01-28-2013, 10:09 PM
Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Deep-ish South E Point GA
Originally Posted by JDowns
The Kuna cargo boat option is not for everyone. It is far from easy. It seems to be a self selected few who take this path. It is by far the cheapest way to get to Colombia from Panama if you don't smash your front forks. Even with repairs it may prove to be cheaper than the other options. So far I have spent $340.00 to get from Panama to Turbo. I was willing to spend 4 times that amount a couple weeks ago to fly the bike to Bogota.
Crossing the Darien in a Kuna cargo boat reminded me of taking a 16 hour ride on a third class bus in Nepal times 5. Or the overnight third class slow trains in India. It is rough and ready travel at it's finest. One of those arduous travel experiences that will make you smile when you think back in future years. These are the kinds of travel experiences that I relish. When the going gets tough and you keep persisting and find a way through it is quite rewarding in a masochistic sort of way.
If you are forward thinking and goal oriented and like to know where you are going each day and when you'll get there, this option is not for you. It is also better suited for people with third world travel bikes with a few battle scars. I would never recommend this route for someone with a big newish farkled bike. It will suffer as the Sherpa has with seawater washing over it, chickens roosting on the handlebars, sailors sitting on the bike and moving it around as they unload cargo and finally with a smashed front end. This was due to the rough January weather though. I don't think this would be a problem in the June to November calmer seas.
Although I benefited greatly from reading other ride reports, once you get down here you enter a nebulous foggy world where no one knows anything and there are no clear answers. Because of tides and weather and the vagaries of this route, even the sailors don't know where the boat is going next or how long it will take to get there. It is like asking directions in Latin America. They will tell you something to please you. But you soon learn to stop asking. We'll be here for a while could mean half an hour or until tomorrow.
Because the meals are included it is quite economical if they don't wreck your bike too badly. I was on the boat for 3 days waiting for the captain and 5 days at sea. So 24 meals plus shipping the bike and myself from Carti to Puerto Obaldia for 200 works out to 25 dollars a day. Plus the few dollars I spent on sodas and crackers when wandering around the Kuna villages while the boat was unloading goods.
Then it was 40.00 to Capurgana and 100 for me and the bike to Turbo.
The sleeping accommodations are extremely limited. The boat was filled with Kuna sailors in hammocks along with cargo and livestock. The boat docks every night at a Kuna village in a protected cove so the gentle rocking motion is conducive to sleeping on the roof. It rained briefly every night around 3AM, Rather than set up a tent on the roof of the wheelhouse in a stiff breeze every night, I eventually found it easier to sleep out near the dock under an eave or unused palapa wherever we docked for the night.
The diet consists mostly of rice combined with various combinations of fried plantains, beans, scrambled eggs and a piece of chicken. fish or meat. The Kuna villages we stopped at had limited food options if you wanted a snack. Mostly crackers, cookies, soda and spam were on offer. And the few comedors could cook up a cheap meal of the same ingredients as are available on the boat. Some Kuna villages had water piped over from the mainland which I drank unfiltered with no ill effect. The boat would fill up 5 gallon jugs of the same water and it was fine for drinking.
Bathing options consist of a five gallon bucket of water and a bar of soap or splashing yourself from a tap. Toilet options consist of peeing off the dock or over the rail of the boat. There is a regular toilet on board as well which is flushed with a bucket of sea water. The Kuna bathrooms consist of a small outhouse on stilts over the ocean accessed by some rickety planks extended out from the island.
The ideal profile of a Kuna boat traveler would be a hobo. Someone used to living day to day in the moment letting tomorrow take care of itself, sleeping rough in their clothes, eating anything on offer, not bathing for days, stubborn and persistent, tightwad, able to amuse themselves for hours or days waiting around idly, and able to communicate with people who don't speak English.
There are quite a few ADVriders I have met who fit this profile. But let's face it. If you have more money than time I would recommend flying your bike to Bogota from Panama City for 900 plus 420 for yourself. And if you want to experience the Kuna Yala and San Blas islands it is far easier to sail on one of the gringo sailboats who take reservations for 950 for you and the bike.
I am just a guinea pig trying to document ways that poor people can travel with limited funds.
Siepre su amigo de aventura,
El viejo hombre del mar
This post made me laugh more than any of them... I've enjoyed your adventures! I only made it to CopperCanyon 2 years ago with far less issues. Your trip is astounding and enjoyable to read. Ride safe and keep reporting!
"Can't stop stupid, can't fix crazy."