Panama: Family Visits and Sailing the San Blas Islands

With two days’ time and 500+ miles to go we really didn’t leave ourselves much time to see anything in Panama except the rolling asphalt underneath our bikes and the impending rain storms above us. It was time for La Tortuga to put on her big girl pants and waddle herself at lightning speed towards Panama City! Mitch’s parents would be arriving and we had big plans to explore the city before heading to the San Blas Islands with Wildcard Sailing. The highlight of the drive was whizzing past our Chilean friend we met at customs. There he was in all his glory, ears flopping all around, tongue dragging in the wind emitting slobber. This was by far the coolest dog either of us will ever meet. Other dogs aspire to be as bad-ass as him. He might as well be the Brad Pitt of dogs swooning bitches from one dog park to another. He had traveled from Chile up to Costa Rica, and now back down all while lounging in the comforts of his companion’s sidecar. What a boss!

Rich and Mary safely made it to Panama and we were immediately in luxury…quite possibly the nicest place we have stayed the entire trip!  We had multiple bedrooms, a living room, a full kitchen, and best of all a wash and dryer. Finally, we could wash our motorcycle gear which, at this point, smelt worse than a Minnesota pig farm in the middle of summer!

The week in Panama City went rather fast. We wandered the city, trying our best to show the parentals around (but in all honesty they did a pretty good job at finding their own adventures), and getting them accustom to Latin American culture and our daily lives on the road. We dined on fancy feasts (mostly Italian – Rich’s favorite meal), told them stories from the road, explored the varying neighborhoods of Panama City, found two-toed and three-toed sloths, and trees full of toucans! Also, almost going without being said, we toured the Panama Canal. It was one fast-paced/action packed week. In the midst of all the chaos Mitch was able to escape and get his new “reinforced” subframe kit installed. No one needs another frame crack.!  It was GREAT to share our adventure with the Parents! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR COMING and putting up with us for a week 😉 – Love you!

Departing from Panama City we took care of our VIN check and headed off to Colon to “exit” our bikes out of Panama. After almost 8 months on the road, Colon could quite possibly be the most run-down/disgusting place we’ve wandered through. We parked the bikes at the safest location we could find (a McDonalds) and took shifts watching the bikes while the others went into the trade free zone to pick up some supplies. We bought casual shoes so we could stop getting denied from bars, hats for the boat, and several bottles of booze for our sailing trip in the San Blas before heading to Puerto Lindo for the night.

After a good night’s rest we were up bright and early to repack our gear and meet our Captain, Charlie, who would be leading us through the San Blas Islands with the Wildcard. When Charlie arrived he pulled up in a rubber zodiac accompanied by a lancha with two locals. Using the rickety dock we eased the bikes, one-by-one onto the lancha, sitting on the bikes for “stability” while we motored out to the sailboat to load them.

Sure this looked extremely sketchy, and a potential bike drop would hurl our bikes to the depths of Davie Jones’s locker, but we were assured this had been done hundreds of times. Safely parallel to the sailboat the bikes were hoisted up, inch-by-inch, and swung over the bow onto the deck, and strapped down for the voyage through the San Blas Islands. Vamos a Colombia!!

With the bikes loaded it was time to meet the rest of the group back on the mainland. It was an eclectic group of 3 couples and 1 Australian girl with the remainder being dudes from across the planet (UK, Australia, Holland, Switzerland, etc…). We could already tell it was going to be an interesting five day journey. The group primarily consisted of travelers going from North to South via Central America. Most were stopping in Colombia while others, like us, were headed for Patagonia next season. We were a ragtag group ranging in age from 19 to 59 consisting of students, teachers, retirees, wanna be retirees, engineers, and male models. We all instantly got along and were ready to set sail!

Prior to our departure we were told the seas wouldn’t be that rough so collectively we decided not to take any medicine, and boy was that a mistake! To start, we had an 8-hr open ocean journey to the San Blas Islands…it quite possibly could have been the longest 8-hrs of our lives! For those of you who have never gotten sea sick let us tell you…it is absolutely miserable! Each one of us tried our hardest, focusing on one little piece of stable horizon, sweating, and swallowing the knot in our throats, to keep our lunch down, but it was no match for the open ocean. Turning green in the face and unable to control it Justin was first, followed by Antonia, and then Mitch. By this point 2/3rds of the boat was immobile and praying for our arrival in the San Blas!

We arrived late at night. Those who could sleep, were already long passed out while the rest of us were ecstatic to no longer be nauseas. This would be our home for the next three days.

We spent our days island hoping within the chain of islands, cannonballing off the roof top deck, sunbathing, snorkeling, and doing exactly what you would expect 18 backpackers to be doing lost in the middle of the Caribbean…drinking rum and pretending to be pirates.

Wildcard Sailing led us on an incredible journey, and their food was top notch! We even got a whole lobster dinner smothered in cream sauce, octopus, MORE lobster, and fish. During our time in the San Blas they took us to meet the Kuna locals living on the islands, threw us one hell of a beach BBQ and party, and pointed out all the best spots for snorkeling. The highlight (at least for Justin) was getting a chance to surf. Who would have expected that?

Stepping on the boat back in Panama, Justin immediately started questioning if we’d have the opportunity to surf given he spotted a few boards in the boat. Charlie, the captain, informed us there were all sorts of waves out here…it just depends on winds, tides, and swell. Having spotted a wave he’d never surfed before Charlie was pretty amped to give it a go. We’d never make it in time with the little dingy so we paid a Kuna to take us in one of their big hollowed-out canoes. The group consisted of Justin, Charlie and his son, and Eli, who luckily had his own boards with him.

Approaching the backside of the wave it was hard to tell if it was surfable. It looked shifty, and a bit wonky, but the water was crystal clear and we were miles from another surfer. Immediately Charlie was up on a wave, then Eli. Everyone was getting their fair share while Justin sat outback taking photos. Luckily Charlie had his fill and offered up his board. Justin immediately jumped in and joined the guys in trading off waves for the remainder of the session. It was a truly unique and lucky experience. Justin couldn’t stop grinning ear-to-ear for the remainder of the trip. Had that really happened? Were we really the first ones to surf this wave? Who knows, and who cares…it was amazing!

Reaching the tail end of the San Blas it was time to make moves. Learning from our first crossing we all drugged ourselves up on Dramamine putting ourselves in a comatose state for the 36-hr crossing to Colombia. We arrived at midnight safe and sound by throwing a party and doing backflips off the boat. We had officially made it out of one continent and into another. Hello South America!!


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1 Comment

Pete Chester

about 6 months ago Reply

Wow another great report. You guys are having a hell of a good time. Going to Colombia by sail boat must have been outstanding. I airfreighted mine to Bogotá & took Avianca Air there, fast, but not the adventure you had. looking forward to your next report.

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