|To go from Panama to Colombia without taking the plane, choice are limited since there are no roads because of the infamous Darien Gap, the Gap is basically a No Man's Land on the border between the two countries, where lies a dense jungle in which drug trafficants are even more dangerous than wild animals.|
Even though the Darien international
park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its great diversity,
it's access is very complicated and dangerous, so it was never my
intention to visit it.
Route from Panama City to Cartagena.
So the only choice to cross this border
without boarding a plane is to take a boat. There are now
discussions to establish a regular ferry service to do the liaison
but until this becomes reality travellers must rely on private
Until recently the only option was to
pay passage on a private yacht to/from Cartagena. A new option
appeared less than two years ago, a fast boat service along the North
Coast passing through the magnificent San Blas islands and dropping
you on the border. That route is cheaper than crossing on a sailboat
and also safer during the hurricane season, plus you spend most of
your days on small tropical islands. That's the option I took.
First meal on the islands.
From one ocean to the other
The first day begins by a transport
picking you up at you hotel to bring you to the Northern Coast town
of Carti. The second half of the drive is done in the mountains and
only a 4x4 vehicle can get through the very curvy roads. It's
something to make you car sick,
Normally this part of the trip lasts
about two hours but in our case we had one guy who forgot his
passport at his hostel. He realized it as we made a stop just
outside Panama City. We waited two hours for him to return our stop
location but at the end we left without him. He was able to join us
later, on the first island.
From Carti, we boarded the fast boats
en route to the first island with a delay of over 3 hours. The boat
ride lasted about one hour and fifteen minutes and was smooth since
we were mostly between the islands and the coast, not on open sea.
Since we were a big group of thirty, we
used two boats. Most of the passengers were in their early 20s,
drink a lot, about half of them smoke (cigarettes or more funny
stuff). Except for two or three couples and four German friends, we
all are solo travellers. The biggest representation is from the U.S.
of course, followed by Germany, British islands, Australia/New
Zealand and Canada (a couple from Alberta and myself).
The first task we had after unloading
the boat of our bags from the boat was to pick a hammock for the
night. There were three huts featuring each 11 or 12 hammocks.
Seeing they were just about 45 cm apart, I figured we could easily
bump into each other so I picked one along the walls of the hut.
Having never used a hammock before, not even for just sitting or
relaxing, I wasn't too fond of the idea of spending three nights in
one. I never tried hammocks because I was worried about their
resistance to my weight.
Then lunch was served. A fish grilled
whole plus rice and beans. The fish was tasty but bony. In the
afternoon, I killed time walking around our little island (took about
25 minutes to tour it, with feet in water) and spent much time in
water while some of the others were snorkeling but the majority was
just getting drunk.
For supper we had baby lobsters with an
octopus salad. Just before supper, I spent quality time with my
hammock, discovering how to lay on it without falling down. I
succeeded my auto-learning, but I wasn't very comfy. After supper,
while they were building a bonfire I was in 'bed' early because I
suspected it would be hard to rest on the hammock with the others
partying close-by. I spent TEN hours in the hammock, didn't sleep
more than 3 as I could never find a comfy position or was disturbed
by the others.
My bed for the first night.
Hence was my first day.