Catching A Boat: Panama City To Portobelo


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I had to make my way over to Portobelo on the Caribbean coast to get the boat to Colombia. I needed to take a boat since the road ends a few hours beyond Panama City. From there to Colombia its nothing but an impenetrable, seventy mile tract of jungle known as the Darien Gap, so the only options for onward travel are either by air or sea. Well, flying the bike over sounded a bit boring so I booked a place for myself and the bike on a boat leaving for Cartagena, Colombia. All passengers with bikes needed to get there a day before departure to load the bikes.

Its only a couple of hours from Panama City to Portobelo . Given that its such a short trip I wasn’t going to post an update, but for once I travelled with another motorcyclist so there are “action shots” of me to show.

I met up with David, the other biker, and we promptly set out only to get lost in the city streets almost straight away. We asked  a policeman for directions, and instead of trying to explain the way to us, he said to just follow his squad car. So we got a police escort out of Panama City. Nice! He didn’t turn on the lights or siren though, so that’s a pity.

Anyway he led us to the entrance to the trans-isthmus highway and off we went.

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David Setting Out

The ride over on was uneventful, on a nice, wide, four lane road for most of the way. At one point we rode into a torrential downpour. I could have stopped to put on my rain liners, but the rain was warm and I figured my riding gear needed another wash anyway, so on we went.

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En Route To Portobelo

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We Stopped For A "Snak"

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Police Checkpoint - As Usual We Were Waved Through

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Riding By The Caribbean

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Me On The Move

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Portobelo

We arrived into the small port town of Portobelo not long after that. There were nine other bikers taking the boat. Some were there already and more rolled in a short while after us. Some of them I knew from the road, others I hadn’t met before. We all convened for a meet and greet lunch/early happy hour.

Known bloggers amongst this group are:

  • And Yours Truly of course, but you knew that already!
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Beer & Coconuts

Later that afternoon it was time to load the bikes onto the boat. We were promised that the boat would be docked at the pier and that the bikes would simply be winched aboard. But no, the boat was moored out in the bay so we hand to ride our bikes down on to the beach by the old fort, push them up a plank into a small dinghy, motor out to the boat and winch each bike off the dinghy. When you are dealing with five hundred pound bikes this gets complicated, time-consuming and strenuous.

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Bikes Assembled For Loading

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Its a Delicate Operation

We took off all the luggage from the bikes in an effort to lighten them and also removed fragile parts such as windscreens. There was a lot of scope for damage in this loading operation, so better safe than sorry.

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Removing The Windscreen

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The Loading Continues

It was decided to load the lighter bikes first. Mine is one of the heavier ones so it was one of the last to be loaded. I spent a good four hours waiting for it to be loaded. Nothing to do but take some more photos, then.

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Portobelo Fort

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Portobelo Harbour

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Its Getting Darker

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Still Waiting....

Finally around 8 PM, in the pitch dark, I loaded my bike on to the dinghy, went out to the boat and winched it on board. The winching on board was nerve racking for a couple of reasons. I was standing in the dinghy, trying to keep my balance while the bike dangled on a hoist ten feet above my head. At first I was worried that the rope broke the bike would fall into the bay until I realized it would fall on me instead. I was relieved when it was finally aboard and tied down on the open deck. To finish off the procedure I sprayed an entire can of WD40 on the bike to protect it against salt water damage.

After loading a couple of more bikes, we were done at last. The original arrangement was for all the bikers to sleep on board that night (non-bikers would board in the morning) but that didn’t happen. Bizarre as it sounds, the captain of the boat had a falling out over a dog with a local hostel owner , with the result that somehow we were not allowed to board that night. Don’t ask me to explain it, I don’t think I could if I tried. What its got to do with us bikers I have no idea, but there are some things that are not worth even trying to fathom. All I know is that the only alternate accommodations at that late point was a bed in a stinky hostel dorm room. We finished off with a few night caps and off to bed early for the next days sailing.

I’ll sign off this post with a photo of the boat I was to take. Believe me, you are going to hear a lot more about it in the next couple of updates. Oh boy, are you ever going to hear about this “yacht”.

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The MS Independence Waiting In The Bay

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One Response to Catching A Boat: Panama City To Portobelo

  1. Karen Nelson says:

    You are having way to much fun, you will never want to go back to work again!

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