Friday, May 30, 2008

A Slow Boat to Panama - Part One

As much as Eric and I didn´t want to think about it, we knew that eventually we would have to come up with an exit plan for getting out of South America and make our way back home. It is an unsettling feeling to think that the adventure must end at some point and that the tugs of reality (i.e. money, energy, time, etc.) would snap you out of your invincable mindset. Still with the ever approaching departure date growing nearer, we weren´t about to cave in that easily. Early on in our trip, listening into the backpacker grapevine, we heard of a unique way of travel.

The small scrape of land connecting central America to South (connecting Panama to Columbia) is called the Darien Gap. On a map it is considered part of the Trans-American Highway but that is a common misconception amongst travelers. That ¨landbridge¨ is considered by most as one of the most dangerous passageways in the world. It is a major drug trafficking route and it is occupied by the Columbian Guerilla Army force called FARC. We heard many things about the crossing but what stood out to us was the statistic saying that you have a 50% chance of being kidnapped or killed if you try to venture through there. I am not asshamed to admitt that we weren´t feeling lucky on those odds. We would have to find another route.

For most travelers, the only other option is to catch a flight from Cartagena to Panama City. We didn´t have that kind of money. We discovered a means of travel that lent itself to becoming a true adventure for us. Traveling via sailboat.

Immediately, one would hear that word and dismiss it as too expensive, but we found that traveling by boat offered a unique way of leaving in style, surprisingly gentle on the bank account and an opportunity to live like pirates for a week.

Upon our arrival in Cartegena, one of the northern most cities in Columbia, we were determined to find a captain that could accomidate us. Finding a boat for passage isn´t as easy as you may think. At every hostel dozens of captains post offers but between sorting out the drunks ones, hearing the horror stories from other backpackers, and getting limited info on others, it forces you to be very picky. Five days out in the open ocean is a long time with a captain that you are essentially putting your safety in his hands. After a day or two of inquiring, we joined up with some new found friends Joslyn, Catherine and Ally we met and hired Captain Tom and the ¨Papillon¨ his stout 31 ft sailboat for the journey.

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