After a fun week in Bocas del Toro, it was time to begin the complicated process that would end up with both us AND Titus leaving Panama/Central America and landing in South America, completely by-passing the Darien Gap. What is the Darien Gap and how do you cross it? Well, take a look here:
So how do you cross the Darien Gap with a car? We only had one option (the one that many overlanders have forged before us), which was to put Titus in a shipping container to Cartagena, Colombia, while we arrived by sailboat. NOTE: you might be asking yourself right now, “Is it really that easy to just put something in a shipping container?” The quick answer…no, no it is not (read on).
Titus Goes to Colombia
[written by guest blogger, Titus our Sportsmobile]
George and Jenine, were quite frantic leading up to the time when they put me in a box. First they gave me a face lift. Its really hard work carrying a roof top box filled with George’s toys, surf boards, a bike, bike racks. They began taking everything off and it felt great! But then they proceeded to cram this stuff inside and locked everything up, presumably for safety (as if I would ever willingly give everything over).
The next day we drove to a weird parking lot in Panama City where I met my box-mate, the Land Cruiser that carries Mick and Chris from the UK (intrepidfor10minutes.com). We would end up sharing a 40-foot shipping container for almost a week! Luckily he was pretty easy to room with. I also ran into my old friend and cousin, the Sportsmobile owned by OurRoadLife’s Karie and Simon (and kids Ty and Jaime). My owners seemed pretty darn happy to see them and Jenine and Ty were hanging out again like old times.
On this day I spent a lot of time parked in the heat while Jenine and George met a police inspector to get some paperwork, make copies, etc. Always paperwork, always waiting, and always more copies.
The next day I took a break from all the hard work, but on Wednesday we were off again at 7am, this time to the Port in Colon. Colon did not look like a very welcoming place, so I was on high alert since my owners told me they were going to leave me here (jerks). George and Jenine kept mentioning a women named Tea (their shipping agent?), and kept referring to her written instructions, but they must not have been very good because we drove back and forth all day, asking people if we were at the right place. When we arrived at the final drop-off location for the day, a woman searched me pretty well (I felt so violated). Then a dog came and sniffed me looking for god knows what. My owners looked pretty sad, and after several hours someone finally came over with my keys and started to drive me towards the cramped box that would be my home until next week.
I couldn’t wait to get my tires on that South American soil, and even more excited that our first country would be Colombia. George and Jenine told me they would try to pick me up on Tuesday of the following week in Cartagena (7 days without them!), but Tuesday turned into Wednesday and I was starting to get really depressed. They wouldn’t leave me here in this box, would they? Finally, on Wednesday morning I heard the door open and had to wait for the Land Cruiser to move out of my way before I could see George. Wow was I relieved! Here I am happily leaving the stupid box; they really should make these things more roomy inside.
I thought I would get to leave right then and there with my family, but I should have known it would be 5 more hours of waiting and paperwork before we could leave together. I’m not sure what George and Jenine were doing all this time, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t sitting on a beach somewhere sipping mojitos, enjoying Cartagena without me.
George and Jenine Sail the San Blas Islands, then on to Colombia
This whole shipping process with Titus really wore George and I out. I can’t explain enough how much confusion, waiting, heat, and paperwork there were over the few days on either end of the process. Luckily, we started the process in Panama City and settled into our hostel in the beautiful Casco Viejo (the historical district). This area is really quite lovely, and between our shipping tasks over the next few days we enjoyed the food, cuban music, and strolling along the waterfront with a view of the “new” panama city skyline in the distance. I even got to see the Panama Canal!!
We managed to get Titus safely in his container on schedule, which allowed us to make our mode of transportation to Colombia on Thursday morning… a sailboat! George and I were ready to hit the open seas and explore the San Blas Islands on the Amande for the next 5 days.
The Amande was a proper sailboat in all respects. We did hit a few surprises when we got there though… 14 guests instead of the 12 we were told would be on the boat. And the Captain and Chef, Oliver and Alex, instead of the owners of the boat. That’s ok, we were happy to be there, and it turns out it was so fun getting to know all our fellow travelers on the boat, most of which were long-term travelers. There were the 6 young Irish fellows, all in various stages of their travels around the world, who proceeded to bring 2 full boxes of liquor and booze for our 5 days at sea (oh boy this would be fun!). There were Anita and Greg who have a blog of their travels backpacking around the world. And an awesome couple that we ended up hanging out with even after our sailing trip, Sandra and Eddie (Sea2Stars) who are also backpacking in various places around the world. There were even 2 fellow Americans on holiday from the states.
The San Blas Islands really were beautiful, and totally deserted with the exception of the indigenous people, the Kunis, who inhabited some of the islands. Some of the islands had awesome beach bars or restaurants, and the snorkeling around these islands was amazing. I highly recommend going to the Islands if you are looking to relax in an awesomely beautiful location.
We really were in heaven, even fantasizing about sailing around the Caribbean someday on our very own sailboat. Then came time to cross the open seas to Cartagena. We were told by Captain Oliver that it would be 30-40 hours at sea and it would be “a little rough”. George and I were not worried at all. We had been in really big seas before and never gotten sick.
Well, it turned out to be the longest 30 hours of our lives. Most everyone on the boat got sea-sick, with the exception of about 5 of us who held it together, just barely. It was so rough I couldn’t even brush my teeth for 30 hours, for fear of injuring myself. I really felt for those in the lower cabins; they couldn’t open their windows because water would rush in, so the sick people had to lay down there in the intense heat with no air flow. Ugh. I also couldn’t even read, something I could normally do on a bus, airplane, really anywhere. So we twiddled our thumbs with little-to-no sleep for 30 hours. That is, until the seas calmed and we entered the glorious Cartagena bay at 4am. It so was peaceful, and we all rushed onto the deck, ecstatic that the crossing was over.
I will never forget how those harbor lights looked across the calm waters that early morning, everyone sitting in silence, huge smiles on our faces. Pure heaven. Eager to put the past behind us, but not forget. Excited for new adventures in Cartagena, in Colombia. I’m not sure I would want to do the crossing again, but it seemed like the perfect way to mark the beginning of new adventures in South America…
…and the new adventures began with a few days in Cartagena while getting Titus out of shipping. It was fun to explore this vibrant (albeit touristy) city.
Many, many more pics here: