The San Blas Islands
The morning of departure for the sailing finally came. We left at 6 am as a group, taking side roads to avoid the tollways out of town heading for Puerto Carti and the Stahlratte. My friends in Volcan had warned me that the tollways were no longer manned and the gates operated by electronic card only, so alternate streets got us out of town. Garmin doesn't know the routes are tollways, so I suggest using Google Maps to plot it and then punch in accordingly on your GPS. You can also buy a tolltag thingy but it's not worth the hassle. Route showed to be 2 hours to Carti, but we gave ourselves plenty of time since it was also Independence Day and streets in Panama City would be shut in areas for the parades.
It rained on the way, and the road turning off of Hwy 1 to Carti was wet and twisty, covered in potholes but a beautiful ride.
We were ahead of schedule and about 12 miles from the port, when we hit a traffic jam of epic proportions on the tiny road and sat for an hour before making it to the checkpoint and toll booth for the Guna Yala region. $3 per vehicle and $20 per person. Save your receipt as they check it when you get to the port.
The traffic jam was due to the holiday weekend and carloads of people were trying to get to the islands.
We arrived at the port to find it packed with cars and people, being eventually directed to an old concrete pier where the Stahlratte sat in the bay. A few high fives were heaved as we all felt a relief since this was our only scheduled deadline and one we'd all thought about for a long time. More riders arrived, a few at a time, until 19 bikes were waiting. Andrea and Adrian were not there and I got a message that her bike hadn't started that morning and was being brought by truck.
The Stahlratte made a run to the pier and unloaded 3 bikes and riders and their gear, then returned to the bay and anchored.
We were told to pile our gear and cases on the pier to be ferried by launch to the ship. As we did so, Adrian and Andrea arrived after their frantic morning trying to start her bike and scrambling to get a truck and driver, but they made it, making 21 bikes and 22 riders total.
Eventually we moved the bikes onto the pier, boarded a launch and were taken to the ship for a meeting with Ludwig and getting our gear stowed on board. From there the majority of the riders boarded a launch for the island of Porvenir for the night.
A few of us were left until they could find another boat to take us. No one but crew were allowed on board for the bike loading, understandably. It was interesting to see where the bikes would be placed, basically along the sides song the sloped deck.
Pile o' cash on that pier :D
Our boat ride to Porvenir for the night took a while, first being taken to one island where the pilot sat waiting for us to do something. We saw no one from the crew there and didn't know what to do. Apparently the pilot didn't either. He finally gave up and headed for another island, depositing us and shouting in Spanish something none of us understood.
We saw no sign of the crew or a hotel, only a lone soldier who climbed out of his hammock and went into a building. One of us spotted a series of buildings across the runway and headed for them, relieved to see the gang swimming and lounging around.
Rooms were awarded and it was hot and steamy that evening. I finally found a hammock and spent most of the night outside in the breeze.