I ended up in a backpackers hostel in a pretty decent part of the city, it was one of the last beds in any of the inexpensive hostels in the entire city. It was amazing to see the insane number of backpackers in the city, I dont think I have ever seen anything like it. At the hostel I ended up at, I met and had a meal with an American guy named Aaron who was about to end a 14 month around the world by biking home to San Fran from Panama. A very ambitious trip, especially for someone who was already travel weary and who has never done a bike trip in his life. But, Aaron is super commited and is raising money for Plan USA, an organization that helps impoverished children throughout the world.
Over the next two days and many beers we came to an arrangement that I would sell,rent,loan parts of my bike to him for his journey. It made sense. I was tired of biking alone after a month coming down from Nicaragua, he was about to buy a bike, racks, bags, and gear in Panama. So he gave me his backpack and I gave him the bike! Just like that we each got what we wanted and were happy with the way that it happened. I decided not to sell him the bike at all, but make it my donation to his cause. At the end of the trip, he will box up the bike and gear and ship it back to me, hopefully all in working shape! I believe in his sincerity to make this journey happen and I wish him the best of luck. He has a blog as well, where you can see his progress and also contribute to Plan USA.
There are only a few choices on how to get from Panama to Colombia. In between the two countries is one of the largest unknown jungle regions in the world. There are no roads, hardly any people at all, minus the reported guerilla groups active in the area, and endless jungle so dense it oozes green sludge out into the ocean because there is no more room in the forest. For the traveller there are basically four sane choices: you can fly--BORING--, take a charter sail boat through the carribean, or figure out random connections on cargo ships and small boats through the carribean or the pacific. The easiest things to set up are flights and trips on sailboats. The sailboat is more of a luxury vacation: five days in turquoise waters with a two day stop at tropical isolated islands. I inquired into a trip and actually for some insane reason booked a trip that cost almost as much as all of my airfare for this trip. I figured that it was so easy and that i wasnt going to have to spend any time waiting or looking for other options. Sometimes travellers that opt to hunt for cargo ships wait weeks to find a boat that will take them and then have complete shit shows out at sea making the voyage.
Then as things began to fall into place, as they always do, i completely changed my plan, as i always do. The same day that i handed over my bicycle to Aaron i met another American at the same hostel who was trying to get on a cargo ship to Colombia. Zach is from Austin, Texas and Great Barrington, Mass and right away we hit it off. It was decided that with my new backpack in tow, we were making this journey together. And then theres Dave from Vermont. He rode his motorcycle down from Colorado and is going to Argentina. Also a really fun guy, he completed the trifecta.
Zach and Dave had already found a ship leaving Panama City the next day headed south along the Pacific coast. We had to convince the captain to let another passenger on, but it went smoothly, and before long we were waiting at the docks to board the Victoria C.
This boat was packed to the brim with cargo and passengers alike. We boarded at night in such a chaotic scene as to actually make us nervous. We were about to begin a journey that would take anywhere from four days to who knows how many. The Victoria was to take us 14 hours to the Panamanian frontier town of Jaque, then a small two hour ride to the Colombian frontier town of Jurado, and then the final 30 hour cargo ship ride to Buenaventura. This route is rarely taken by gringo travellers, so we had very little information going into it, but the three of us were commited to the adventure and whatever was going to happen would anyway. That first ride along the Victoria was a blast. We motored away to the midnight lights of Panama City, past the shoulder to shoulder luxury highrises out into the darkness of the Darien. We slept on the deck under the stars, and woke in the morning to dolphins jumping and playing alongside the boat. The sun fried us but we cared little becuase we we out on the open seas, laughing with the rest of the passengers on the boat.
Getting off in Jaque is another story. There is no dock so all of the passengers and cargo has to be unloaded from the main ship into little tiny boats that flock to the sides of the Victoria waiting for the passengers litteraly to jump from one ship to the other. We did this in a storm with huge swells that rocked us hard. Trying to jump into a small boat that is getting airborn is not easy. Needless to say we were very grateful to be on land again. Jaque is a sleepy town, no roads, no cars, and really fresh fish. We had to wait until the next day until we could hire someone with a boat to take us farther down the coast into Colombia. That trip was also done in a storm but this time we were speeding like mad alongside the jungle, grins blazing. The three of us would shoot glimpes at eachother with expressions of holy shit did you see that.
Little did we know that Jurado would be our home for a week because we had just missed the boat that would take us to Buenaventura, on the central coast of Colombia. Jurado is a trip. We were greeted by a huge crowd of police and military that took as back to the compound to register as foriegn visitors and to offer us a campsite on the beach right behind the station. The police there are young kids who basically resent the fact that they were posted in the middle of nowhere while their friends were working in cities throughout the country. It was common to see officers arguing over whether or not Jurado is the shittiest place in all of Colombia. We loved it however. There are no road, no cars, lots of beach, great people, and cheap beer. We had a great campsite with free 24 hour security and plenty of time to do nothing. It didnt take long before everyone in the town knew exactly who we were and where we were from. The police hounded us constantly wanting to talk to anyone other than the other people in Jurado. They love to party even while working and they were fun to hang out with. Every day we ate the same massive plate of food at the same restaurant and loved it.
After a week of it though we were bored as shit and counted the seconds until the boat came. The only problem is though that nobody knew when it would come. It does when it does is basically the only correct answer. It came, we left, gladly.
30 hours later we departed the Correo Del Pacifico in the massive port town of Buenaventura. The city has been notorious in the past as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but we loved it! The street food was plentiful and cheap and the people friendly. We had a day to kill before catching the overnight bus to Bogota.
Unfortunatley the cheap food caught up with me on the bus and it made the 12 hours terrible for me. Riding through the Andes in the bathroom of a coach bus is a horrible experience, one i dont recommend to anyone. We pulled into Bogota in the early morning elated to have finally arrived at our destination after 10 days of travel. A friend from one of the boat rides offered to put us up once we arrived, and that is where we are staying right now.
Bogota is a great city. We have only been here for a day, but it is proving itself to be a great place. Zach and I will travel together for a while it seems. The two of us have become close and we make great travel mates.
I plan on staying the rest of my trip in Colombia. Already i love it and have not seen any of it. After a month longer here i hope to really get a sense of the place.