Where am I?

Created this blog to document my travels, experiences & thoughts thru Central & South America but hell plan to blog my travels to where ever. Goofy harmless Free Spirit hoping to spend most of my time with locals & enjoy the world! So hang on as I travel, drink cervezas, raise a little hell, maybe piss off a few people & hopefully not give Canadians a bad reputation! Of course don't do these things on purpose but while having a good time well "Shit Happens"!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Crazy & fun experience taking local boats around Darien Gap to get from Panama to Columbia on the Pacific coast

I ran into Ramon a Brazilian hippie street selling guy in Bocas Del Toro a couple days before leaving there

He asked if I was heading to Columbia and how I was going. There are only 2 ways to go from Panama to columbia - by sea or air! Now I hadn’t give much thought to how I was going. So when he asked if I wanted to get a job on a freighter and cut costs well I was all ears! He told me that if we went to Colon the seaport city by Panama City and talked to a captain of a freighter we could get jobs. Well this sounded like a different adventure so I was game.

So we took the overnight bus to Panama City arriving there at 5 am. So we took the bus directly to Colon to check about jobs. We found out Colon was a shit hole as we arrived at the docks to check about talking to a captain. But we were told to go to another office about 6 blocks away. But were told not to walk but take a taxi cuz it was very dangerous. Well it did look dangerous but not threatening. The captain told us that they couldn’t tell us when any ship would sail to Columbia. But they suggested that maybe we try flying domestically down to this last Panamanian town before Columbia to get out exit stamp in our passport. So we had to head back to Panama City to check for flights to the town. But we found out that all the flights were booked to the town for 2 weeks. So we were kind of stuck to pay more money to fly Panama City or go by sailboat for $350 so our options were limited.

But then we thought in our ignorance well why don’t we go down to Darien Gap by bus and take a boat to this town. So we got a $9 ticket on a chicken bus to this town next to Darien Gap. This was still the same day as when we arrived in Panama City on the overnight bus. So we climbed on the noisy, uncomfortable chicken bus for our 6 hr ride to Darien Gap. The eta was 8 pm but this was Panama so after picking up and dropping off people along the way we didn’t get to the town until 10 pm and very tired. This also included being stopped in 3 or 4 different police checks where we had to show our passports and explain where we were going and why, etc. In one of these police checks I reached for my guide book and got a real painful bite from a scorpion. I had got bitten on the foot in Costa Rica at Christmas but this one was a lot more painful and I still have a scar. One thing the police told us was not to take a boat to the Carribean coast cuz there were a lot of FARC guerrillas in that area. So they told us to go to the Pacific coast side which we never thought of doing.

We stayed overnight in this town called Melita or something near Darien Gap. Then rode in the back of a pickup to this little town called Quimba to catch a boat down river to the coast.

What made us do this trip except cuz it was cheaper & we thought it should be doable. So we decided on our itinerary as we went. We wanted to go to Darien Gap and head east to the Carribean coast and go to the seaport in Panama, get our exit stamp and catch a local boat to Columbia. But we were told by the police that it was dangerous going east as there were many bandidos, etc. Hell we were stopped by the police so many times & thought they'd send us back to Panama City.

But we entered Columbia in a small village (no immigration) & caught freighter to Buenaventura arriving at 9 pm in the purring rain, again with no immigration. So went with people to Cali (3 hrs) as got to stay at guy's place. Then next day couldn't get entry stamp so had to return to Buenaventura to get entry stamp. Or sure we'd have been thrown in jail when we went to leave Columbia as drug smugglers or worse. On our trip we stayed with local people on concrete kitchen floor, in empty bldg, couple of cheap hotels, roof of freighter in rain, on chicken bus & the most amazing place was in a thatched hut on the beach like u see in movies. Didn't pay to stay so we stayed 5 nights and got 3 meals a day. Boy the people were nice to us as they wanted us to stay (a first for me) but the novetly was wearing off plus no weed, female company (but there were local chicks) & no internet for me. But now I know where I can go when no one else wants me around. But hell of a trip getting there as have to bum a ride on local boats. Shit we almost went overboard a couple of times as most boats were 4 m boats hitting swells sideways. Got caught in pouring rain and sea water, what a hoot! But want to stay away from boats for a while.

Of course in very little town there were police there to ask to see our passports and ask us the same questions. So we hopped on this open boat (all the boats we took were open and about 15 ft long which bounced and tossed in the open sea)

Glad didn't get job on a freighter down here cuz they're shit holes with 50 passengers & 1 toilet with no water so have to haul sea water to flush.

Got 3 meals a day but sleeping arrangements were every one for them selves so slept on deck but went in the captains galley when it poured. But big dude had to come and sleep next to me in the hallway. He kept rolling on me when the boat rolled so u could say i didn't stay there long.
The whole freighter ride was sketchy as we paid our fare to take the 36 hr trip. Put our packs on board in the hole of the ship. Then we went for something to eat as we were allowed to stay overnight on the boat as it was suppose to leave at 7 am. When we got back from eating the dam freighter was pulling away with our packs and no trip. Shit there’s only a boat about 1 every 10 or 14 days and didn’t want to be sitting around the shit hole more than a night. So we were really pissed that the boat left without us. But the guy who sold us the ticket said he’d take us to the boat in the morning as it docked upstream in the river cuz of the tide. So he told us to sleep in this empty bldg boy a real compensation but after seeing the freighter it was a toss up which was better.

But if it was sketchy to start well the docking and disembarking in Columbia was the ultimate joke. There were probably 50 passengers of women, kids and men. So what’s the freighter do but dock next to another freighter with water on either side of the boats. So it kind of ties up next to the other ship. They have us board the other ship and climb over lumber in the front of the boat to get to the front which is higher than the stern or back of the ship. Then they expected us to shimmy down a plank to get to these rocks and climb up the rocks. Now after swaying in the ship for 36 hrs none of us were not too sturdy on our feet and especially carrying a pack. What assholes who know nothing about service. But all the locals just accepted it as a normal way of getting off a ship.

I was sure that a couple people or bags would fall in the ocean. But far as I could see nothing did, what a miracle.
The whole trip was a great experience but don’t know if I’d want to do some of those boat rides again. But hey life’s an adventurous journey and mine almost ended at sea. I know these pictures won’t do our trip justice but it’ll give some idea of the where we were. I’ve posted most of my pictures on Facebook cuz its easier to load.

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