Monday, August 1, 2011

I'm on a boat! Panama to Colombia on the Stahlratte...Part One

The Stahlratte!
 After our last night in Central America (feeling a bit worse for wear might I add) the whole crew headed off for Carti, Panama, a port located on the Caribbean coast.  Our home for the next five days, a 38.5 meter long steel sailboat called the Stahlratte, was docked there and awaiting our arrival.  First, we made a quick pit stop at the Miraflores locks on the Panama Canal, which was quite an operation.

Ty and I in front of the Miraflores locks on the Panama Canal

We didn't stay for long, as we were on a pretty strict time crunch for the day.  Everyone said goodbye to our good buddy Patrick who was headed off to Europe for his next big adventure, then Charlie, Andy, Alex, Tom (accompanied by Anna, a new addition to the motorcycle crew), Ty and I began what would turn out to be a challenging day to say the least.  We started the day off by going fifty miles in the complete wrong direction and after making our way back in Panama City an hour and a half later (landing in heavy traffic), we found the highway we wanted and got going in the right direction.  It was a pretty straight shot for the first half of the trip, until we found ourselves heading up into the hills in Kuna territory.  The road, a twisty, crazy nightmare, had some very beautiful views but was one, if not the most difficult roads that any of the guys had ever navigated on a motorcycle.  Ty and I decided to hang last and as we came around one particularly curvy corner we pulled up to find Tom and Andy with bikes lying sideways on the pavement.  [Spoiler Alert: The bikes fell over while stationary and everyone was FINE, just a little shaken was just a mechanical shifting error on behalf of Tom's bike and he slid into Andy's bike behind him.] 
The guys sorting out the bikes...this picture does not do the incline justice...
We stopped on the incline in order to not run over the guys or their bikes and OUR motorcycle started sliding backwards.  Ty and I have practiced what to do in an event like this and so, in what would later be discussed as the most amazing dismount of the trip, I leaped off the bike, landing perfectly on my feet.  Ty took off and drove to the top of the hill where he could park the bike safely.  I ran up to check on Anna and slow down any traffic that was headed down the hill and Ty ran down to help the guys get the bikes back in order.  Once all the bikes were safely at the top of the hill, we all took a deep breath and started back up again.  Ten minutes into the ride, poor Tom had another misfortune; his motorcycle ran out of gas.  I don't know if any of you have seen someone siphon gas out of a motorcycle, but it is NOT fun!  After taking in a few mouthfuls of gasoline fumes, Tom managed to get enough gas into his tank to make it to Carti. 

Tom pretending to like sucking gasoline fumes in 90+ degree heat
We pulled up to the dock where Charlie, Alex and George (a friend of the guys who is also traveling on a motorcycle) were waiting with the crew of the Stahratte.  We quickly got the bikes down to bare bones by unloading all of the gear and luggage so that the crew could start the process of getting our bikes onto the boat.  First, the crew loaded up all of our stuff into the dinghy and drove us out to where the boat was anchored.  Then, Ludwig, the captain, piloted the boat over to the dock where they rigged the bikes with ropes to a pulley system.  It was quite a sight watching all of our bikes floating up in the air like that, but after thirty minutes or so, all of the bikes were safely secured on board the ship.

"I hope they know what they are doing!"
Our turn...
It went sort of like this...
Ludwig parallel parking our bike on the bow of the boat
Safe and sound :)
The crew had lunch waiting for us and, because it was late in the afternoon, we were starving.  Everyone realized right away that we would not be going hungry on this voyage and the food did not disappoint.  After settling into our rooms, we finally got to sit down with the crew and get to know them a little better.  Ludwig, our trusty captain, is a jovial German man who has been running the Stahlratte project for nearly eight years.  He spent most of the trip keeping track of day to day operations of the ship while donning a pair of worn tighty-whiteys nearly 24/7.  He is absolutely hilarious and is truly a talented sailor. 

He "forgot" his pants most of the time...

Happy Ludwig!
 Donato, a wily, funny Spanish man was the first mate.  He didn't speak a ton of English, but we all had a great time with him nonetheless.
He forgot his pants too!
Floyd, from France, had been with the Stahlratte for two months and knew all the good spots to snorkel and swim.  Everyone had fun partying with him and he loved to tease us about our "accents." 
Floyd teaching everyone some dance moves

Last but not least, Ruthie, from Oregon, had been with the Stahlratte for about a month and she kept all the men and the boat in order.  She also had major talents in the kitchen and whipped up all kinds of amazing meals throughout the trip. 
Ruthie starting up a fire after dinner
 We had a few beers and, a little later in the evening, we all hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore for dinner.  The Kuna people, an indigenous culture very much untouched by the modern world, live on the beautiful San Blas islands next to where we were anchored for the night. 

View of the Kuna village from the boat
 Ludwig had cultivated close relationships over the years with many of the Kuna people and a family he knew invited us to dinner for the night.  The village was amazing and unlike anything else we had seen on this trip.  The people live very simply but they do not struggle; their homes, which are typically one large room, are beautifully constructed out of the materials on the island and the indigenous clothing donned by all of the inhabitants was well-tailored and full of lovely colors.  Everyone seemed extremely happy, especially the kids (who took to all of us very quickly, especially Alex, who they used as a human tree); even the animals seemed happy, and we all couldn't help but think what it would be like to grow up in a place like the Kuna village.

Alex = Tree
The spread that night was very good: fresh fish caught hours earlier, rice, lentil beans, salad, grapefruit, lemonade, beer.  The island is the President's island, so they are a bit more forward thinking than some of the others and beer can be found in the tiny tiendas.  The family also had an iPod on which Sublime was blaring most of the evening.   That was, until the local people came to do their indigenous dance for us as a special treat. 

The more experienced dancers teach the younger girls and boys their traditions

We all went to sleep that night to the gentle rocking of the boat, with no idea what would be in store for us over the next couple of days...


  1. Great post - I'm very jealous of you guys. Except for the part with the pantsless men. Not really jealous of that.

  2. Things are about to get way more personal in the pantsless men department...stay tuned if you dare!

  3. Has your follow-up post been BANNED FROM THE INTERNET for being too OUTRAGEOUS and PANTSLESS?

    Millions have dared and are daring to STAY TUNED.

  4. Found this trip on and have been reading for a couple of hours now. Amazing! There are some logistical things I'd like to know more about (I'm a planner), but a similar trip has been on my mind for a couple of years now.