Monday, 15 October 2012

CHAPTER 34. ( I think !)

As I write this I am sitting in front of the wheelhouse of the good ship the Stahlratte. 100 meters ahead is a one acre sandy tropical island, flat, filled with coconut trees and ringed by white sandy beaches and turquoise warm water. I look to the left of the boat. 50 meters away is a slightly smaller but to all intents and purposes a similar island. I look to the right of the boat. Another identical island. A gentle breeze soothes my brow. A rum and punch is near my right hand. Someone is gently plucking a guitar. 10 hard days of riding slowly drain from my system.

But first let us go back a day or two. We left Panama City to ride down the road to the infamous Darien gap and thence across the "divide " to Carti on the Caribbean side of the Panama isthmus The road was to say the least interesting. It was carved out of what seemed impenetrable rainforest. It was the steepest road I have ever been on in my life. If the road had been any steeper one would have needed a block and tackle to lower the bikes and a winch to get them up the hills. On one of the downward pieces I was in first gear with both front and back brakes full on and I was just holding the bike from speeding up. On the upward sections the front wheel struggled to stay on the ground. It was like being on a fast roller coaster at a fair ground !

After 2 hours we arrived at Carti where the Stahlratte was awaiting us. It was a lovely sight. We had to be all there at approximately the same time as to load the bikes it was necessary to run the ship bow first on to the beach and to then winch the bikes from an adjacent jetty on to the ship. Each bike had to be roped up with lifting strops ready for the lift. Then once on board they were tied to the ships rails. Quite a sight !

There is my Mella -

Let me tell you about the Stahlratte ( German for steel rat ). She is a 109 year old steel sailing scow originally built in Bremen, Germany. Her engine is just a spritely 55 years old ! She is about the same size and shape as the famous Rainbow Warrior and for a while she was chartered to Greenpeace. There is a picture of her in the chart room in Rainbow Warrior colors and I have a sneaking suspicion she was at one stage Rainbow Warrior No 2 to replace the Rainbow Warrior No 1 sunk in Auckland Harbour .

My suspicions are increased by the fact that she is owned by a not for profit trust in Germany that was set up 30 years ago by some relatively idealistic German ex hippies. Our " El Capitaine " of Stahlratte Captain Ludwig is very loquacious about the history of the ship but suddenly is very vague about the Greenpeace connection. That increases my suspicions .

Anyway now the Stahlratte does a round trip between Panama and Cartagena in Colombia every three weeks and takes up to 20 passengers. Most passengers are motorcyclists and she can take up to 15 motorcycles strapped to the front deck. In addition to this run she also does trips to Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico where the delightful on board supplies of Cuban Rum have come from .

So we loaded on to boat then we went to stay in a Kuna village for the first night. This consisted of staying in a thatched hut with a dirt floor and a " rustic bed" the village was on a very small island and the Main Street was 100 meters long! As it rained the water flooded in under the door and across our dirt floor. Little drips got thru the thatch. It was an interesting night!

The Kuna people themselves are interesting. They are self governing and have relative independence from Panama. They are the indigenous Indians whose people's also come from Colombia.

And now we are on the 3 day voyage to Cartagena. Yesterday we sailed for 3 hours to these delightful islands where we are anchored for two nights. Then it is about a 30 hour trip across the open seas to Cartagena .

Mermaids were just dripping from the boat

The boat is also rustic being 110 years old and we have to all pitch in to help with cooking, dishes etc. Our accommodation is in what was probably originally the fish hold or at least the cargo hold. However it is entirely in keeping with the delightful atmosphere on the boat

And last night we barbuequed on the beach and drank copious quantities of Cuban rum punch. This morning as I write this it is more a case of " punched by rum " than rum punch!

Our Kuna minders. Captain Ludwig at far left

Another Mermaid

And as the sun goes down -

And at the setting of the sun -

And of course amongst 12 motorcycle riders from all corners of the world ( Israel , Mexico, Germany, Japan, USA and Canada and of course New Zealand ) stories of life on the road are told ( and expanded when appropriate ) and experiences ( and wisdom ) are shared .

Must go - it is time for the afternoon swims and siesta. Then there are the 20 lobsters that were delivered by dugout canoe this morning to be consumed on the beach barbeque tonight.someone has to do it!

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