If I wake up from this DREAM…… I’m gonna be Pissed!

Do you miss me yet….. I like to think that the world stops turning when I am not there, but this trip has made me understand how big the world is. Every town, every village, and every community has its idiosyncrasies, issues, gems, and opportunities. They operate on the same plane, have similarities, but are universes apart. Moving into the second half of this journey, I have come to realize that it is not about the universe as a whole, but rather the effect that one has on the community around them.

Friends, family, countrymen… I write to you from the amazing (and once infamous) Bogota, Colombia. That’s correct, South America! This leg of the journey began in Panama City, Panama, and will take you into the frontier of Colombia and South America.

In Panama City, a bit of expected stagnation happens and the motorbike was ready to be ridden. Five days in a decent hotel and nice sheets prepared me for an adventure at sea. The morning of the departure I was off on the road at 8 am headed to the small Kuna-Yala village of Carti. The Kuna are the indigenous people that occupy the San Blas Islands and the northwestern part of Panama and the Darien jungle. The Panamanian government has left them, largely not only to control the land that they occupy but live in harmony, undisturbed.

I traveled to the San Blas islands on my father’s sailboat in 1999 and have long referred to the archipelago as one of the most beautiful and untouched places that I have visited. I was apprehensive as to what 16 years can do to a place in this ever-infectious world. The islands that I remember were inhabited by people out of an adventure novel. They oared dugout canoes, collected lobster, and lived a life very independent from what I thought was the norm. It was refreshing to see that although not isolated, these people lived an existence that was altered very little from the ever-homogeneous world. It was very pleasing.

The route took me through the beginnings of the Darien Jungle. This jungle is the only strip of land that is impassible by the Pan American Highway. Its forest is not only dense in vegetation but also purportedly occupied by the last remnants of the FARC guerrillas. I believe that the Panamanian government doesn’t want a road completed, offering direct access to Central America for illegal imports… Drugs.

The road to Carti was very beautiful. It seems as though this was the first “untouched” jungle that I had seen. Dense forest, and big trees that seemed to tower over the jungle-like control towers. The twisty road finally opened up to the Caribbean Sea where I was to meet the Stahlratte and my shipmates. Upon arrival at the dock, I was met by many of the other bikers that I would come to know and like very well over the next week. There were BMWs, Tigers, Yamahas, Suzukis, and Hondas.

It was nice to see that this trip was not only my idea. The bikes were marshaled onto a heavily weathered cement pier and passengers and luggage were loaded onto a panga style boat for our first boarding of Stahlratte. It was learned that Stahlratte translated to German, is Steel Rat. The captain of Stahlratte, Ludwig, is best described as a global character, both in personality and stature. He was very welcoming and friendly. The baggage was loaded into the hold and off to a small island called Porvenir we were shuttled.

Waking the next morning, we were shuttled back to the ship for a departure. After about 3 hours of sailing, we landed at a small group of islands we would call home for the next 36 hours. The islands would be better described as small spits of land that had no more than a dozen coconut trees and a couple of Kuna canoes on them. Swimming to all of the islands and walking around them was very enjoyable. Snorkeling, beer-drinking, and relaxing were on the menu. At night we were treated to a fresh lobster curry and baked barracuda. The boat was mostly bunk beds, but somehow I got the honeymoon suite…. Check out the video.

The next day we were off at 5 am and it wasn’t 5:20 am before people were barfing. After supervising a couple of upheavals, I joined in on the fun. After a couple of hours on the boat, I felt that the most comfortable place for me was laying down… so that is what I did. For about a day.

At about mile 100, Captian Ludwig stopped the boat in the middle of the Caribbean sea and ordered everyone to walk the plank… It was a voluntary swimming opportunity, which everyone enjoyed. Swimming in the middle of the sea is a bit unnerving but exhilarating. I decided to see how deep I could swim and lookup. This is something that I have done on my dad’s boat and it offers space and perspective that can’t be matched near land.

After a night at sea, we were awakened to the cityscape of Cartagena. It was already hot a 6 am. We enjoyed a nice breakfast as we passed cruise ships and the ancient walls of the old city of Cartagena. Colombia is well known to be one of the toughest customs processes on the trip south, we were fortunate that as part of the passage, Ludwig had hired an agent to shepherd us through the bureaucracy.

On terra-firma, we taxied to our hostel and showered up to explore the city of Cartagena. The city offered similar Spanish-era buildings and colonial colors. The antiquities have been preserved in a fashion that allows the buildings to still be used and horse-drawn carriages to seem normal. Poking around a bit and after having lunch, it was nap time. The heat and humidity were daunting.

The evening consisted of eating a quick meal, catching up on some bike maintenance, and getting my GPS to work in South America. One of the passengers on the boat, Neil showed me how to download all of the maps for South America, FOR FREE. So far it is working great.

After another full day o sauntering around in the sweltering heat of Cartagena, an early departure headed in the direction of Medellin. Medellin is a 400+ trip so I broke it up into two days. The first stop was Planeta Rica. This town is nondescript. Ironically two other of our shipmates were also there. We shared dinner and headed to bed early for a 6 am departure.

The roads to Medellin were beautiful and the best part of the trip was that at about mile 60 we started to climb into the cool fresh air of the highlands of Central Columbia…. That’s right… drug country. Medellin was the center of cocaine production and distribution. After making it into Medellin, I booked a hostel called Maloka in the Poblano district. Poblano is a cool little village of hip restaurants, hostels, and bars. The weather in Medellin was ideal. About 60 degrees and a nice reprieve from the heat of the lowlands of Colombia. The elevation is 6,500 feet and it is nestled between 10,000-foot mountains on all sides. The city is most famed for Pablo Escobar and the violence that was involved in the drug cartels of the 80s and 90s. Today, the city is modern, moving, and very safe. I did notice some wealth in the likely city and echo of days past.

On the first day in Medellin, I made a purchase. I acquired a Canon 70D camera. I figured that I wanted to document this trip with a proper camera, so stay tuned for Ansel Adams’s quality work. In truth, this camera has more buttons than a cockpit. I also had my bike serviced, including a new tire. In the hostel, a gentleman told me about a shop called Moto Africa. Arriving at Moto Africa, I was impressed. Upon arrival, I was assigned a mechanic, who had an assistant, who had another assistant. They quickly went to work on my bike in an immaculate workshop. Two hours later I had a perfectly tuned Burra and she got a bath too.

The next day, I headed toward Bogota. On the way, I decided to stop at a huge rock that was protruding from the center of a lake. El Penon de Guatape.

The hike to the top was entirely stairs, and at an elevation (of 7,000 ft) it was tough. The rock is surrounded by a picturesque lake that had hundreds of fingers that were adorned with large houses. I wondered how many were built with drug money. It reminded me of Tahoe, except the water was green. A trout lunch seemed the right thing to do before heading off to Pablo’s Ranch.

Hacienda Nopales was on the way to Bogota, but I only had a quick moment to stop. I was hoping to see a hippo along the way. That right, after Pablo Escobar lost the Hacienda some of the Hippopotamus got free and have been breeding in the lakes and rivers around the hacienda. That is right, wild hippos in South America. Unfortunately, I didn’t see one.

The day was running out of light, so I had to press on the last 175 miles at speed. The roads working into the mountains are treacherous. 2 lanes, sharp curves, and slow-moving trucks. You must pass, or the trip would be 12 hours. I made it.

Here in Bogota, I have acquired a new rear tire, and tomorrow the direction is Ecuador.

I plan to do a summation of Central America, as I don’t feel that it is fair to depart such a wonderful part of our world without reflecting on how it treated me. Stay tuned for that.

Thank you for following along, and let me know if you have any questions.

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