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The main purpose of this blog is as a permanent record of my adventures throughout the Americas by motorcycle. Feel free to comment or ask me any questions - I'm an open book.

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Panama - Colombia / San Blas Archipelago

Crossing the Darien is not really possible overland, so alternative arrangements have to be made to cross from Panama to Colombia. Flights are expensive, the rumored ferry between Colon and Cartagena still hasn't materialized, and shipping Izzy in a container is a slow, still relatively expensive option. There was one attractive option however: A five day trip on a sailboat through the San Blas Islands, with Izzy on the back. It was about as expensive as a flight, but with the added bonus of a bit of adventure and of course, three days in the white sand/blue water paradise of the San Blas. I found a boat online that would be able to take both of us, leaving from Carti to Cartagena.

The boat I was destined to be on was called the Independance. Able to hold up to 24 people and 9 motorcycles, this was not small yacht. While it did have sails, it was mainly powered by the lage engines below deck, which took away some of the romantic notions of sailing through the carribbean, but gave the voyage a measure of reliability - we weren't at the fickle whims of the wind.

To be stuck on a boat for 5 days with people who annoy you would be disasterous, so it was a massive relief that everyone on board became friends quickly. Besides the ubiqutous Australians (myself included), there were a few Kiwis, Canadians, Germans and Americans - pretty standard for any travel adventure. This got me thinking - what is it about a culture that implores its people to explore the world? If you picked any hostel in the world at random, It'd be a fair bet that Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Ireland would all be represented. In this part of the world you could include Canada and the US. I often joke that we're taking over the world one hostel at a time, but when you think that Contiki, Lonely Planet and FlightCentre are all Aussie exports (and budget traveler essentials), it gets weird. Germans intrigue me - what makes their youth travel more than say the French or (particularly here) the Spanish? Any budding Sociologists out there have a clue?

Anyway, the first day was mainly spent waiting for me to arrive. Once everyone was on board and acounted for, we headed to our first anchor spot which was only an hour or so away. We stayed there for the day, swimming, kayaking, snorkling and generally absorbing some sun. The islands make the postcards look like a dump - palm trees on white sand, surrounded by impossibly blue water and reefs full of sea life.

The first night we had a beautiful seafood bbq on one of the larger islands, complete with a bar and sound system, even internet access. This swung it for me - I could live there. Traveling always reveals things about yourself, but it wasn't a real surprise that I need to be surrounded by technology. I love the wilderness and getting away from it all, as long as I can get back quickly. That was the hardest thing about being on the boat - not the rocking, not the confined nature of ship life, but the lack of internet access. But that's me.

The next two days was more of the same - in the morning we would 'sail' for a few hours, before anchoring in a remote area of this idyllic archipelago for more relaxing. I had a look around at two shipwrecks - one of which apparently was a backpacker boat, running the same route we were (although it looked more like a small fishing boat/drug running boat). The other wreck was a small fishing trawler that had wrecked onto a reef in about 3 feet of water. Several other wrecks drove home the need to be careful when in charge of a vessel in this area.

But as a passenger, the reefs and islands were amazing. The surprise guest appearance of dolphins was definitely a highlight, despite their hasty retreat as a few of us attempted to swim out to them.

After dinner on the third day, we headed out into the open sea, for a 36 hour voyage to Cartagena. It started to get a bit rough then, but not as rough as I had imagined - I suffered no falls or bruises, although some definitely needed the dramamine onboard. I actually got to help steer the boat for a bit, which was cool, and with several people in no mood to eat anything, I manage to gorge myself on pancakes for brekkie. We stopped at one point to have a swim in open water which is a cool experience, if a little unnerving - not being able to see land combined with large waves, brings to mind the harrowing stories of maritime disasters. After the swim, we headed straight in the direction of Cartagena, and Colombia. I spent a fair part of the night watching the multitude of stars, listening to my books on tape.

We arrived in Cartagena early in the morning, as apparently an approaching storm meant we had hauled ass. And so we had arrived in Colombia, for the third part of my journey - South America.

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