Rather than take our lives into our hands and attempt to drive across the infamous Darien Gap; 90km of forbidding mountainous jungle on the Panama side and impenetrable swamps, guerrillas, crazed drug traffikers, greedy kidnappers and corrupt government police on the Colombian side, we booked a passage on the ‘Stahlratte’. This 120 foot steel schooner from Germany sails from Cartagena, Colombia to Carti, Panama via the San Blas Islands, thus avoiding the Death Zone.
The 4 day, 3 night tour began with an early start for Nick, who met Captain Ludwig and the crew, shortly after sunrise to hoist the motorbike aboard. When asked why this operation had to take place so early Ludwig suggested it was because the sea was calmer. In reality we’re pretty sure it was to complete the task before the Colombian Customs clocked in, and caught on to what we were up to.
By the next afternoon, we had arrived at the paradise that is the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of 378 islands, the majority of which are home to only a handful of palm trees. A few of the larger islands are inhabited by the native people of San Blas, called Kuna who are famous for their bright ‘molas’; a colorful textile art form made with the techniques of appliqué and reverse appliqué.
All too soon, it was time to lift anchor and head for Carti, Panama. There were a few tense moments, and lots of German shouting, as the very large ‘Stahlratte’ approached the very small jetty. We only had a minute or two to unload the bike before Ludwig needed to reverse away from the shallow water, but all went according to plan and, as the ‘Stahlratte’ sailed away, our adventures in Central America began.