Tuesday, 10 December 2013

261 The Stahlratte Ship

Thursday 5th December 2013
Miles Today 77 Total miles 28,509

We were up before 6 and packed the last of our few things away and this was the acid test. At 6:30 I rolled Wallace out of the garage and them we had to figure out how to get Karen on the bike. After a few failed attempts we found a method that worked just using one arm. To be honest, when she gets the bit between her teeth there is no stopping her.
We set of for our 7am rendezvous at the Panama House B&B and after several annoying one way streets we got there 5 minutes late. 

Interesting architecture in Panama City.

There were about 15 bikes there already so we joined in for a bit of breakfast. At 7:30 we all set off for the 70 mile ride to meet with our boat, the Stahlratte.

Getting ready for the off.

Riding en masse through the town was interesting. All told there were 20 bikes, mostly big ones so we were able to dominate the road. At one point, Karen shouted, “Jesus, that guys got a gun”. It turned out to be a police patrol dirt bike with two fully armed cops on it.  

Looking back on Panama City.

When we got out of Panama City we drove to our first toll road, and hence our first toll gate. We pulled up at several lanes and unbeknown to us they would not take cash and no one would volunteer their debit cards so in the end we just all drove through without paying. !
Sadly, one woman, Coleen, got a bit of tunnel vision. She was sat beside us at the barrier and as we moved off to drive around it she set off straight on and straight into the barrier. Down she went. Once we realised she was all right it was funny but she was seriously embarrassed. 
After 45 miles we turned off the Pan American highway and onto a very primitive jungle road that was fortunately at least tarmac for the most part. However the next 25 miles of serious bends and grades claimed 2 bikes. 

The long and winding road through the jungle.

One guy who was seriously rear end overloaded, accidentally pulled a wheelie to top the steep grade and just crashed and another guy, Greg, ended up in the ditch. We however were fine. Wallace was looking after us.
Not a good place for a bike.

We arrived at the jungle dock of Carti at 10am where half the bikes were already there and rest gradually peeled in behind us.

Arrival at Carti.

We then unloaded our luggage and it was taken on board separately and then the Captain, Ludvig Hoffman, a German national, roped the bikes up for loading onto the ship.

This is going to be interesting.

The Stahlratte.

It was a tense time for all of us, watching our bikes overhang in the harbour but all went well and we could all breathe again.

First one ready. Estar listo.

Note me crossing myself !!

As the bikes were loaded, they were tied to the side of the ship, sadly they forgot Wallace and whilst I was still dockside helping load the rest of the bikes on Wallace fell over but fortunately the crash bars we had made up saved her from any damage.

Octopus or crab ?

Wallace fell over just after I took this.

Once we were all on board, we set sail for a small group of islands for two reasons, firstly to allow time for the local customs & immigration officer to come out and book the bikes and us out of Panama and secondly to spend the night living with the locals on an island as part of our “adventure” as Ludvig the Captain told us. The Island we stayed on was called Yandup Carti, he was right it was an adventure, and not one we want to repeat anytime soon. We were taken to the 100m diameter island by a tender boat, loading Karen down with her bad arm was not at all funny but as she does, she just got on with it. Once on the island we were allocated village huts to sleep in. It was er... interesting.

Home sweet Colditz

Fortunately, a practice run, testing out the en-suite bog.

A French Canadian guy called Rene, taught me the rudiments of fishing. At 57 years old the only other time I had done it was with my older brother Brian when I was about 6. Anyway, it soon became apparent why, as Rene explained, it was called ‘fishing’. He said that if things were caught it would be called ‘catching’. Fair one. We only did fishing !

The last time I did this, I was about 6.
Bored already and we've only just got here.

Whilst we were bored on the dockside wondering where our next beer was coming from we were passed by a local football team who had clearly just won a cup of some sort and were celebrating. We were on a tiny island in the middle of absolutely nowhere cheering the local football team on !!
The local footie winners.
The calm before the storm,

Hiding in one of the huts during the storm.

Some more beer was bought from the ship and we were then treated to dinner. Before this occurred, we had a serious storm pass through and although the high point on the island was only 18” above the sea, it was still flooded. So by now, it was dark and with very little lighting we were served fish, rice and vegetables in the near dark. The fishes fortunately were still complete and this allowed us the privilege of picking the bones out with our teeth as opposed to our eyes. Another dimension to our ‘adventure’.
Food visible for 1/125th of a second.

We retired early to our humble abodes (there was nothing else to do and we all thought It might bring tomorrow a little earlier). We had an interesting night with the waves beating the shore only about 6 feet from our heads. At 5 am the cockerel in the neighbour’s garden, which incidentally was only 2 feet from our heads, decided to wake up. I spent the next hour laying there thinking up ways to silence the obnoxious beast without alerting the owner.
(Karen)  Ray is being very generous about this accommodation.  There were two mattresses on top of beer crates on the soil, both singles, and at different ends of the hut.  We had to use our sleeping bags, and if you needed the loo, we had to go out of the room, walk a gang plank and go behind a curtain hanging around another piece of wood with a hole in it to pee in the sea.  We were lucky compared to everyone else; we were almost on-suite.  Surprisingly, we did sleep, but it wasn’t very pleasant.

Friday 6th December 2013
Miles Today 25 Total miles 28,534

Daylight eventually came and we all migrated to the dockside to wait for our tender back to the Stahlratte.  One couple had just got in bed when it collapsed around them, (funnily enough it was Coleen, the lady who had crashed into the barriers and her husband James, not a good day for her). 

I'm glad we were not in this bed when it collapsed.

Another couple were rained on for part of the night. We paid the obligatory $25 each (yes 25) and then were given the added bonus of having to pay to have our photographs taken with our temporary prison guards.
Another dollar....

The village main street.

Christmas is coming

The South side of the island

Once the tender came we stayed back a bit, lucky for us. This happened to the first boatload.

When it rains here it is sudden and very heavy.
We considered throwing the Captain overboard in payment for our ‘adventure’, but on second thoughts, mutiny may still be punishable by death in these parts.
We then waited for the customs officer to do his thing and took advantage of the slack time to play around in the sea.
Jumping and diving into the sea.

A modern Alcatraz

Our en-suite from the other side.

Once the customs guy had departed with his obligatory bottle of rum, we set sail for the Coco Banderos islands, a group of 7 little uninhabited islands on a coral reef. 

There were lots of little coral reef islands like this.

En-route, I had to visit the engine room, as is my affliction, this one was so old all the valves were exposed and had to be oiled every hour. 
The valve train needed manually oiling every hour.

We also came across a group of dolphins who decided to play in our bow wave.

Dolphins riding the bow wave.

On arrival at the islands, it really was paradise lost. 

Desert Island paradise.

We went snorkeling (including Karen) who for the first time was again using her arm in the weight bearing waters. Her mobility is coming on in leaps and bounds. And it was good for her to get some of her independence back and get out of the sling for a while.

Lots of these beauties decorating the sea bed.

Paradise Lost

Shoals of little fishes.

Lillian and Rene, French Canadians from Victoria, British Colombia.
Antonio and his son Bruno, Mexicans from Guadalahra. Great company.

The Captain (right) and the first mate collecting his passengers.
As late afternoon approached we all bundled onto the island and set about making a BBQ and when night time fell we tore into the beer and rum before returning to the boat and having an on deck shower and collapsing into our bunks. Bliss considering last night’s ‘interesting’ accommodation.

Saturday 7th December 2013
Miles Today 0 Total  28,534

Happy birthday Mac
Another glorious day in paradise.  Today was spent swimming and for the more energetic, leaping off the boat on a rope.  It was a lovely lazy day and we watched as 26 lobsters were bought fresh from a little fishing boat and delivered onto ours.

Lobster and beer, what could be better...
The lobster dish was absolutely delicious, and we also had whole fishes served up.  I'm not very good with whole fish, so passed, but I have to say that all the food served up has been very fresh and very good.  We were all in bed early again, ready for the engines starting up at 5am, we were in for 27 hours straight sailing to get us to Cartagena for 8am on Monday morning.
Sunday 8th December 2013
Both Ray and I awoke to the engines starting up at 5am, and I have to say once we got rolling, we really started to roll.  Ray went up on deck and I could hear him chatting away, and helping to put the main sail up.  It was pretty rocky in our little cabana, and gradually it got worse and worse.  I was unable to leave the cabana because I had no way to hold onto anything as the boat rocked about.  Ray came back down soon and it was obvious from the fetching shade of green that he was, that all was not well.  However he helped me get out of the room and once up on deck, I could see how awful the weather actually was.  The swell of the sea was like something out of perfect storm, and there were people lying all over the deck, groaning.  With my shoulder, I decided the best place for me was back on the mattress where I wouldn't get bumped about as much.  I was one of the lucky ones and wasn't affected by sea sickness, but a lot were, including one of the crew.  I spent the day reading and dozing, with poor Ray trying to sleep in between quick dashes for upstairs and the railings.  It probably didn't help him much when he had to help me upstairs for loo visits and food.  The green colour deepened then.  The swell and rocking kept up for over the next 24 hours and claimed many victims.

Monday 9th December 2013.
Miles Today 0 Total  28,534

We should have docked in Colombia at about 8am, however it was 11.30am before we anchored up.

Our humble abode.

Ahrrrrrgh....we are under attack ! The morning after.

The Colombian Navy going to work. Virtually all anti-drugs patrols.

Religion is a way of life here.
The swell had been much more manageable for the last few hours and people were beginning to emerge from their little cocoons and enjoy life again.  Due to us being a lot later in, Ludvig told us that immigration was now shut until 2pm, they, (immigration) would take an hour, and then it would be too late to do the bikes, so they had to remain on the boat. We took essentials and got a taxi to a hotel in town, air conditioning, t.v. and beds that don't rock, although most of us are still getting moments where we feel we are still on the boat and find ourselves swaying.  Our hotel is called Casa Villa Colonial and has places for the bikes when we get them back.  We made our way back to immigration and are all now legal in Colombia.
The colonial immigration office.

Christmas at the immigration office.

There are 4 couples from the boat here and it is a very international flavour, one French Canadian, one Dutch one German, ourselves and a single guy who last lived in Alaska, and after returning to the hotel, all arranged to meet up at 4.30pm for a meal, now that we could all face food again.  We took over a smashing little restaurant which had been recommended to us and had a fabulous meal, simple, but tasty, and then we walked around the town and into the fortified area.  It was quite beautiful and all the lights are out for Christmas.
The center of town was well lit up for Christmas.

and more....
One of the many colonial churches.

More Christmas light.

The look on Ziggys (the German guy) face when we told him his mineral water was more expensive than our beer.

We had a lovely evening, but were all shattered after last nights boat journey, so were back in the hotel by 9pm.  Not a bad thing actually, as Ray and the others have to be back at the dock tomorrow for 7am to get Wallace and the other bikes, plus our luggage, and then import the bikes and get insurance for Colombia.

Tuesday 10th December 2013
Miles Today 6 Total  28,540

We were up early so that Ray could get Wallace.  I was staying at the hotel and would do the mundane, but necessary chores of washing clothes, etc.  The hotel brought breakfast forward an hour so that they could have something to eat before they went, otherwise who knew when they would next get fed.  I joined Lillian for breakfast at 8 and then sorted out the washing and making contact with the world again.

Getting the bike was an experience. Wallace was the first bike over the side onto a small metal raft.
This is out of my comfort zone !
She was swiftly followed by 5 more bikes and as the photo shows, we had to sit on them. The raft was pushed to the dock and we just drove off. Simple....  no, not really. 400kg of fat boy and Wallace moving in one direction makes for a lot of back pressure on the raft. Newton's laws of motion state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. i.e. bike one way, raft the other. I ended up jumping a 12" gap to the dockside whilst sat on Wallace. Not an experience I wish to repeat anytime soon.

Once off the dock, we all drove to the customs office for a bout 8am where we all sat until 1pm where our bikes were processed and checked. It was a pain in the butt as we had a 'Fixer' to do the admin so we had no idea what was going on. We were eventually released at about 1:30 where we went back to the dockside to collect the rest of our baggage. Sadly it was not yet over and it was a dash across town to the insurance agent to spend £10 on a months insurance. Another long boring queue that was finally over at around 2:30 whereupon I returned to our hotel and parked Wallace in the foyer.

We are finally - fully - in Colombia.


  1. This is the part I was really interested in knowing how it went, the crossing. Looks like it was a little messy but you guys seemed to have done alright. How much did the whole experience from Panama to Colombia cost?

  2. Hi George, The total cost for the bike and 2 passengers was $1,430. (it was just under a grand for 1 passenger) It had to be paid in cash but fortunately Panama use US$ so the cash machine was king. It is not a luxury boat but it was more that adequate. The only other cost was for the night on the island, $25 each and not worth it) and the insurance which was peanuts.Oh and out bar bill, at $1 for a can of beer it cost us a fortune ;-)

    1. Thanks for the info, I have caught up to the end of your blog. I wish to one day go there and watch the Dakar too. What an adventure, trip almost done?
      Turn around and come visit me in New Jersey :-)

  3. Hey you two!

    We have finally arrived home in Germany. The bicycles have done well. Our voyage from Mexico to Germany with a container ship was a real holiday with time to relax and very good food.

    May see you in Germany...?