June 10, 2014

You'd think we'd we pretty good at border crossings by now, having done more than a handful and so fresh in our minds. Well the Costa Rica to Panama border crossing was an absolute shocker for The Pack Track.

Everything had been going so well when we left San Jose, Costa Rica. We took the stunning mountain pass rather than the fast ocean road to the border of Panama. This road is the reason you ride a bike. The distance is about 100km shorter than the ocean highway but because of the terrain it takes about the same amount of time, roughly fours hours.

It was around 5:30m when we arrived at the border crossing. The plan was to get through the border and then ride to David to spend our first night in Panama, only an hour past the border so not to worry. Wrong! Complications hit us straight away. The only machine to swipe passports for the exit of Costa Rica was broken. With no way around the process we had to sit and wait...and wait...and wait until it worked again. At around 8pm it started working and we proceeded to exit Costa Rica.

Now to our second problem. As it was late we decided to stay at a hotel between the borders; no mans land. This seemed like the sensible thing to do and kind of cool so we found a good place for $24 a night with secure parking for the bikes. We were all really tired so straight to bed and after a good nights sleep we leisurely made our way over to the Panama border only to be told that we couldn't enter Panama because the exit date on our passport for Costa Rica had to be the same as the entrance date to Panama. We tried to get around it but they wouldn't budge so back to lining up in Costa Rica to exit for the second time. The lines were long and the weather was hot. After what seemed like forever we had all the paperwork and stamps for us and the bikes to exit Costa Rica and enter Panama. Now we just had to sort out Skyla.

Our third obstacle. We followed the very lengthy process to import Skyla into Panama to the T, moving among four different buildings getting forms filled and signed. finally, around 4pm when we thought it was nearly over, we were told we had to pay $130 (an unusually costly import for a pet) at the bank which closed at 3pm. OMG!!! Back to no mans land to our $24 a night hotel to wait until the bank opened the next morning. Next morning we were at the bank early, paid our $130 and now 2 days behind schedule, hit the road for Panama City.

Riding into Panama City was a real eye opener. Its huge, modern and with some beautiful architecture. We were really excited about staying a couple of nights and seeing the Panama Canal but firstly we had to figure how to get to South America. Over the past few weeks Stu had been studiously researching and emailing different companies that could fly or sail us all. For those not familiar with this part of the world, there is no road connecting the two continents so you either have to travel by sea or air.

Time and cost were our priorities for getting to South America. Stuarts dad, Alan, is flying into Manaus on 06 June to join us for the World Cup so we wanted to be there to pick him up from the airport. We arrived in Panama City on 21 May and checked in to a hotel known to assist motorbike travellers with organising transport to South America. We made some enquiries and the staff were very helpful, they had a sail boat leaving on 29 May. Unfortunately this would be too late for us. Later that night however we received confirmation from Seablass Ferry that they could get us on a ferry departing the next day, 22 May but we had to transfer a deposit to secure our position. This was a big decision in a short period of time. We would miss Panama city completely and Janell really wanted to see the Panama canal but we had the commitment of the World Cup so we accepted the position.

After paying the deposit we got more detailed information about our voyage to Colombia. Turns out we weren't travelling on a ferry but on a catamaran with a crew of 2 and around 20 other travellers that would take 5 days to reach our destination. Staying positive we rocked up to the wharf ready to board the boat. The bikes were strapped on to the deck of the catamaran, Jacqueline, and off we went. The first few days were relaxing, we stayed around the islands and went swimming and snorkling. The Captain, Jose, took us over to the islands so Skyla could go to the toilet which was a big relief. Skyla had a pretty good time really but got a little vocal when people were splashing around in the water and she wasn't, she did get plenty of time swimming.

The actual voyage to Colombia was not so pleasant. The seas were quite rough and the boat wasn't in the best condition. Ropes were snapping, we ran out of water and also fuel. During the night the structure of the boat sounded like it was going to snap in two. By the time we reached Cartagena (25 May) everyone on board was well and truly over sailing and couldn't wait to get onto land and have a shower. It was an interesting experience and definitely an adventure we won't forget any time soon!

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