IKamper blog: Episode 9: Panama tour
We made it to Panama, where we got to beach-hop our way through the surfing beaches of the Pacific and spent New Year’s at Lajas beach. We deployed our iKamper near a bar owned by California expat, Johnny Fiesta, who was notorious for buying all the Fireball bottles in town. We barely slept that night as hundreds of locals partied throughout the night and into the morning of the New Year in a 24-hr fest at the beach.
Did you know there is one section of the Pan-American Highway that is NOT connected by road and literally just a thick, un-drivable swamp??? It’s true. The Pan-Am is a system of nearly 20,000 miles of roads and highways starting in Alaska reaching down to the tip of Argentina, except for one stretch of 60 miles, between Panama and Colombia. This uncharted, unregulated, swampy jungle, impossible to cross by land, is called ‘the Darien Gap’. In order to continue traveling to South America, overlanders are required to send their vehicle across the ocean in a shipping container and send themselves over either by boat or plane. Mind the gap.
While researching what it takes to drive down the Pan-Am, we learned that this leg of the journey would be one of the most logistically complex and expensive transactions, including hours of paperwork and dishing out lots of dollar bills. Before we embarked on this adventure, we reached out to another couple in LA who were planning a similar journey on a similar timeline in order to ship both our vehicles in the same container and cut costs in half. Since the overlanding world is so connected, we were able to include two motorcyclists as well, totalling in 2 Toyota 4wd and 2 motorcycles in a 40ft container. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it happen! The process involved lots of copies of documents (proof of insurance, title, driver’s license, and local Panama insurance), a bill of lading, and of course multiple trips back and forth through a maze of buildings within Panama City.
The day finally came to kiss our “VUELTA1” and bid her a safe journey across the ocean toward Cartagena, Colombia. The large shipping container was sealed shut with several locks and we walked away with our backpacks, feeling small without our rig’s power and protection. As backpackers, we walked and rode bikes all around the metropolis city for a week, then took a sailboat for 5 days to explore the San Blas Islands and get ourselves over to South America. We spent 3 days island-hopping, snorkeling, and throwing impromptu salsa dancing parties on the remote islands. With crystal clear water, white sand beaches, and plenty of fresh lobster, the San Blas islands turned out to be paradise. After island hopping for 3 days, we had 2 full days (sailing day and night) to cross the ocean to Colombia. Thanks to our fearless crew of 3, plenty of strong motion-sickness pills, and late night card games with our 9 new friends, we finally saw the outline of the large port city, Catagena, Colombia. South America here we come!