gear and venture barefoot into the water seeking out the shallow spots, and finally hotlaps down an airfield toward the sea.
When we arrived, no one onshore seemed to know which boat we were talking about, nor did they seem like they had ever loaded a motorcycle onto any of their canoes. They did, however, charge us only $15 ($5 less than we had expected) because Adam had made friends with a drunk guy at the river crossing who strolled up and told them to give us a deal. Thanks, Drunk Guy!
After a few unanswered phone calls trying to reach the captain of the boat and some waiting around, the canoe drivers decided they would just load us up and head out to the islands to look for the boat. We arrived at the dock, unloaded all of our gear and panniers from the bike, and with the help of 5 or 6 very small Kuna men, managed to lift/drop the motorcycle five feet off the dock and into the canoe. I took photos. Then it was off over the choppy water, Adam trying to keep the bike propped up and after about 20 minutes we neared the islands of San Blas. Right away we saw the Stahlratte, a 106-year-old fishing vessel-turned hippie commune-turned passenger vessel that for the past three years has been carrying passengers (often with motorcycles) back and forth between Cartagena, Colombia and San Blas, Panama. Ludwig, Peer, Rollie, Nicole, and their three-week intern Tilo greeted us warmly, and roped up the bike, using a winch to lift her onboard.
By the next afternoon, we had four more motorcyclists, and seven backpackers onboard. We headed out to one of the fantastic islands, which are all white sand beaches covered with coconut trees that are the Kuna's main income. We dropped anchor, snorkeled the coral reefs, had a bonfire on the beach where Rum and tuKola ruled the night, and spent a few very pleasant days going from island to island, jumping off the boat into pristine waters.
Then we made the crossing.
And now, I'll let Adam finish up. This time, he really will type something in!

The seas were angry that day my friends! Well, actually not really, Grace did peuk 3 times though :-( She tried her best to have a little food or water, but i can honestly say that she went a solid 30 hours without nourishment of any sort. Even today, 3 days after the fact, i still think she´s a bit wobbly walking down the street. In her defense though about half the passengers on board ended up getting ill and EVERYONE, sick or not, got around 20 hours of shut eye over that 30 hour period. Something about rocking about all day in big swell that just makes me sooooooo sleeeepyyy.

We arrived in Cartegena, Colombia safe and sound and unloaded the bikes without incident. With a waterfront lined in tall buildings, our first impression of the city was not what any of us expected. However, as we began to have a look around we discovered that it really is an incredibly beautiful colonial town, surrounded with moats and lagoons and filled with great shops and restaurants. We arrived late morning on April 23 and spent a few hours waiting for paperwork and getting the bikes unloaded before heading over to Casa Mara, a hotel recommended to us by the captain for it´s clean rooms and safe parking.
Since then we´ve had to take care of some additional permitting paperwork, perform some general bike maintenance and then just do a bit of sightseeing and lounging about town. We head out tomorrow for Santa Marta, a popular little beach destination to the North before making our way south to Medellin, Cali and on to Ecuador.

From what we´ve heard from other travelers, the best parts of our journey from North America to South are still ahead of us, and considering how fun it´s been so far, we can´t wait to get to it.

Hope all is well back home, and we´ll catch you at the next update.
Peace and Love,

Click the image to see the latest photos
From - Two for the Road -


  1. WOW that last bit looks like quite the adventure, the river crossing and the canoe!!! crazy folk. Looks like a lively bunch on the boat, ha! I wanna swing off that rope, looks like fun. miss you guys.

  2. Grace, I'm sorry you got sick! I'm so glad you made it safe and sound. What an amazing adventure! Our big adventure last night was Matt beating the high score on Ms. Pac Man at lava lounge. :) Sun is out finally though! XOXO

  3. I didn't think you guys were going to Columbia until Grace mentioned it passingly via email. I wasn't mistaken as your map to the left will attest.

    That boat you took looks awesome. Totally ridiculous.

  4. Hey Grace+Adam,

    good old Thilo from Stahlratte (back in Germany right now) send you best greetings. You both are realy cool :)
    Made a nice Diashow (58 min), will upload it soon and send you a link.
    If my tons of photos are sorted anytime, i´ll pack some of our Boattrip in an archive ready for download.
    Have a nice Time and if your Bike will cross Germany...
    let me know ;)

    See ya