Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Caribbean

After a long break in Bucaramanga the time has come to move on. I've had a great time here but there's only so much time I can handle in a city and only so much beer consumption which is healthy for a diabetic!

Spending a decent amount of time in one place you really get to know the people and how they live, It's been a fantastic experience. During my stay here I've meet a bunch of great people and managed to get repairs to various bits and pieces which were suffering from wear and tear. Alex from Motopartes was great helping me out many times and guiding me around. I got my panniers fixed which required dis-assembling them and re-stitching and riveting. And I used his workshop to replace my rear wheel bearings and tyre which makes the job so much easier.

I don't think I would have spent so much time here if I didn't have such a great place to stay. A big thanks to Richi for opening up his place for me. I think I must have set a record for the longest stay without actually paragliding. I had a great time firstly with Robin, Lewis and Evan from Canada and then Henk and Patrick, plus a heap of other people that passed through during my stay. Patrick is also riding around on a Dr650. And then there was Sarita, a real lovely lady who managed the house and was pretty much my Colombian Mum for 6 weeks.  And yes there was one more reason for staying as long as I did. Laura.

This trip has been quite the ride in more ways than one, at times it's an emotional roller coaster with highs and lows as big as the Andes themselves. Riding on your own is extremely rewarding. You're a free person, just you and where ever you point the front wheel. Sometimes though it's a lonely road. The ride out of town was hard, it's my biggest low yet. The more time you spend in a place the more attached you get to it and the people that you meet. It's been a while but now it's just me, the bike and the road ahead again. I start talking to my bike, I apologise for riding her around in the congested city traffic for over a month, the combination of slow speeds and 35 degree heat producing some unhealthily high oil temperatures.

I'm heading for Cartagena and a sail boat crossing to Panama. It Also marks an important stage of my travels, I'm about to leave the South American content which for the last 8 months or so has given me some of the best riding in the world. I'm feeling sad and on top of that it's uncomfortably hot on the boring highway that I'm riding, there's rubbish all over the roadsides and I get upset. How can we be so abusive to our environment. I question what I'm doing, how long can I ride my motorbike, how much damage am I doing consuming all this fuel and oil. Should I be on a push bike?

One day I'm riding into the city centre and meet Jose, the producer of a local motorcycle TV show, he invites me to his studio and I get myself on Colombian TV.

Almost done, new wheel bearings and tyre and looks like I've been swimming. It's hot here!

Street side overhaul outside Alex's shop

I've managed to get a booking on a preferred sail boat to Panama but it leaves several days after my 3 month visa expires so I have to make a visit to immigration and customs and get it extended. The guys at customs don't seem to have much to do and spend a while checking out the blog.

Bikers at the Flysite Hostel, Patrick, Lili & Richi, me and Clemente

Me and a bunch of Para glider pilots at the Fly site Hostel

Richi and Lili about to Leave on a year long trip around S. America

Day of  departure with my Colombian Mum, Sarita

Me and Laura

Colombia has an awesome selection of fruit

....And Venezuela has incredibly cheap gas at just a few cents a litre. Some of it is transported across the nearby border to Colombia and sold on the road side just like this.

I time my arrival in Cartagena with a massive thunderstorm which sees me riding around the streets in 2 feet of water. I have a couple of days here to explore the city which is Colombia's prettiest, a massive stone wall was constructed to protect this important port city and a lot of the original colonial buildings have been retained within the walls. The old town is now surrounded in tall sky scrappers.

I meet up with Patrick again and also Barton. Barton is riding a Husaburg 570 enduro back home to Montana. He and two others have just set a new world record for the highest altitude riding of a motorbike down in Chile and got right up to 6300 meters. Afterwards rather than fly his bike home he decided to ride home. Impressive stuff. He's looking for a boat to Panama and I convince him to join me on my boat.

The city is very touristy and the locals are not shy, during the day they're in your face continually trying to sell you something, at night it's the prostitutes.

Horse and cart in the old part of Cartagena

Maria, Patrick and Barton

Although South America is connected to Central America by a narrow land strip there is no road. This is known as the Darien Gap, it's a swampy jungle land full of Drug traffickers and Guerrillas and although a few backpackers have footed it through here it's not a recommended place to go, some don't make it out!. There's really only two options for motorbikes, fly or use a number of sail boats that do the crossing over to Panama.

The Stahlratte ( Steel Rat ) a German owned 2-mast-schooner is a well recommended boat for crossing with motorbikes. It's big at 40m in length and the crew are well used to handling bikes and organising the proper documentation. It's a boat with plenty of character, it's steel hull was built in the Netherlands in 1909 and was worked as a fishing boat for 80 years. In 1984 it was brought by the current owner where it helped with green peace and is now and used as a non profit sail training vessel and is currently based in the Caribbean Sea.

For our trip we have 6 motorbikes on board, 16 passengers, and 3 crew. We load the bikes a couple of days before departing using a small inflatable dinghy to transport the bikes out to the boat a few hundred meters out in the harbour. It seems a little too small really but everything goes smoothly. I've dosed myself up on sea legs but am still uneasy about the crossing. The journey will take about 4 days, the first 2 being in open water which is known to be particularly rough and the remainder in the beautiful and sheltered San Blas Islands.

Two hours into open water crossing and I'm not well, It's not real rough it's just my weak stomach. Looks like this is going to be a 30hr endurance event of survival for me! I manage to slowly eat some lunch and during the afternoon feel a lot better. We have full sails up and I'm enjoying the wildness of being on the open sea. Maybe I'm adjusting to the swells and this isn't going to be so bad after all?

I'm not sure if it was the effect of darkness or the thought of more food but just as everyone else started consuming dinner my body decided it was time to expel lunch. I stayed up on deck for the entire night. As the winds dropped the engine was fired into life to give the sails a hand. The old 4 piston diesel chugged and shuddered the entire boat along and sounded like a steam engine. The noise and vibrations probably annoyed most of the passengers but I found the subtle changes in tone as we crested waves fascinating in a way that probably only someone who has just spent 8 months listening to a vibrating motorcycle could.

I didn't sleep all night, but I was happy, I'm feeling better. In the darkness the sea seemed like a continuation of the starry night and it felt like we were pitching and rolling our way into space itself on some old fashioned space machine from a fantasy movie.  The next day we arrived at the Paradise of the San Blas Islands just in time for an evening BBQ and then had the entire next day and night to just relax and enjoy before making the final few hours up to the tiny town of Carti were we unloaded and rode off into the Panamanian Jungle. Another unforgettable experience, bring on Central America!

Last time on South American soil, Cartagena city in background

That's a very big bike going into a very small boat!

Crew members Nicole and Juan load the DR

The bikes getting winched on board the Salhratte

Bikes on the deck with covers for salt water protection

Open Water, full sails

The Stalhratte anchored in the San Blas Islands
Captain Ludwig goes over board in style on dropping anchor at San Blas. He did a fantastic job of running the ship and also kepted us well entertained with his sense of humour!

Dug out canoes of the local Kuna people who inhabit the islands

Barton and the Husaberg photo shoot!

 Juan (left) and Captain Ludwig (right)

The mast swing was fun

Last night on board the Salhratte
Pablo is enjoying a fast trip up to North America on a BMW 1200 GS, He enjoyed himself in the bar too!

Unloading in Carti, Panama

1 comment:

  1. wow Joe, beautiful writing. I love your description of the sea and starry sky being one on the boat. Truly awesome journey you are on. Big hug from the bay,