Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Only Way Out Is Through - Costa Rica/Panama - Moto Trip: The Americas

We pass through Costa Rica and Panama on our way to the Stahlratte and our epic sailing adventure around the Darien Gap.

We woke up early in Rivas, Nicaragua and our group rode the 20 miles to the border, where we took turns watching the bikes and sending the others to complete documents. We made it through everything in 2.5 hours, but when Flo tried to get his insurance and final aduana check into Costa Rica, they decided to make him get extra copies of every angle of his passport. Some of the employees also decided it was time to take a break, stranding us at the border once again. Finally they did their jobs, and Flo was allowed to enter. We rode a short 10 km or so to a Swiss run campground and set up our tents, then took a nature hike.

We saw alligators, monkeys, and Josh was stung by two wasps at the same time. We returned to the site to have a fancy Swiss dinner and retired for the night. 









The next day we separated and continued on to Liberia. There wasn't much to do here, but we desperately needed fresh laundry, and we were reminded of how high Costa Rica's food prices can be compared to the rest of Central America. After Liberia we headed to Puntarenas, a "beach town" where the beach was covered in garbage and rusting boats. We couldn't understand why any tourists would come here, and apparently neither could anyone else, since we were the only tourists there, and the locals made loud note of it. Our hotel gate was locked by 5 pm due to the sketchiness of the area, and we were out early the next morning.



We rode on from there to Ojochal, where we found an airbnb room in a hotel resort complex for $18 per night. They had a pool, and plenty of beaches to walk to. While we were there, it rained violently every day starting at 3 pm (or sooner), so we had to schedule our activities around that. On our second day there, Flo and Kate randomly showed up at our door and booked a unit nearby, so we decided to stay an extra day with them and cross into Panama together. The border crossing wasn't particularly difficult, but like all Central America borders, it was slow and filled with bureacracy, taking us 4 hours to get through. 












Finally in Panama, we headed up into the mountains to escape the heat, and found ourselves in the quaint village of Bouquet. We shared a room for the night and then headed East, stopping in the small "town" of Higo Mocho, where we found the Paradise Inn for $22/night. They had two pools, and apparently in season there are bars that you can swim right up to. We were the only guests there though, so we had a quiet evening of ramen noodles and beer to save money.




The next morning we were on the road by 8 am, and rode a long, boring 240 km down the Panamanian highway to Uverito Beach, where we had secured a beach house on airbnb for 3 nights. George, another Stahlratte passenger from the UK joined us, and we spent the first night having rum and coconuts (which we discovered Josh is also allergic to, as he suffered a severe rash all over his body).






The next few days on the beach were spent laying around doing nothing, and the Europeans took their bikes out onto the beach during low tide. They had a lot of fun, but then had to wash all the sand off their bikes. This led to the house running out of water, so we could no longer shower or use the bathroom. Luckily we were leaving the next day. 

















 Back on the road, we took a long 200+ mile journey down the boring Panamanian highway. Because it was the end of their weeklong independence celebrations, there were police officers placed on the road every 1/2 a mile or so. We assume it was to prevent people from speeding, but it must have cost a fortune to pay them all. We rode to the Panama Canal, then around the edge of Panama City where we had booked a hotel near the airport.



We were on the road at 7:30 in the morning, and rode into the territory of the indigenous people known as the Kuna. After they reviewed all our passports, they charged us $20 per person and $3 per motorcycle, and then we were racing up a winding and steep road for 30 kilometers or so through the mountains. The road finally ended at the beach where we saw the Stahlratte anchored off the coast.



This shot was an accident, as the camera fell off my tank bag while we were riding. But it captures the area nicely.








The Stahlratte is a 100+ foot sailboat built in 1903. It now possesses an engine from 1954 as well, and has gone through a number of owners over the years. It was been transporting motorcyclists around the Darien Gap for 11 years now, and is one of the only operations around to do so.


We unloaded our luggage and the crew took it aboard. We were then shuttled onto the boat, leaving our bikes behind while we got settled aboard. After lunch, they took us to the small island of Porvenir for the night, and told us the bikes would be loaded for us and they would pick us up the next day. This was a bit uncomfortable, but we had no choice. The island was very small, and didn't have much to do but drink beer. Needless to say, some of the passengers were a bit too enthusiastic, and paid for it the next morning. One passenger in particular was so annoying we nicknamed him Screech, like the character from 'Saved by the Bell'. He proceeded to throw up several times that night but continued drinking, while he bragged about his experiences with cocaine and prostitutes, declared that all British people play quidditch (he was thinking of croquet), and just pissed everyone off in general. This would become a regular activity for him.



 After getting back on the boat, we went 15 miles to the San Blas Islands, a beautiful section of tiny islands owned by the Kuna people. We dropped anchor for the day and swam in the ocean, checking out the islands and using the ship's rope swing to hurl ourselves into the water. After dinner, the boat started up and we began sailing to Cartagena, Colombia. 

Breakfast/safety meeting. Important point: "Don't jump around in the crows nest, it's unstable." Screech proceeded to do just that.







In the morning we woke to the boat swaying violently. The captain told us this was a calm day, but we found it quite difficult to move about the ship, and felt very nauseous for most of the day. We found out later we were some of the only passengers who didn't throw up off the side of the boat. In the late afternoon we were feeling a bit better, and as land came back into view, we found our ship being escorted by a group of dolphins.






That evening we arrived off the coast of Cartagena. We had a fantastic dinner of steak and mashed potatoes, and retired full and happy, ready to ride again on a new continent tomorrow.




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