We overnighted in Panama City and met a couple of guys on a KTM and a BMW 800 who were going to Argentina and were staying in a nearby hostel. Their spirits were very high with the hope of booking passage on the 40 meter schooner, Stahlratte,org to Colombia, my dream trip.
I was set to thinking after receiving a phone call from Kris Nijs, a friend of mine living in Lima, Peru who rode for four contiguous years around the world on an ST1100 Pan European. He suggested riding to Lima, then fly the bike back. Excited by the prospect, I asked him to check out prices from Lima to LA with the bike. I even found a space on the Stahlratte for the bike but not for me. I would have had to take a smaller boat or a plane. Kris call me back and had a price from LAN Airlines of $7,000 or 8,000 USD, so that idea was out the window. It has to do with a Homeland security category called “Dangerous Goods”
The kids from the hostel would have to sail the high seas on their own. Best of luck to them.
The three of us rode toward the Darien Gap out of curiosity, mostly Valerii’s interest in whether or not he should make the overland crossing attempt on his bike against all warnings that it is “not recommended”.
He took the advice and started a search for a boat to Colombia. The road to the Darien was rough and not particularly pretty so we turned around at a deserted point and got some nice pictures of the bikes lined up in the middle of a long straight section of the road.
Ulli and me then made our way up to beautiful Portobelo on the Carib side while Val searched for tires in Panama City. Val met us later after an unsuccessful tire hunt. Portobelo was great, so relaxing and scenic with islands out over the water to stir the curiosity. Ulli did SCUBA and I snorkeled the local waters near our hotel. The only fly in the ointment, other than the no-see-em’s, was that the staff of the hotel did not smile much at all and in some cases they were a bit curt. It may be a cultural thing related to the local tribe of Spanish speaking blacks that are numerous there. They may be ambivalent about the tourist money flowing freely there driving prices up for the locals.
One thing for sure, the town really gets a loud party atmosphere on Saturday night with even the local busses looking like rolling discothèques, pumping out their own beat and lightshow.
This is also one of the towns where one would find a captain and a boat to Colombia. There are unseen lines to cross though. As far as we gathered, there are certain captains that get recommended by certain hostals and even towns in the area. The Captain we talked to in “Captain Jacks Bar” was three sheets to the wind by 8 PM but I asked questions anyway. He told us in detail how to secure a bike on the deck and how to protect it from salt water. Four point ratchet down the suspension, spray the entire* bike with a can of WD40, then wrap it with Saran wrap completely. Well that’s what he said anyway.
We said goodbye to our riding brother, Valerii, who went on his own to seek a captain and find out about customs and immigration related to taking a boat to Colombia while making his way south to Argentina.
Ulli and I rode out toward Costa Rica getting a visit in at the famous Mira Flores Locks as it opened for visitors at 9:00AM. Very impressive to watch the big ships float on through past the visitors center.
As Ulli and I rolled care free toward my friends in Boquete, near the Costa Rica border, we were abruptly stopped at a protest march on the Pan American Highway. Apparently, from what we could gather, it is the indigenous tribes protesting the government plans for strip mining their land for gold and copper without much in the way of compensation for the devastation and pollution it would cause. That first protest set us back an hour and a half. Then after rolling out of that, about an hour later we got stopped at another one where someone said shots were fired. Both had a heavy police presence including riot brigades with full gear.
Now we are about 2.5 hours behind and this put us into a heavy rain downpour during the last 20 KM to Boquete. It was during the deluge that I noticed the Datel voltage readout standing at about 11 volts. I brought the electrical demand to bones minimum but didn't want to pull over because I may not make it on the electrons left in the battery and there was no cover from the rain.
Well, we made it to Sharon and Mickeys house OK, but when I shut the bike down it did not have enough to start again.
The terminals were a little loose and there was some corrosion. I cleaned that up and charged the battery on Mickeys car charger. Everything back in and without all the farkle wires on the battery, the bike started but only shows 12.5 or so with a few tenths increase with revving the engine.
Right now I have the charged battery disconnected and I'll see if it holds the 12.7 it currently has by the morning. (It does)
Two days later I had the right mechanic, Neil, who made a house call to the bike with a pile of tools.
The alternator had a burned section with a broken wire. Parts are on order from Costa Rica and may take 5 to 7 days according to the general manager at Moto-Suzuki in San Jose, CR. Nothing to do now but sit back and try to enjoy Panama. I took a room in a hostel in Boquete in order to give some privacy back to Sharon and Mickey. This was a good move and gave me an opportunity to take in the local day to day life in the area. I met several interesting English speaking travelers. One was BC fellow riding a V-Strom 1000 south to meet to Stahlratte.org where he will be taken to Cartagena on his way to his home country of Brazil. We shared a couple of meals together before he mounted up and rode off to Panama City.
Kathleen, a resident of Marin County, CA was at the second hostel that I stayed at and is traveling Panama with her 3 year old adopted Guatemalan son, Jade. We shared a few meals and did a bit of touring together. Jade made a few friends with local kids so a couple of our meals turned out to be draped with hungry kids, their parents were nowhere to be found.
Ken, from BC is a retired longshoreman and an avid traveler with extensive knowledge about the world and Panama particularly. I met him in a coffee shop. We rode in his rental car up to the Carib coast and Bocas del Toro, a great little community on the Island of Colon. The ride was slow and we needed to stop often to ask for directions and take pictures of the impressive mountains and rivers. Ken likes to stay about 20KPH under the speed limit so the brakes in his rental got a real workout in the mountain hills and turns on the way to Bocas, which is as good a place as any to wait for my parts to come in.
While in Bocas, I got word from the Horizonsunlimited.com site that BC riders Fred and Larry are in town but heading north soon. I met with them for breakfast where we shared Central American motorcycle travel info and news. They wished I were up and running so I could travel with them and I felt the same way, but without the stator failure, I would not have met them at all. They told me they plan to be in Cancun for a week in March, if I am in the area I should visit. It was a meal for the soul as well as the body. I appreciate people more now I am in such a vulnerable position.
It’s been lazy days of eating, yoga classes and lounging in Bocas del Toro. We took a free tour of the Smithsonian Institute Lab here on the island where they do valuable research on environmental concerns in the waters and land.