Thursday, 16 October 2008

paradise and warming up to ride the gaunlet

I seem to be starting posts by saying "it was hard to leave". It was hard to leave Panama city. Not physicaly this time, but emotionaly..... Moving from the snoring Hotel Marbella to the casa de carmen was definatly the best thing i could have done. I hardly left the hostel carmen, for 4 days. Omer was staying there and it was alot cheaper than the hotels around. It became a home away from home.people came and went, generaly after a night, but i managed to meet the most wonderful people here, making a great unit of mates to sit up all night with eating pizza and sucking on the local ale. Taric and Hanna, an adventurous english couple , who have been moving around south america for months on end, in the living life to the full fast lane. cassy, an ozzy on her own . on her way to buenos aires to be part of an adventure show, aired over the world. melanie, a german working and living in panama. tzvie another israelie chap who had just sneeked across the border from colombia in a very unconventional way. . PJ the hilarious belgian, in love with latin america, who had us all cracking up all night long !. gayatu the anthropologist studying the northern panamanian indians. Eric the geezer from the baltimore hood, who educated me in the life they lead over there in the shadows of the rich . We all spent the days together sharing experiences and laughing till sun up. I truely miss these people and hope more than most stuff to meet them all again. With everyone gone, omer and i prized our way from panama city to head north to catch the boat to colombia. The panama isthmus is about 60 miles across. It seems pathetic that these 2 massive continents , north and south america , are held together by this small weak seeming piece of land. ..4 hours later, along the most roadworks i have ever seen along one stretch, we were in portabello. Famous over the years, as the place where all the gold and silver the spanish unpolitely took form the incas in peru , bolivia etc, after donkeys and slaves had dragged it all over from the pacific side, was met by fleets from spain to carry it all back to europe. Inevitably a place where other euro rascals thought they would get their share of the riches, by nicking it off the spanish. There are a few moss soaked fortresses still sitting on the hill tops and by the bays around here. Francis drake still layss out there in his lead coffin some way out to sea at portabello. Wrecks are apparently all over the place. Gold is still down there, buryed in time, tin cans and sand. The road turns along the caribbean east towards puerto lindo, the place of boats to colombia. This is an unspoiled road weaving, dipping rollercoasting along side the sea. Villages come and go, filled with african descendents of the first slaves. The road almost falls into the sea at sea level, with palm trees erraticaly, naturaly lining the way. Puerto lindo arrives. no big hotels, fancy doormen, all ammenaties here. Just raw bamboo and brick huts. The Hostel Wunderbar is our new home. Silvia and Guidos place. The place to sort out the right boat east. Our dorm is designed and built by the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands. Bamboo walls with a dry palm leaves roof, that manages to keep all drops of rain out. This is raw tropics. Its very humid and it rains heavy alot, bringing black clouds and thunder from the loudest drum the universe has. Silvia tells us our captain for the 5 day sail is Leonardo. He has a 47 foot boat called the Zao, that can handle 2 bikes easy on deck. After a bit of research into ways of crossing this region by but, you get to remember captains names. there isnt a whole army of them, only a few handfuls. Leonardo hasnt a good reputation. why, i dont know. Oh well, we say, lets just get on with it, its only 5 days after all. The boat gets delayed another day, coz 2 more passengers havent arrived yet. I dont mind. Eating octopus in a secret sauce by a calm bay in the bright moonlight, earwigging conversations of smuggling, piracy, womanising and all the other naughtyness here, isnt a bad way to exists i recon. Soooooo, here we are, the boats ready. 2 more people have arrived to sail with us. that makes 6 of us and 2 bikes. Deborah and john. karen and patrick. Me and Omer. captain leonardo and his friend and helper Karina, from cartagena. We load the bikes one at a time onto small wooden rowing boats at the bay side to get the bikes to the sail boat , fifty metres off shore. Im nervous. visions of a sea soaked seaweed dripping bike have been haunting me for ages. No need to worry though. the villagers have it all in hand. its been done a hundreed times. We lift the bike into the rowing boat and get over to the sail boat. Leonardo charismaticly instructs the helpers. The bike is roped up around front and back wheels, then winched up onto the sail boat with ease. im relieved large ! Omers bike is next, no problems again. We set sail out of puerto lindo around 10ish a.m....... past a tiny island with posh housing spiralling around it. it turns out julio iglesias used to own this island. he then sold it to a drug lord who ended up getting nicked. its an idealic scene. we sail a mile i think from the coast line heading for 3 days in the san blas island, reputed to be the most paradise like on earth. Leonardo briefs us on behaviour and stuff onboard. its all common sense really. He doesnt seem to be the monster i have read about so far. A man with a natural dry humourous way. Obviously intelligent. We all chat and get on like we have known each other for ages. Im well happy. its an extention of the casa de carmen. more wonderful interesting comical people. Will it last though. we have 5 days on this boat. im sure the quirks in all of us will brake free before cartagena. The sea is calm. the wind is slight. Leonardo turns the motor on. we arrive in the islands. WOW ! this cant be real. small islands of various small sizes are scattered all over the sea. A black storm sits on one of the horizons, no change in darkness from the sky to the sea. The girls bravely dive in. I dive in. we all dive in. The water is like a warm bath. Clear blueness right to the bottom, where coral sits. A small fish tickles my leg, inspiring thoughts of hungrey hammer heads, that no one has mentioned or considered. I keep quite about that. We eat meat in a sauce. drink a few beers and watch the moon beam across the vastness. I keep the ship awake with my rhino snoring. oops ! Omer didnt get a wink coz of it. i had better kip on deck next night. the next 3 days were lazily spent, sailing to another island anchor, with an island which is just a resturant. the sign nailed to a palm tree. Storms came and went generaly around noon. its humid but the ocean soothes that. We are all laughing happy together stil .by this time i know leonardo is a top bloke and the bad comments must have been from uncompromising bad people. He gave up the life of a physicist at CERN in geneva, to raise his daughter on the seas and sand of this part of the world. Karina the colombian helper is a scream, we have verbal battles in broken spanish and english, she calls me a ratta i call her a ratta ! she can drink like no other ! must be the colombian way i think. Patrick buys the rum. how can ya come to these islands and not drink rum, he says ! i agree............ we eat fish......... the last 2 days are spent in open sea until cartegena. its ok. i dont get sick, suprisingly. it all passes very quickly and interestingly lazy. a storms catches us but we pass from one side , through the silent eye, to the other side and out without much grief or panic. Doplins breach in the distance then arrive by our side, showing off and amazing us. Cartagena arrives on the nightime horizon, lighting it all up. Im here at last. Colombia. what does that name bring to your mind ??? 3 days and we have almost sorted out getting the bike stamped in legally. My camera is ruined by the dingy nearly sinking on a row to an islands shore. Stories of the road from cali to popayan being blockaded by angrey indigenious are floating around cartagena. bombs going off. Im told that soldiers in leather boots are fine , but soldiers in wellys are not, get the hell out quick if i manage to find them. Colombia drew with brazil last night in a world cup qualifier in brazil. a great result and great game. patricks birfthday last night. a top night wandering around the old colonial city, to to beautiful. i will say all in the post before riding the gaunlet south.

Koaliman - san blas
as above pic
patrick and belly flops dolphin friends
Kaoliman - san blas

another looming storm in the open seas

desires to be stranded
voodoo live in the san blas
panama city san blas starfish
food time on board the Zao
san blas

Portabello fortress. Francis drakes final resting place.
loading the bikes Puerto lindo - panama
its all to lazy !

Leonardo and mirra the pup

a stowaway (click to see short footage of the bikes being loaded on and off the sail boat)

1 comment:

PJ said...

Hi Simon,

I am tracking you through your travels and thorougly enjoying your stories ! Great pics, you seem to be enjoying yourself !