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Apr 16th - May 1st 2011

San Blas Islands & Panama



At sea San Blas Islands (Fritz the Cat)

16/04/2011 - After everyone had been given instructions yesterday on boat safety and how to use the toilets, someone hadn't paid attention and after using the loo in our cabin (only two onboard and the main one over the side!) they left the valve in the wrong position which caused a backflow and flooded the cabin. The rucksack was on the deck so everything was soaked, not nice.

 We have a couple of hours free time to visit an uninhabited island, most of the “Youngsters” swam ashore, but the oldie bikers took the boat. Roly dropped us off and headed back to the boat saying he will pick us up again in an hour or so. A nice island, exactly how you would picture a tropical island, with white sand beaches, palm trees and crystal clear water … and sand flies,  hundreds of them that took an instant dislike to me and started draining me of blood. Within seconds of getting ashore my legs were covered in bites and I was itching big time, and we are stranded here for an hour at least. I managed to get some relief by staying in the water but the little buggers can fly and started on my arms!! There were lots of colourful fish and starfish just at the waters edge to take my mind off the itching for a while, but it didn’t last long .. Get me off of here!!!!!!!

Eventually Roly came back to the rescue and we were taken back to the boat for another “exciting” meal before getting underway again. We anchored off a reef in the afternoon for snorkelling, a lot of the kit was broken and not enough to go around, think there may be a mutiny! Some of the punters are complaining that we are under engines all the time and not sailing, the food  isn't getting any better and Fritz has been a bit short with some of them.

Dropped anchor for the night amongst a load of other boats.

17/04/2011 - Swimming and snorkelling in the morning  and a visit from the local Kuna tribe before we got underway.

We stopped at a small island, “Elephant Island”, so called because it is supposedly shaped like an Elephants head. Elephant island is run by a local Kuna family and has two structures, a toilet block and a bar. A few beers then back on board, would have been a better night if Fritz had organised a Barbie for this stop.



At Sea (Fritz the Cat) - Carti (Panama)

Sailed early this morning as Fritz has to get everyone's passports stamped into Panama at the Aduana’s  before they close for lunch. While he is away sorting the passports Jose takes a few people over to another island to visit another Kuna community.

11:30 and we hit the Panama mainland at a small hidden away dock at Carti, all very suspicious.

Start Mileage - 38,076

Miles - 76

Carti (Dock, Panama) - Panama City (Panama Passage Over Landers GH)

Jason’s, Stephane’s and my bike are offloaded, one of the perspex hatches got cracked when we rolled my back wheel over it sending Fritz into another hissy fit. Juan’s GoldWing had to be winched off the deck using the boom and a couple of blocks and tackle. All bikes on the jetty and all our gear recovered from the hold we loaded up, Fritz donated 5Ltrs of fuel to me before they sailed off. Maybe he isn't that bad after all!!

Jason was on a mission to get back on the road and home to Canada as soon as possible so he didn’t hang around too long. We had decided to head for Panama Passage Over Landers Guest House and stay there while we sorted the customs paperwork for the bike and to come up with a plan for the next move.

Bikes packed we set off from the quay only to be stopped a couple  of hundred meters up the road by some locals trying to milk us of US$10 each for the use of the jetty, we told them where to go as that should have been covered by Fritz, I take back what I said earlier!! A bit further up the road we are stopped again by a Police/Military roadblock. We are then told that only the Kuna are allowed to use this road and that we must pay the fee, we left Juan to do all the talking and arguing but half an hour later we ended up paying the fee. A nice ride through the jungle from Carti to the main road, about 40KM’s of narrow, twisty and steep road. We hit the dual carriageway into Panama City and soon enough we saw the city skyline, quite impressive even though I don’t really like big cities. We have the address for Panama Passage but the GPS is playing up and we are having trouble getting to it until by luck we are spotted by Shaun, who runs the place, and he waves us down.

A cold beer welcome, then time to pitch the tents and head into town for supplies for the first decent meal in 5 days. Spanish omelette cooked by Juan … nice.

Two Germans had arrived while we were out, Frank and Simone, they are going over to Colombia with Fritz tomorrow, we tried not to put them off too much!



Panama City (Panama Passage)

19/04/2011 - Off to find the Customs office, got lost again but not too drastic, we only missed it by a couple of streets. Juan goes to the window first and asks the woman what she needs from us, she tells him we need “International” insurance which we can buy for US$50 in the city and two copies of licence, passport and registration document which they will do for US$8. we aren't going to pay that much for photocopies when we can get it cheaper on the street and definitely not buying insurance. Found a cheap copy shop which did all the copies for a Dollar then back to PP to arrange insurance .. my fake insurance that I had for Sth America needed a bit of doctoring! Back to customs and only an hour before they close, the paperwork was given a quick glance over and approved (Phew! Good old PhotShop) but the Police need to inspect the bikes and it is too late now, have to come back tomorrow morning.

Headed out to see the canal and got there with half an hour of opening time left. Juan managed to talk one of the security guys into letting us up to the restaurant level so we could get a view without having to pay the expensive entry fee. Quite amazing watching the tugs hook up and pull the ships through with only inches to spare on either side.

Back to PP via the supermarket for food and wine. Surf and Turf courtesy of yours truly tonight.

20/04/2011 - Up early and back to customs for the police inspection, we arrived at 09:20 and waited for an hour before we were called into an office one by one and given back our paperwork and permissions for the bike … no police involvement.

Next stop was a car wash to get the salt off the bikes … US$2 and the bikes were like new again.

We all need tyres so we’re off on a round Panama tyre hunt … Harley Davidson could get one for Juan but for US$200+ and it had Harley on the tyre wall!!!! We got directions for the BMW Dealer to see if I could get a tyre there. They had a second hand road tyre for US$40 but not such a good deal, it had 3 nails in it! I spotted a used TKC 80 on the shelf and asked about it, it was one of the managers spares for his GS, he agreed to let it go for the same price as the other tyre .. Not that brilliant but had a few more miles left than mine. Decided not to change it over yet, should get a bit more mileage out of the one I have on. Stef and Juan had no luck getting tyres. Juan decided to change his tyre over with his spare but wanted to find a cheap Gomeria rather than pay HD or BMW to do it. We found a place near the airport who would swap over the tyres if we took the wheel off. We got some strange looks from passers by as we dumped the Wing on it’s side to get the wheel out.

Not as successful a day as we had hoped but the important jobs were done.

Back to PP via supermarket again .. Stef cooking tonight, honey mustard chicken .. Tasty!

21/04/2011 - Lazy morning checking bikes over for salt corrosion now they have been washed and dried off .. Lots of WD40 used! In the afternoon we took a walk into Panama’s old town, a lot of old colonial buildings, some restored and a lot in the process of restoration and some good views of the new city skyline.

Back to PP, I’m cooking again, Carbonara. Another new arrival, Jeremy, a young Canadian lad who has ridden South on an old Honda CX500 He spends the next couple of days in a hammock outside.

Stef and Juan are moving on tomorrow, we decide to stay put over the Easter weekend and avoid the traffic and hiked up accommodation charges.

22/04/2011 - Said farewell to Stef and Juan, hope we meet up again somewhere on the road.

Lazy day. Shops closed for the holiday and no beer available except Shaun’s supply at US$1.50 a can .. Ouch!!

23/04/2011 - Lazy day.

24/04/2011 - Another Lazy day. Jeremy still in the hammock.



Start Mileage - 38,252

Miles - 81

Panama City (Panama Passage Over Landers Guest House) - El Valle (La Casita de Don Daniel)

Slow pack, not going too far today. The zip on the inner tent gave up and it’s stuck open to the elements an mozzies! Jeremy eventually got out of the hammock and ventured outside the gate.

On the road for around 11:30 in the blazing heat. 10 minutes out of the city we got caught in an almighty downpour, no warning, it just went from hot and sunny to dark and chucking it down … weird!  We dived into the next fuel station for cover but it was too late, we were soaked. Half an hour later and the rain had died down wnough for us to get going again.

Another good ride through the mountains after the rain finally stopped and the heat came back. We arrived at El Valle, a village built in a volcanic crater, and stopped at a coffee shop that had a cop car parked outside, we thought it must be either a good one or there was trouble inside, it was a good one.

Spotted a sign post for camping and followed it until after a couple of turns the signs ran out. We found another camp site that looked ok and it looked busy with a lot of tents, looks like the only place we can set up is in the volleyball court! US$10 to camp .. It’ll do for one night, confused though when the guy said wait 10 minutes while they clean. Penny dropped, we use their tents, will make packing up in the morning easier. Going by the posters that are all over the place it looks like we just missed a music festival here over the weekend … maybe that is a good thing!!

Walked into the village and found the local pub/restaurant, the food looked good and it was cheap. The place was packed out with locals, all playing bingo and all pissed up. A bunch of them started chatting to us but because of their level of drunkenness and our level of sobriety we couldn't understand them .. All funny until they started asking us to buy them beer, time to leave. We ate back at the camp site.



Start Mileage - 38,333

Miles - 234

El Valle (La Casita de Don Daniels) - David (Bamba Hostel)

Skipped breakfast and saved two dollars on the camping fee or so we thought .. It was US$8 per person not total as we had thought, bumped again!

Another hot ride but at least it stayed dry. Arrived at David and found the hostel that was in the Rough Guide. We pulled up and were greeted by a very unwelcoming American guy that owns the place. Apparently he had asked to be unlisted in the Rough Guide as offering camping because he no longer wants budget travellers staying here, they “All take advantage” using his facilities, pool, kitchen, wi-fi etc. The room prices had tripled compared to what was in the guide. How many people were staying there? Not a lot! He allowed us to put the tent up out of “goodwill” because time was getting on and we were only staying the one night, we couldn't buy beers and put them in the fridge though, so we drank not quite cold beer rather than pay him double the price we paid for cold beers from the minimart.

At the beginning of the South American part of the trip we received an email from an Ex Pat Brit, “Norman Stormin” saying that if we were passing his way then there was accommodation available if we wanted. We took him up on his offer and sent an email to see if he was about and if the offer was still valid. No reply by the end of the night, maybe Norman isn't around or just not checked email yet.

Hoofed it down with rain, rainy season starts today apparently.



Start Mileage - 38,567

Miles - 11

David (Bamba Hostel) - David (Normans)

Happy birthday to me.

Checked email and there was a reply from Norman, he is in today, however, he and his wife Amelia are leaving for Costa Rica for a week but we are more than welcome to stay if we want.

11:15 - got moaned at by the owner .. Check out is 11:00 and they need to clean … clean what? The tent got a good clean off in the rain last night, I think this guy has issues!

Packed the tent up then out of spite used his electricity to boil his water in his kettle for coffee then sat out front in our dirty bike gear.

We got to Norman and Amelias place for 14:30, had a few beers a good chat with lots of info then a good steak dinner. Norman’s place has become a bit of an animal sanctuary, we were introduced to the 4 Dogs, two Parrots, loads of Chickens, 1 Spider Monkey and 5 Capuchine Monkeys. He started by taking in a pet Capuchine Monkey that had forgotten how to be a Monkey but was too wild to be a pet, it is now doing better and lives loose outside with another Capuchine and her baby. The other two Capuchines and the 40 year old Spider Monkey are out but on long lines. The mother and baby Capuchines keep themselves to themselves and stay out in the trees but the other one is a bit of a nightmare and always trying to get into the house when Norman isn't there..

Norman told us of some shops in town that probably had good cheap tents and another shop where we could try and get the zip repaired and again said we were welcome to stay as long as it takes and that Henry his gardener will be here all the time if we need anything.



David (Stormin Normans)

28/04/2011 - Norman and Amelia left early this morning, we never heard a thing.

Into town to check out tents and found a few, most either too small or too expensive for what we want but found a possibility. Found the zip repair place, they say they can replace it for Saturday afternoon but the guy that can give us a price isn't in today, we leave the tent with them and will come back tomorrow and decide.

Lunch then back to the house. As soon as we are off the bike the little Capuchine starts, running around grabbing whatever it can, we chase it off back into the trees, the old Spider Monkey then comes plodding up to us arms outstretched and wanting a cuddle .. much calmer!

Norman had warned us that the little Capuchine will nick whatever it can, cigarettes, TV remotes, coffee .. Sat down to watch a bit of telly and the little bugger is back, running around the balcony and darting over to try and swipe ciggies and lighters. Everything put out of reach it then starts to climb all over us, picking my nose and ears and trying to get t shirts and shorts off us! Henry is up and down every 10 minutes for the rest of the day helping us chase it off.

29/04/2011 - Woken up at 06:30 by the monkey banging on the bedroom window and trying to get in the door. The bin and ash trays have been emptied all over the floor and it has managed to get the top off the wine and spilt what was left. Henry is going to busy again today chasing the little bugger away.

Into town after lunch to see about the tent zip. They can replace it no problem but it will be cheaper if they just fix the zip, will be ready in an hour, US$12.

Back to the house, Lorraine watched “The Royal Wedding”, me and Henry chased the monkey off.

Bangers, Mash and beans for dinner.



Start Mileage - 38,634

Miles - 123

David (Norman Stormin’s) - Almirante (Hostal Colon)

Woken by the Monkey again, banging on the window with an empty fag packet, it managed to get into the bins again!

Heading for Bocas del Torro today, a nice ride up through the forest and into the mountains again until near the top, out of nowhere we had winds like Patagonian winds and nearly got blown off! Stuck behind a truck we had the wind and the buffeting coming from the trailer, hard work. We got to a bit of a straight and the truck waved us through with a friendly blast on the horn and the thumbs up, then we were past him and he started blowing the horn and flashing his lights .. What did we do???? We pulled over and the truck slowed pointing to the back of the bike, one of the straps holding the spare tyre on had worked loose and burnt through on the exhaust leaving the tyre swinging on the other strap and scraping the road. Tyre strapped back on and we’re off again back into the wind. Finally out of the wind we stopped at a little village for a break and a coffee, while we were sat there, a car reversed from it’s parking spot at speed and clipped the pannier with it’s mirror lifting the bike off the side stand, I thought it was going over but luckily it fell back onto the stand, the guy just grinned sheepishly and drove off.

A bit further up the road there is a cop car parked up on the opposite side of the road. I see him throw down the newspaper he is reading and he jumps out of the car waving us down, as the cops have some meaty motors here I decide to not chance just ignoring and out running him, I hadn't done anything wrong anyway. I turned around and pulled in to the layby. He said we had been speeding and showed me a speed gun … with no reading on it!! I asked him what speed we were doing and he said 90KMH and that the speed limit was 30KMH because of animals and children on the road, we are in the middle of nowhere, hadn't passed a village for a while and the last speed limit sign I had seen was 100KMH. I asked again for proof of me speeding and he pointed the gun at the next car then showed me the screen. I told him without proof I won’t pay any fine, so he then got his law book out and showed me a paragraph that said any foreign vehicles with infractions will not be allowed to leave Panama without paying a fine. He said I can either pay him or I can go back the 100 or so KM’s to Almirante and pay the fine at the police station there. He must have forgotten that I had turned around and was heading for Almirante and not away from there so I said to give me the ticket and I will pay at the police station .. He gave up, tore up the ticket and told me to be more careful!!!!

Found a cheap dive with parking in Almirante close to the port for the ferry taxi’s to Bocas del Torro. Not much to the town as it is just the jumping off point for the islands, basically just the bus station, a couple of restaurants and a few shops.

The shop next door to the hostal must have only one CD, every time we go out for a smoke, blasting out through the speakers are different versions of “Stand by Me”.



Almirante (Hostal Colon)

A coffee, another couple of versions of “Stand by Me” and we head out for the water taxi to the island. After wandering around and not finding the dock we asked an old guy which way we had to go, he said to follow him as he was heading that way, 10 minutes later we are there and the expected request for money didn’t happen, surprising as I have supplied most of the locals with fags since we got here! We got our tickets and boarded the water taxi for the 30 minute ride out to the island. A nice little island but obviously geared up for the tourists, lots of hotels, bars and tour operators operating water sport activities, not our thing really. We spent a couple of hours on the island then got the water taxi back to Almirante.



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