Rough sea across the Darién

Lepirate woke up one morning and decide to leave the heavy barrels of the remote Panamanian west coast to roll into Panama City. Only a few hundreds of kilometers, nothing compare to what he already drove and what is coming on the rest of his journey. Facing El Puente de Las Americas, the usual chill that runs down his spine occurred again. He came a long way to be rolling over the Canal of Panama and entering into South America. A moment of euphoria invaded him. He screamed of happiness and celebrate his accomplishment inside the enclosure of his helmet. He can’t believe that he actually made it down there, virtually half way down the Americas.

That night, he found himself a hostel, which was the 5 stars of the a half. Wi-fi, pool, nice clean comfy bed, pool table, friendly staff, cold $1 Balboa beer, hammock and banana pancake with chocolate topping for breakfast… He really treated himself good to congratulate his completion of that leg of his trip. He decided to stay there for few days to figure out few things and getting parts for The Beast.

He booked himself a sailboat trip from Portobelo to Cartagena. This is one of the very few options he has to continue his trip south and get around the Darien Gap considered impassable. The road ends, literally ends, in Yaviza. A small rope bridge will bring the most adventurous or death wished one into a thick jungle with deep mud and infected by insects and guerrillas. Some had made it through among the years, but many have tried and never been seen again… So sailing is it, leaving from the east coast of Panama to the north east coast of Colombia. It would be a 5 days trip, stopping for some island hopping in the San Blas. Apparently, a most see of Panama… from the tales of fellow travelers. The sailing is also the easiest option for importing The Beast into Columbia. She will travel with him on the sailboat as a passenger.

Few days before his booked departure day, Lepirate left the megapolis of Panama City to the small puerto of Portobello. He knows he has to figure some papers out for the exportation of The Beast and the future importation into Colombia. He is worried that the offices will be closed on the weekend. Getting there on thursday will give him 2 days to figure everything out, which should be way more than enough… The guys he booked the boat with told him he can do all his paperwork at the small ‘’Imigracion Oficina’' in Portobelo… Like an experienced traveler, Lepirate decided to go straight to the office on his arrival and figure the whole procedure (every country and border are different).

It’s thursday and this is where shit starts going down… Walking into the office, Lepirate asks the fat unfriendly lady at the sitting at the desk what he has to do for the exportation of his bike. He explains to her that he will be sailing on monday toward Cartagena. She told him straight up that this is not the place he has to go for that. He has to ask her a few time what he have to do and where to go before he can’t get any kind of understandable answer. With all her uselessness she told him he has to go back to Colòn (he passed it on his way, about an hour drive). A little frustrated, he walked out of the office and fatty went back to beeing totally useless. In a matter to get things organize, Lepirate went on a quest for some Wi-Fi so he can contact the guy who told him he can do all his paperwork in Portobello and to figure out what he really need to do.

Few days prior, he met a guy named Eric from San Francisco who told him of a bar restaurant called Captain Jack which serves good food, cold beers and has Wi-Fi. Capt’n Jack it is… He found right away, with the little indications his new friend gave him. Sat down, ordered a Balboa Dark and start to send messages to Alex Iacone, the boat organizer for his sailboat trip. It took about half an hour before he had any news, which turned out to be a contact in Portobello. Nothing more, nothing less than a contact number... Lepirate at that point decided to book a bed in the hostel just beneath the bar for 10$ instead of the regular 13$ a night because he will stay for 4 nights (time before departure).

The next message he gets from Alex is: ‘’Look, I’m hearing that LaPoste (the sailboat) is not able to sail; so I talked with Francesco (the contact he received about 2 hours ago from panamore.org) who has you on a list for another boat that will be cheaper… He manages all the captains in Portobello and will ship you there; he will deduct the money you sent us from your total.’’ With only a few days prior to his departure after he booked the boat over a month ago, that kinda suck for Lepirate. He had no further information on the why LaPoste will not sail. He decided to not just wait for some new of Francesco and go meet him right away to see what is going on and still getting his paperwork ready. He had to wait until next morning before he randomly bumped into him in the street. They talk about the situation and all this for a little while. Lepirate was on his way to go meet another captain that he contacted the night before. He told Francesco up front that he started doing his own research. Francesco told him also about the situation about importing motorcycle by sailboat. Apparently, the authorities in Colombia have suspended the importation of motorcycle because the captains were not following the proper procedure.

Still, Lepirate met the other captain which agreed on bringing him and his bike for the amount of 1100$ to Cartagena… It’s still pretty steep, but the same price that he was about to pay for LaPoste. The only thing is, that the captain need another 4-5 person to make the trip worth it… Lepirate decided to contact the other riders that he met along the way and see if any would be interested in doing the trip. None are actually ready to go or needs a means of transportation. So that trip will be on hold until new people sign up for it.

While meeting and talking with locals, Lepirate started to have a weird feeling about that place. Seems like something is wrong… A lot of rumors are running about many different people about some pretty harsh subjects. He decided to make his own opinion about every single person he met and not what other people say about them. At that point, he still has no concrete reasons why LaPoste won’t sail but heard a lot of bad things about it and his captain.

That night he meets another rider named Blake from Michigan. He is riding a Klr 650 as well and looking for a boat to get to Colombia. They decided to team up to find a solution across. It’s friday and it’s also the beginning of the Carnival that paralyzed all latin America. Every single governmental office is close, impossible to get anything done. Locals are getting shit faced paralyzed drunk, smashing beer after beer while listening to some shitty reggaeton. The Congo dancer cause traffic jam, jumping in front of the cars doing some kind of dance (supposedly really cultural and historically meaningful) and begging for money. Blake and Lepirate decided to let the weekend pass and resume their research the next monday.

The hostel where they are staying is own by french Canadian expat named Marco. It’s also run by a local stoner that seems to be in a constant bad mood. Marco is carrying around a pet sloth that he rescued somehow. The hostel is good enough for crashing for few days and use as a base to go exploring the old forts and luxuriant jungle. Blake told Lepirate some stories that he heard about the owner of the hostel, not the kind of things one would like to be accused of…

Still, they stay at that hostel because Lepirate had paid for 4 days up front… and so far it's only rumored… They spent the weekend walking around, climbing hills, checking the old fortification and drinking beers (obviously). Trying to stay in contact with Alex and Francesco to get more info about the customs situation in Cartagena and LaPoste reason of staying moored. They have only information drip by drip. At some point, Lepirate asks his deposit back from Alex telling him that he will find himself his own captain. He also asks why LaPoste won’t sail. Alex sends him the terms and agreement and basically say that no matter what happen Lepirate will not get his deposit back. But at least he had some kind of a reason why LaPoste his not going anymore. Something about, Alex not trusting the captain anymore. But, the story that Lepirate was hearing in town was that Giorgio, the captain of the boat, he’s a coke head, drunk, broke mother fucker… Lepirate thought to himself: ‘’So him not getting my deposit back because you promise me a trip with a shitty captain that you didn’t trust and decided to cancel the trip?’’ Sounds fair? Actually not really… But at least his deposit should be transfer to Francesco? Which Lepirate ask about and Francesco had no clue about it. He found himself into a swirl of confusion and scam... There is definitely something wrong going on in Portobelo... He lost hope of getting his money back from that Alex Iacone and called it a lost.

On sunday night, Blake and Lepirate decided that next morning they will drive to Colòn to go find a way to ship the bikes by container instead of sailboats. They had some news from other riders that arrived in Cartagena and had to face the whole fuck up of importing the bike illegally in Colombia. Sailing the bikes was no more an option for them. They decided to have a few drinks and enjoy a bit of the Carnaval fever. They drank some beers with Capt’n Dan which will take them on his boat to Cartagena in a week time if he can find more people to jump in. After they spent almost the whole day drinking they decided to get a 26 of rum and head back to the hostel to drink it down. They started to talk with the owner of the hostel after a few rum and coke. Lepirate start talking to him in french about the rumors that are floating over his head in town. Marco’s face change, a look of pity and guiltiness was invading his 50 years old visage. He invited Lepirate and Blake into his room at the hostel. They drank more beers and rum. Marco finally confessed to Lepirate. He showed him all the paper from different countries for the different accusations. Buzzed by the day of drinking, Lepirate was screening through all those documents, some in spanish some in english. It was pretty heavy stuff and mood killer. Lepirate started to feel pretty bad, he was in the Devil's den. The man is accused of some fraud, some sort of kidnapping, multiple injunctions about his property but especially of pedophilia. He was accused of it in Colombia from which he was now banned and also from Panama where he now lives. The guy is in deep shit… They left the room after a while and Lepirate went to sit on the upstair balcony and looked in the nowhere for a minute, an hour, god knows how long. His head was spinning, trying to deal with all the latest information and the situation he is in right now. He looked at the time it was four in the morning, no one around no more.

Next morning, Blake and he packed up quickly, still fairly drunk, then get the hell out of that devilish house and that town. The energy of the place was just so bad, lots of bad people, drugs, rumors and mood killer! Still buzzed they hauled ass out of town toward Colòn. A few close calls on the way due to the vaps of alcohol still in their systems, but they make it to Colòn commercial port. It was around 1 pm, they looked around and get misdirected 4-5 times wasting a good 45 minutes. That driving around finally led them to the right office but they are told that it close at 2 pm and won’t be open before next wednesday. The two guys are so pissed by the situation. If the security guard would have known what he was guarding at the first place, let them pass to go to the office, they would’ve had time to talk with someone about shipping the bikes to Colombia by containers. But no, it wasn’t the case. They will have to wait another 2 days before getting a hold on anybody because of the Carnaval (which seem to be the cause of many issues).

Powerless on the whole situation, they decided to go back to Panama City. It seems to be the logical solution due to the fact that regardless the way they will get out of the country, they need some paperwork done in Panama City. (Stamp out of the country for the bike and police approbation of speeding tickets proof of payment. Which Lepirate almost had one but the officer let it slip while he was playing the card that his tires are not the right size and false the speedo reading) So they went back to a small hostel in San Felipe. The building got to be over 100 years old with old brick wall and cracking wooden floor.

To crank up there mood, they went to La Rana Dorada, an artisanal microbrewery and had some pints of dark Ipa. Then took a walk around town and grab more beers to go enjoy on the rooftop terrace of the hostel. They chat for many hours about life experiences, travels, philosophy of living and way of seeing life. They watch the city lights and the craziness of the American abundance that made Panama City what it is. Lepirate ended up going to bed with all his clothes on… rum involved?

It was now thuesday, they are kind of over it with that whole getting to Columbia situation. It seems like Panama got a good grip on them. They then decided to go check for the last option of the list which is flying. They heard it’s the most expensive and most boring because they will land in Bogota. Missing out on the north of Colombia and also the San Blas, which sailing will allow them to see. They loaded up the horses and made the 25 km drive to Tocumen airport. They knocked on the first office door that a friend refers them to. The option was flying the bike in 3 days and paying 1100$ per bike. Bummed out, they got out and talked about it. Looking around, they saw a bunch of other adventure bikes. They decide to go see them and their owners to see what is going on.

There was a couple from France on a Falcon 450cc, 2 guys and a girl on Klr’s from California and a dude from Québec on a Suzuki V-Strom. They all share experiences and knowledge about what is going on for the transport toward Colombia. Seem like Lepirate and Blake got themselves into a bottleneck. That makes 6 bikes that want to fly to Colombia. Lepirate, made a few calls around to get some info about the importation of the motorcycles in Colombia. No answer, no return of email, nothing. Everything is shut down for the carnival… Lepirate is pretty much over it with that whole situation and decides to just fly and that’s it. They went and knock on few doors to get some quotes for shipping 4-6 bikes. Finally, the french guys seem to have something going on. They started to weight the bike and tell the others that they might have found a deal. Everyone stay put for about an hour and hour and half waiting for some news from the french guys. Lepirate, Blake, and Patrick (V-Strom) have a quote for 4 bikes and can get the bike ship overnight to Bogota for around 775$ a piece.

It took maybe 2 hours before the french guys gave any info. They went sneaky, ditch everyone and have them waiting for 2 hours for nothing. They are going solo with a cargo for about 750$. Pretty mad, the 3 other guys decided to go see the man which gave them a quote and start the process for having only 3 bikes ship over instead of 4. They will have to come back the next morning and get all the paperwork sorted out and the bike will ship the same day. The price for 3 should be pretty much the same around 800$.

With the situation out of their hand for the night, they drove back to a hostel. Still, in the office, Patrick booked a flight for the 3 guys for the next day while Lepirate was agreeing for the quote for the bikes shipping. By the time they arrive at the hostel, Patrick receives a booking confirmation for their flight for the 1st of June (4 months from the date they actually wanna fly) Lepirate spent a good part of the evening trying to call the spanish speaking Airline company. Explaining the situation and that he would like the reservation to be modify. It took 4-5 call to finally get the flight canceled and a refund minus 50$ Cad per ticket for a cancellation fee. They then tried to book a new flight on the right date, the 3 guys tried and none were able, a problem of connection, the credit card doesn’t work… At some point, Lepirate speaks up:’’Maybe we should just wait until we get the bike situation sorted out, everything went sideways for me in the last week or so… that’s a sign, let’s just wait…’’ They had a few more beers and set the alarm to 6:45 am. Lepirate slept outside in a hammock next to the pool, apparently the hostel was full (finally, there was still a bed left next morning.)

They walked into the office, the 3 guys, plus Eric (the one who told Lepirate about Captain Jack in Portobelo) with a BMW 800GS which wanna fly to Bogota too. Sitting down at the table, they start breaking out all the paperwork they have. Mark, the guys with whom they talk last night, ask Lepirate to come see him at his desk. He started explaining to him that a reservation was made last night for only 3 persons and not four, but he will ask if it can be modified. The major news that he wanted to break to Lepirate was that the bike won’t be able to fly and land in Bogota the same day. Mark start showing to Lepirate the route that the bike will have to follow before they land in Bogota some 3-4 days later… They would leave from Panama City toward Miami, Florida, then toward Caracas, Venezuela and finally Bogota Colombia… Astounded by the news, Lepirate translates in english to the 3 others guys waiting at the table to know what is going on… Mark make it really clear that he don’t like the idea of sending the bike on a route passing by Caracas… which made Lepirate also insecure about having all his belonging traveling on a skid for few days in 3 different countries. Explaining the situation to the guys, Lepirate pretty much back out of that plan: ‘’You guys do what you wanna do but I’ll find another solution…’’ Good thing the flight ticket didn’t work out the night before, once again his instinct was right…

They all back out finally and went in a quest of finding another solution. Lepirate went to see another company that he already talked with the day before. Same things with them, the bikes wouldn’t fly for another few days and the price is over a $1000 Us a piece. So he went back to talk with Leiby from Cargo Air Pack. On his way, he meets with Jason, traveling from Washington on a KTM 690. He just went through the whole process of shipping his bike. He is on his way to go catch his plane. Lepirate is pretty much over it with all the fucking around and the adding fees of that circus. ‘’How much? When? Good! Let’s ship The Beast and get the hell out of here!’’ Leiby made a special price for the guys because they have 4 bikes. She cut down 50$ us per ride… better than nothing… But the bike can fly at 2 pm and be there at 3 pm.

Compared to all the other carriers, Cargo Air Pack take care of all the paperwork for Exportation and Importation… which turned out to be a really big deal. They handed to the lady, passports, bikes titles, and immigration papers into Panama. A good 45 min later she hands out a paper each that they have to go to the aduana to get stamped out. They had enough time to eat some leftover tacos while sunbathing on the tarmac. Another 30-45 min of waiting for the immigration process. It was now time to load the bikes on the skids. 2 by 2 they go. The bikes can pretty much stay has is. There is no weighing, no measurement, no breaking down in pieces, no taking off the gas and all that crap that other carriers ask for. They didn't even have to strap the bikes, some guys will do it for them. All they need from there is to book a plane ticket for Bogota (on the good date this time…)

The flight is around 3 PM, they have some time to kill at the airport. Eric passes around some whiskey that he bought from the duty-free. Pressure and stress are fading out one sip at the time. It’s a short trip with the traditional tray of plane food and drinks. Lepirate and Patrick are cordially welcome into Colombia with a welcome tax of 190000 Pesos some 90$ Cad. Like if it hasn’t already been expensive enough. Apparently, it’s a reciprocity tax that the Colombian have to pay while entering in Canada. Mister Harper, what have you done there?

By the time they land in Bogota and check out, it’s too late to go try to liberate their bikes. Also, Eric booked another plane. Lepirate shares a skid with him and at the same time the paperwork. It will have to wait for the next morning but Lepirate still wanna go see at the cargo office if the bikes have landed so they don’t show up next morning for no reason. Yes, bikes have landed and the cargo people are pretty excited about them. They asked him a bunch of questions and gave him a lot of information about what he has to do to liberate them the next morning.

They took a taxi to a hostel in the Chapinero district close to a University. They grabbed a few beers, went for some street pizza and empanadas. (which will most likely be the base of their alimentation for the next few days).

First thing in the morning, they made their way to the Cargo Air Pack office. They were welcome by the amazing Colombian hospitality. Like kings at a return of a crusade they were greeted, hands shake after hands shake, greetings, a lot of smiles, laughs, congratulations and instant coffee… A little bit of paperwork, mostly just signatures, then down to the bikes. They are un-scattered, just like they left them, nothing broken and ready to roll off… But there is still some procedure that needs to be done to legally roll those babies into Colombia. A guy brings them to the DIAN office, where the final importation will be done. The guy collects all the papers from all four of them and handed them to a cute girl wearing a bright red shirt. It was now a waiting game, minutes pass, hours pass… After a while, the guy came back with the girl and ask Lepirate and Eric to come to the desk. The procedure seems endless and so complex. It could’ve been shorter if the girl in charge of their paper wasn’t also the office flirt. Every single man working in that vast office eventually passed by to come chat with the lady about everything. She was also in an ongoing conversation on the phone and with her office neighbor. At least the boys had something to entertain them. Watching her bra and guessing when it will burst open because it seems to be taking care of more than it's actually designed for.

7 hours it took them to finally roll off legally into Colombia. For Lepirate it’s the end of 9 days of bouncing around, doing calls, getting ripped off, making few hundreds of kilometres, meeting good but also really bad persons. He is exhausted but it's a relief to be finally in South America and be able to continue his journey. Things could’ve turned out so much smoother for him and his crossing. A boat, booked a month in advance, 5 days sailing in the beautiful Caribbean seas, drinking rum, hopping from island to island, rolling his bike on the docks of Cartagena. Seems like life didn't want it to be easy like that for him. Apparently, a smooth sea never made a strong sailor...

A few days after his arrival in Bogota, he learned that someone smuggled some cocaine from Panama towards Colombia with their bikes… who know's, things could’ve turned out so much worst for him…

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