Lady Kiss.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, January 7, 2005

The journey starts here! The adventure starts here! Right here! Right now! In this place best described by James Anthony Froude, a visiting journalist during the French canal construction period back in 1886 (note that it was the US and not France who succesfully finished the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914.) He had the following to say about Panama's second city, Colón:

"In all the world there is not, perhaps, now concentrated in a single spot so much swindling and villainy, so much foul disease, such a hideous dung-heap of moral and physical abomination as in the scene of this far-fetched undertaking of nineteenth-century engineering."

If he had visited today, little would probably change his mind.

When in Panama, heading south, there's usually four ways to reach Colombia. I'll get back to that in a second. There's a road, a rather long one, called Carretera Interamericana (aka the Pan American Highway) running from Alaska and all the way down to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the South American continent. You can drive this road all the way from north to south, or vice versa. Except for a 106km gap between Panama and Colombia where the road is missing. This is the infamous and wild Darien Gap. Probably the last untamed wilderness of Central America. A vast impenetrable rainforest, containing tortuous rivers and rugged mountains. Most of the area is currently protected by the Darien National Park on the Panamanian side and Los Katios National Park on the Colombian side. There's been talks about finishing this last stretch of road, but so far many factors have decided against it. Increased drug trafficking and environmental issues being main deciding factors.

As I said, there's usually four ways, you as tourist (intrepid or not) can reach Colombia from Panama. The least common travel method, is to try and make your way through the Darien Gap on your own or with a local guide (if you can find one who is willing to go.) This may very well be one of your all time great adventures, if you have a death wish that is. As the area is housing guerillas, paramilitaries, drug traffickers as well as the common bandit. Many people have tried to cross it, and many have succeeded. I don't have anything remotely close to first hand experience, but to me it sounds like a stupid gamble and surely a hazardous undertaking. Lots of less fortunate people have been either robbed, kidnapped, killed or simply vanished from the face of the earth. The second last common travel method is to take a boat. There's no scheduled passenger service, but it's possible to get a ride on both the Pacific and Carribean side. The most common route is between Colón in Panama and Cartagena in Colombia. A few private yachts take passengers, usually backpackers looking for an adventure and with time to spare. The fee is about the same as the one hour flight from Panama City to Cartagena, but on average takes 4-6 days instead. Usually stopping for a day or two in the beautiful San Blas archipelago. A 375km chain of coral atolls part of Kuna Yala, an autonomous region in north-eastern Panama populated and governed by indigenous people. The third least common travel method, is to fly from Panama Ciy to typically either Cartagena on the Carribean coast or Bogotá, the capital. The fourth least common travel method, or better said the most common one, is probably to skip visiting Colombia altogether. So I am not stupid, but like to think that I have a tiny bit of adventure in me. So I have opted for the second least common travel method. By private yacht from Colón to Cartagena. I am here on the 44 foot Spanish owned sailing boat christened Lady Kiss (so you expected more from the blog entry title, didn't you.) With me are the two Spanish captains Roberto and Jordie. Mara, the Colombian girl. She is on the boat to work as a mechanical engineer student. The paying passengers are my travel buddies since Bocas del Toro; Lisa, Ben and Steve. As well as Richard, a solo traveler from the Channel Islands (UK.)

...Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

We are sheltering off Linton Island, close to Isla Grande, on the 4th day. The wind is coming straight towards our sailing direction and the sea is much rougher than normal. It took us close to 24 hours (usually it should take 6 hours) to get here from Colón, sailing through the night in snail pace. The majority of us were on deck "feeding seagulls" for a big part of the trip, or "rope pĺ elgen" (roughly translated, "calling for the moose") as we say in Norway. In other words that's barfing, hurling, puking or just plain throwing up. Take your pick. I used to get seasick in a rowboat on the river back home, but somehow I managed to survive the night without getting sick at all. Beats me.

...Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

There's no weather improvments in sight. We are running low on water, the bread is mouldy and the Snickers long gone. Mutiny is lurking inches above the shark infested waters. It's time to make a move, one way or the other. To be continued.....
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