Welcome to the part where I was suddenly just an ‘ordinary’ Backpacker again! The world of overlanders - folks traveling by car - is pretty overseeable. How big are the odds to
have another overlander couple, Mallary and Chris, as your shipmates for the next few days! They also have a great blog about their trip from North to South! So I thought for
once, I might spare you from my mediocre english writing and instead show you how they saw this crazy part of our trip!
The car succesfully delivered in port, and we catch a taxi to the quiet coastal town of Portobello. From Portobello the game plan is to board a 45' sail boat, and spend five days
cruising down the Caribbean, hopping around the beautiful San Blas Islands for a bit, before arriving in the small town of Capurgana, Colombia. The taxi drops us off at pretty
much the only accommodation in town, Captain Jacks Hostal. The reality that we are backpackers for two weeks sets in as this place is everything you would expect of a cheap
hostal: bathrooms in poor condition, drugged out girl sleeping in the bunk next to you at all hours of the day, overpriced gringo food, crap wifi, and a mattress that you
definitely don't want the sheet slipping off in the night whilst praying that bedbugs wont be feasting on your body. We are promptly told that we have to spend an extra night at
Captain Jacks because the boat is delayed by rough weather. There isn't much to do in this small town, so we make the best of it and get to know our shipmates. There are nine of
us total, and after a handful of beverages, it was decided that we needed a name, and a solid gameplan. Instantly, Bloods of the Seas was chosen, a name sure to strike fear into
our enemies and victims as we plundered the Carribbean, showing no mercy. Of course we needed the vessel to ourselves, so a mutiny was planned and the captains were to be kicked
off the boat when they arrived in port. Grandiose plans and a stellar group of shipmates.... Colombia here we come!
Eager to finally get the hell out of Panama, we boarded our new home and left port for the open seas. The captains seemed legit, and fun to have around so we spared them from
walking the plank and meeting their watery end in Davy Jones' Locker, for now. With 11 people and 2 cats, the small boat was cramped but cozy, and it was a good thing that
backpackers and overlanders are a very flexible group of people who can assimilate to any situation. We were given the two beds in the bow of the ship, our "room" complete with
porthole windows giving us a nice ocean breeze. (Adam, this poor bastard slept on the deck to safe 50$).The first night was filled with a fresh fish dinner, lots of laughs,
plently of rum drinks, and a making of a "Blood Cees" music playlist. Life was good. We were bobbing around on a boat, the temperature was perfect, our stock of booze was fresh,
and the music and company was fun.
The next few days were spent in a sort of rhythm of waking up early to grey skies, sailing for a while on the open seas, and stopping at various islands. The San Blas Islands are
an archipelago of 350+ islands (give or take depending on the tide) 60 or so of which are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna tribal people, some of the larger islands with a whole
functioning community and some with just a couple families. The Kuna are a matriarchal society of island dwelling natives that until recently, did not even wear clothes. They
exercise a form of self governance and for the most part, choose to be isolated from Panamanian life in a semiautonomous region. On a visit to one of the larger islands, our
captains set us up with a rare English speaking Kuna man named Cannabis. Cannabis is a very happy and upbeat guy who makes jewellery, is passionate about the Kuna people and
lifestyle, and believes in all things good and natural... including mermaids and smoking lots and lots of weed. We took a tour of the island, it was complete with bamboo houses
with thatched roofs and satellite dishes, a school, convienince store and bakery. The Kuna people are unusual because although they have been exposed to modern day life and
amenities, they still choose to live fairly simply and have their own unique style of clothing and body jewelry that is stunning. Unlike many other indigenous people groups, they
have stood up for themselves in the face of tourism, and make it very clear that visitors need to respect their land. A person can be imprisoned for taking/stealing a coconut,
even from an uninhabited island, because each coconut is a wage brought into a family. If you would like to take a picture of a Kuna person, they have made it known that you must
first ask and also pay them a fee of five dollars per photo. It seems that some Kuna families like the tourism that brings them a bit more money through selling fish, lobster,
coconuts, and even cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs! Others seem quite annoyed at our presence.
The sailing trip was originally supposed to be 4 nights and 5 days, mostly which were to be spent island hopping since our end destination was in Capurgana rather than all the way
to Cartagena. Those first few days were bliss. We constantly laughed, appreciated boat life, caught a Dogtoothed Tuna off the side of the boat, layed around on deck, watched the
dolphins race with the boat, ate fresh lobster on a picture perfect white sand island, snorkled around, played volleyball, and soaked up the sun that peeked through the clouds
every once in a while. The captains taught us a bit about sailing, had us help with certain takses like working the ropes and the anchor, and even steering! The captains started
off thrilled to have such a chill and happy group onboard, and they would hang out with us all, telling stories of life on the lawless sea. Real life pirate stories that involved
shipwrecks, attempted and successful murders, floating marked bags of drugs, Coast Guard searches, and various gossip about all the rest of the crazy captains. All was good even
though each night we would get hit by some pretty fierce rain, causing the three people sleeping up on deck to have quite the uncomfortable time (agree). (The boat was obviously
overbooked, and one passenger and both captains did not have beds, but slept on deck in the rain... probably one cause for the crankiness of the captians as the days went on!) But
still, each morning we would all awaken and be pumped about a new day at sea, sailing around the San Blas Islands, and each evening consisted of more laughs and more good music,
even as the captains seemed less and less thrilled about this hodge podge group of travelers living on their boat!
We approached the last day of the trip, when our captain told us that we would spend one extra day and night at sea. It seemed like an ok idea at first, but as we awoke the next
morning, the reality sunk in that we would be trapped on this floating prison for another day. All of a sudden the boat felt a little bit smaller. The guys sleeping on the floor
next to the litter box grew tired of their lot (yup, me fleeing the rain), the water was running low, the deck was filled with clothes and towels that got soaked each night in the
rain, the cabin was starting to smell like perma-fart (not me), the quality and quantity of the meals was lacking, and we were all weary of the daily "breakfast" of dry off-brand
corn flakes. On top of that, it seemed like the captains were partying just as much as us passengers at this point, and although the two of us never had issue with them, our
wonderful Turkish smartass of a captain managed to severly offend half the passengers on board after a few too many drinks. The tension in the air was suffocating, and all the
sudden it was not the same blissful sailboat trip it started out as! Not to mention, we were low on pirate juice... RUM!
As the boat grew smaller and smaller by the minute, we all decided an adventure was due, and we suited up to take an epic swim out to "One Tree Island" which we all had set our
eyes on the evening before. An actual island with only one tree, not even half an acre in size! The swim looked long, but with all nine of us in, we put our cameras in dry bags
and kicked our way to the island for a romantic getaway and a chance to gripe about the annoyances of life on the boat! We discussed how the mutany could still happen and came up
with elaborate plans of this takeover. The boat was clearly driving us all nuts, but hey it was just one more night... knowing that we were all in the same boat, literally and
figuratively, eased the pain. Satisfied with being off the boat we stayed in the water until the last minute, when we were due to depart the islands and sail towards land
overnight. We all got back on the boat, ready to hit the seas, only to hear news that we would be delayed yet another night, due to a bad weather forecast of storms! We groaned
about it, but in the end had no choice. It almost felt like the captains were punishing us by keeping us hostage on the boat for one more day, again!!
Lucky for us another boat showed up and anchored close by for the evening. This boat was a little more luxurious than our ride (actually owned by Fritz), and at this point
jealousy was setting in. We all looked over at the big catamaran longingly, and wondered what it must be like. That night we joined the other boat for a bonfire party on the
beach. Thankfully, their boat (unlike ours) came equipped with a working dingy and amiable captain who gave us all a ride to the island. It only took a few hours on the island
with the other boat for us all to realize that although our boat was smaller and less equipped, we had it going on as far as passengers went! We took in their braggy stories about
their fresh baked bread each morning, excessive food, private cabins, sufficient snorkle gear, and on and on. Like a middle school dance we slowly but surely divided into two
distinct groups at the bonfire, them and us. Turns out even the girl crazy single Ozzie guys would rather hang out with the Bloods of the Seas than the other boat people! ;) We
all seemed to come to a great conclusion that night. We realized that the nine of us were not the kind of people who wanted that fancy boat trip... We were pirates, who valued the
camaraderie that brought us together through our experiences on the overcrowded sail boat and all the comical miseries. We were getting the real pirate sailing experience...
The next day we took a very curious detour to another island to eat a Kuna lunch, and 5 hours later passed by our little One Tree Island again, leaving us all scratching our heads
at to what in the heck was going on here. Why were we not in Colombia yet?!? The atmosphere on the boat was tense, but the sails were up and we were finally headed in the right
direction, towards mainland! The plan was to sail through the night and arrive in Colombia by early morning. That last night was particuarly funny because it was totally clear
that we all wanted to be off the boat, and soon! The helm was too small for us all to sit, the seas were a bit rough and the boat was head on into some big swells, none of us
could stand straight, a few were feeling seasick, and there was no place to go! The icing on the cake was that tonight, in the tiny kitchen, on the rocking seas, it was "cook your
own damn dinner" night! We each took turns struggling to remain upright and not upchuck all over the cabin, while cooking ourselves a hamburger on a sizzling pan precariously tied
down to the stove to prevent it from careening across the galley and sending scalding grease everywhere as we hit the waves!
That last night on the boat we all took an extra dose of dramamine and let the wild waves rock us to sleep. We awoke the next morning to smooth sailing alongside the impenetrable
Darien Gap. That mysterious chunck of jungle that has dictated the last few weeks of our trip was right there in front of our faces. It is a rare piece of land that is still as
wild as it has been for centuries, yet harbors many mysterious animals, indigenous peoples, and drug smugglers. We may be 3 days late and questioning our choosen route to
Colombia, but we couldn't wait to set foot on Colombian soil and start the new adventure of South America!
Most people go to Bocas del Toro on their Panama visit. Originally this was my plan as well. But for once it was the weather to blame for the change of my plans. All the major
routs leading to Bocas would be closed due to landslides. Thanks to el Ninio the forecast didn't look to goo neither. Still very frustrated on the camera topic I then decided to
make a big leap straight to Panama city! Thats a stretch of almost 700km. This seems like not much to the most of us, but don't forget, we talk here about 700km through central
During this seemingly endless drive, my mind would have enough time to catch up with all the memories of the last months. The rain seemed to accompany me for good. Contingent on
my long distance driving experience between Switzerland and Poland, its not a big deal for me to sit behind the wheel for hours. It took me only two fines, or lets call it by the
name, bribes and 16 hours to get through the longest construction site on the planet (the whole Panamericana in Panama).
Here I am now - Panama city! On one site boutiques, skyscrapers, fence cars. On the other drugs, crime, poverty. I’m aware of that a lot of cities possess two faces, such a big
disparity as its here was frightening though. These days we associate with Panama - banks and money laundering. But if you would ask Europeans half a year ago what they know about
Panama, I bet 90% wouldn't know more than the canal that runs through it. The point Im trying to make here is that after staying here for over a week, I’m not surprised at all
about the ‘Panama-Papers’!
Quickly this place seemed very, very corrupted to me. Especially the officials. I think I counted over five different police forces. Additionally to that the army guys seem to
have big role in daily life too. On my second night I experienced the attempt to get me more or less robed under false accusations, and and there are plenty of stories from other
travellers that experienced similar events. So here comes some smartass advice on this topic; Just carry enough money for the day. Have a copy of your passport. Don't bring any
original ID with you because once they have it, the leverage is on their side!
But lets get back on the upcoming task -nope, not buying a new camera but the shipping of my beloved car to south America! And let me tell you this is quite a story!
I checked in in a little hostel that strangely was situated in the middle of a living quarter and started on looking into at reviews on how to proceed. My internet research showed
me three options on how to get the car to Colombia. The first two where either to load the car into a container or the RoRo option. RoRo stands short for ‘Roll on Roll off’. In
this both situations you leave your car and the whole accompanied luggage to strangers whiteout any guarantee to receive it back on arrival. In both cases the estimated price only
for the car is around 1’700 to 2’000$!
Considering I bought the Schwarzenegger for 1’300$ and additional costs for either a flight ticket or a boat cruse on top of it, wouldn’t add up for me.
I found a third possible option. An Austrian guy named Fritz was offering shippings with his ferry for 1500$ including the passenger. I got in touch with him and played my
Austrian dialect card to bargain him down to 1000$. Compared to the other offers, this was by far the beast deal. But of course there's a fly in the ointment! I read a lot of
blogs where this infamous Fritz would appear. Apparently he was having a lot of troubles with his sailing business and people would complain about his dodgy behaviour. I din’t see
any other options than to give it a shot anyway.
Following his instruction I sorted out the police inspection and all the paperwork necessary. In the meantime I managed to finally buy a new camera! With ally this settled I had a
bit time to see the city and try out my new Sony alpha 6000.
Happy everything went so far smooth, I awaited the leap over to south America. One night before I was supposed to drive my car to Colon, thats where the ferry embarks, Fritz wrote
me a mail where he explained to me that two costumers resigned and that he could’t do the trip out of economical reasons! I called him straight away and argued that he is putting
me into an pretty awful position! That this is not professional what so ever, and so on…He apologised and offered to refund me the 500$ deposit I’ve made. I just wished to
eventually get to Colombia, so I asked about the next date he would be able to ship? The answer was three weeks! After reconsidering the situation I came up with the plan to drive
as scheduled to Colon the next day and get the paperwork done with customs. Afterwards we could drop the car at the pier. From here Fritz could drive it just on his ferry in three
weeks time. Meanwhile I was planing to take a sail trip over the San Blas Islands to Colombia. Doesn’t sound that like a reasonable plan? For me as well as for Fritz’l it
So the next day we started the bureaucratic madness. Fritz and his captain helped me as good as they could with the authorities. Unfortunately we didn't manage to get all the
papers done this day so they invited me to spend the night on the ferry with them. I accepted the offer and got the chance to see this new investment of Fritz for my own. The
ferry has for sure seen better days. But I was happy to see that the ferry actually existed and through that, this guy had to do everything possible to start this business. Ehhm
yeah, I forgot to mention because it was’t mentioned to me neither back then - this guy never made this trip before! Just once, where he didn't get the docking permission on the
Colombian side and had to turn around!
I got offered a bed in the cabin with the other crew members, but gladly refused and found a hammock on deck. You get to see normally big ships like that just during the hours
where they transport you on it. The scene now was way different. Eight crew members, the captain with his wife and son, and Fritz the weird european guy trying hard to fit in.
Fixing sewage pipes, sorting out the ropes or just cooking for the crew where some of many activities passengers rarely get to see. Despite I had a bad feeling about entrusting my
‘home’ to fritz, this afternoon on this big, old ferry was a good experience.
The next day we had the papers done, Fritz bribed some very suspicious guys on the pier to park the car there - yes I even had to give them the key to my home! I told myself that
there is no backing up now from here and took a last picture of my good companion Schwarzenegger. My guts told me he would never make it on to the other side. Well, notoriously
hope dies last.
The same day I was out of Colon, heading towards Portobelo. From here at least I would make it over t a new continent!