Date: 16th May – 20th May 2012
Where: Puerto Lindo (Panama) – El Porvenir (Panama) – The sea – Cartagena (Colombia)
Distance: 2595 to 2595 miles
The method of getting from Panama to Colombia has played on our minds throughout our virtually non-existent planning of this trip. Reading in-depth it became clear that there were three options, an aeroplane, a sailing boat or a bigger boat. The bigger boat was not running till the start of June, the aeroplane was almost as expensive and involved bike packing faff, so the sailing boat it was. This was the expensive option, but offered 5 days food and board, two of which would be spent amongst the beautiful tropical islands of San Blas. The chance to snorkel for the first time this trip finally sold it to us. Our research showed us that you were either going to love it or hate it, but regardless of which was true, you would be glad of reaching your destination alive. So many factors come into it, the food, the weather, the boat, your fellow shipmates, where you anchor and not forgetting the captain! We crossed our fingers, booked the ‘Tango’ and ran round Panama City trying to withdraw as much cash as possible.
Having easily reached Puerto Lindo via bus, bike, pickup, bike, we spent the evening before the trip acquainting ourselves with our new companions (Ami, Romana, Kevin and Marius) and stocking up with vital provisions for the trip, a.k.a. beer and rum. It was also our first opportunity to meet our captain, a Frenchman called David. He seemed friendly enough apart from the odd French quirk which might irritate some, but knowing the French, we found amusing. By the end of the trip we were convinced he had tutored Johnny Depp for the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, very capable at maneuvering a boat, but absolutely hopeless at communicating in any manner other than riddles.
At 8am prompt we arrived at the marina and swiftly loaded the launch with all our stuff. Soon bags and bikes covered the whole deck of the ‘Tango’, and just as quickly it was all stowed in mystical places (or blatantly obvious places in the case of our bikes). Shortly after setting off it became clear that Geoff had been blessed with his mother’s sea-worthiness and spent most of the afternoon below deck until the calmer waters of the San Blas islands were reached in the evening. This glorious setting of picture-perfect desert islands surrounded by a protective coral reef was to be our home for the next two days.
The next morning, with great anticipation, we sploshed into the water in our snorkeling paraphernalia, however a deep fast channel had to be navigated before we reached the reef. Both of us had visions of great white sharks surfacing to gobble us up. With relief we walked into the shady shallows before the reef. This was a quite small reef with only a few small fish, but the size meant we could appreciate the beautiful detail and colour, allowing us amongst other things to spot an octopus hiding in its hole. As we hauled ourselves back onto the boat, a dolphin joyfully bobbed past as well as a sting ray, and just when we thought paradise couldn’t get any better, David served up a lunch of fresh lobster and fish soup 🙂 mmmmm, so tasty! No sooner had we finished, then we were off to another snorkel site, this time with a shipwreck. The reef here was much bigger and it was really an incredible experience.
That night we had a big fire on the beach drinking rum and eating freshly baked potatoes and BBQ’d sausages. Geoff made the fire substantially bigger after dinner and kept it going through the night as more crews joined us. Once the rum was gone, we retired exhausted to the boat. A lovely day!
The following day our passports were stamped, another desert island fix, and then we were off to sea. Strangely, that night, Geoff felt fine, and we both sat on watch from 4am till 6am watching the stars and the sun slowly rising. Almost immediately though it was business as usual and Sarah sunbathed on deck regularly visiting a writhing Geoff below in our cramped cabin. Miraculously Geoff’s seasickness disappeared at nightfall again and the watch of 11pm to 1am was carried out without difficulty and we sloped below deck once more. As the night went we entered a storm and valiantly hid below deck as thunder roared and lighting hit the sea all round the boat. When we eventually ventured on deck we were greeted not with endless miles of sea, but a vista of skyscrapers: Cartagena!
After a few scary small ‘dingy + bike’ moments, we were all on shore. Delighted to be back on land, and with fresh Colombian coffee in hand, we thanked our Captain and set off on our bikes for continent number 2 and country number 9!