Sightseeing in Medellin Colombia

After a week of catching up on my blogs it was time to do some sightseeing in Medellin.

Medellin Metrocable

High on my sightseeing list was the Medellin Metrocable. The Metrocable was in the opposite end of the city where I was staying. That meant taking the Metro to get there.

The Medellin Metro is very modern and very cheap! Only $2 Canadian to take it to the opposite end of the city.



When I reached the Metrocable I was in for another surprise. The Metrocable is a gondola. Back home gondolas are largely tourist attractions or ways to get to the top of the ski hill. But here they are an integral part of thee transit system for poor people living on the side of the mountain. The big surprise was this Metrocable was included with the $2 I spent to take the Metro. It is just a part of the transit system. So I just transferred to it and off I went for the ride.









Once you get to the top, this is where the tourist part starts. It no longer is a transit system but a tourist ride over a forest plateau. And you pay extra for that. Almost double my $2 transit fare. So the ride continued.




The end was rather disappointing. I was hoping for a nice spot to sit, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy the sights. Instead, there were just a few food stalls and no view.


There are some walks you can do through the forest but that is it.

It was time to head back “home.”












Of course amongst all the poverty is a beautiful soccer pitch 🙂




Time to transfer back onto the transit part of the Metrocable



Soon I was back to my comfortable surroundings in Envigado.




Downtown Medellin

My next sightseeing trip was to go downtown. One of the major attractions there are the sculptures in Botero Plaza created by Fernando Botero.









I walked around downtown hoping to see some more great things.


Other than this mall, I was disappointed.



I decided to take a walk to another place in the downtown area listed on my sightseeing things to see – Bolivar Park.



The park ended up being disappointing as well. I guess worth seeing but not mind blowing ha ha. Perhaps I have seen so much now that it takes more to impress me.




So I just kept walking to lose myself in the city. As I walked I came across the government area. It was deserted but had some nice sculptures.



Back home 🙂


Sunday Football in Poblado

Envigado where I am staying, and Poblado just north are reportedly the two nicest areas of Medellin. An English pub in Poblado was suppose to be the best place to watch NFL football. So that is where I headed.

The area where the pub was located was filled with restaurants around a small park.





Finally got to my pub to watch some football … in English too!


Regional Metropolitano Cerro El Volador Natural Park

My last sightseeing spot was the Regional Metropolitano Cerro El Volador Natural Park. This is a hill overlooking Medellin.

Here I discovered that after a year of riding and a hernia operation, that I am dreadfully out of shape. I discovered this after climbing numerous stairs to get to the top.


I am kind of frustrated, discouraged and disturbed by how out of shape I have become. It is a combination of no strenuous activity and poor eating. Something to watch for if you are planning on a motorcycle adventure of your own.

Anyways, I did make it to the top.




After my exercise I headed past the Medellin river, back on the Metro and home.



Actually, before heading home after each sightseeing trip, and on the days in between, I spent time at Starbucks at the Milla de Oro. It was my place to relax and enjoy a coffee. Plus they knew me and greeted me by name. Unique about this particular Starbucks was that they wrote a saying on everyone’s cup. This is the one I liked the best:


“Brian, the best.” 🙂

My Location from October 24 to November 19, 2017

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Working Away in Medellin Ville

After exploring Bogota, it was time to get back on the road and ride to Medellin, Colombia. Once there I would spend a month in an Airbnb I rented. The reason for spending a month there was to wait out the rainy season, get caught up on my blog posts, study Spanish, and do some housekeeping.

As a retired police officer, Medellin was infamous for its drug trade. However, I understand things have changed. Can’t wait to explore the city I’ve heard so much about over the years.

Ride to Medellin

As I was planning my ride to Medellin I couldn’t seem to figure out how long it would take. Each map I looked on gave different riding times. Because of that I left early.

The first part of the ride seemed to take forever as I negotiated the Bogota traffic. Tortuous! Once out on the open road though it was a nice leisurely ride through the hills to Medellin.

I arrived at my Airbnb at 2 pm after leaving at 7 am in the morning. At first I couldn’t figure out which was the apartment complex and no one seemed to be coming out. I spoke to a manager of one of them to see if he could help. Even though I didn’t understand a word he said, eventually he hooked me up with the mother of the person I was renting from. The Spanish here is Colombia is quite different than what I have been used to in Central America.

After a quick explanation of the rules I got settled in.


My first order of business was to find out where I was, what was around me, and to find a laundromat. There is a washer in my Airbnb, but I figured if a laundromat was close by, why fiddle around with laundry.

Well, I walked everywhere and asked everyone and there just wasn’t any laundromat anywhere near me. Very strange. In Mexico and Central America they are everywhere! I guess I will do my own laundry.

The good thing about trying to find a laundromat was that I got to know what was around me.

For my first full day I planned on going to a local coffee shop to get caught up on my blog posts. I got there at 9 am but it didn’t open until 10 am. Well, this wasn’t going to work. I sat there for a bit and said to myself, “screw it,” and headed off to the nearest Starbucks that was about a 35 to 40 minute walk from my Airbnb.

From that day on for the next week and a half, I had my routine.

The Day in the Life of Brian in Medellin

I would leave my Airbnb at about 9 am each morning. The Airbnb I have it really nice – 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 7th floor.




The garden outside was decorated for Halloween.


Walk down my street to the main road.


Cross the busy intersection.


You can see Carulla on the left of the picture. That is where I get my groceries.

Then walk along a beautiful tree lined street up and down over a small hill.



As I head down to an overpass I reach Santuario De La Virgen de La Rosa Mistica. At first I didn’t know what it was, only that people were there all the time.



At the entrance is a small store to buy candles mostly.


Walking inside you see tile plaques everywhere thanks Rosa for answering their prayers.




And then stairs up to Rosa Mistica.




From what I can gather, this shrine has a bit of a sinister past. It was once owned by Pablo Escobar for his henchmen to go and pray for protection and bless their weapons. Apparently half the plaques there are from criminals thanking Rosa. It is also known as the virgin of the assassins.

From there I walk down and up to the Santa Fe mall.


One really cool thing about the mall is that it has a parking entrance just for motorcycles and bicyclists.


Inside the mall if a very cool play area. Hey Mia and Ben (my grandkids) I wish you were here so we could go play in it!!


As I walk past the mall I can see in the distance a car park that works with elevators!


Ahead is a sign that seems to be welcoming me ha ha


Past the flower vendor I reach my destination. It has it all 🙂 Starbucks, a BMW motorcycle dealership, Hard Rock Cafe, Krispy Kreme and a fitness centre.




The Starbucks here is always filled with people working.



Up to the Barista to order, in Spanish ha ha, my usual.



And then to my spot, ala Sheldon, to work on blog posts and read for the next few hours.



Once in awhile there there is some impromptu entertainment like this photo shoot outside.


Often by the afternoon it starts to rain. I wait for it to subside a bit before walking back home.

In the evenings I hunt for dinner 🙂 and either watch the World Series, NFL football, or just Big Bang Theory, which I downloaded the first 10 seasons to watch.

And that is it for the first week and a half here in Medellin.

My Route on October 23, 2017

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My Location from October 24 to November 2, 2017

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Beautiful Bogota

Now that I was reunited with my motorcycle, it was time to move locations to downtown Bogota to explore the city.

It was only a short ride to my new hotel, but it was unreal! For a year now I have been riding in hot and humid conditions. Bogota though was cool and with little humidity. It reminded me of riding back home in British Columbia, Canada. It was like the oppression of the heat and humidity was lifted and I was experiencing freedom again.

Hotel Abitare 56

I chose the Hotel Abitare 56 in Bogota to stay at.


It was inexpensive and in the middle of everything. Well …. sort of. It was in the middle alright. Everything I wanted to see was either north or south of where I was.

But I got a room with a view.


And my motorcycle was secure.


Given that, as soon as I arrived I decided to head north to explore Parque de La 93.

Parque de La 93

As I walked to Parque de La 93 I came across a church I wanted to see as well – Nuestra Señora de Lourdes.



As I kept walking I ran into something very familiar!


Finally I reached the Park. It was a small park in the middle of an affluent embassy district. The park was surrounded by awesome restaurants with patios. And there were TWO Starbucks!



There was obviously something taking place in the park as a huge stage was set up with lots of activity.




Turns out it was an opera performance.


I kept walking until I ran into a scary clown.


Time to head home before dark 🙂


THe next day it was time for a long walk south to Monserrate. This is a mountain, I guess, that overlooks the city. You get up there by a funicular.

I was exhausted after the hour and a half walk. Bogota is quite high at 2,640 metres. It does make a difference. Of course being out of shape doesn’t help ha ha.

But I finally arrived.


Got in line to buy tickets.


Then I was ready to be pulled up the mountain.




At the top there was more stairs to climb and now the elevation was really affecting me. There was even a sign warning people about it. However, the views were pretty spectacular.




Of course lots of people were posing.


And, like everywhere in latin america, there was a church up top.



Across on the way on another mountain was a statue of Jesus.


After getting a coffee I walked back down to the funicular another way. Along the path, were the Stations of the Cross.






Back at the funicular it was time to head back down to explore the historical section of Bogota called La Candelaria.



La Candelaria

Now I was exhausted from the elevation and long walk. I cheated and took a taxi to La Candelaria. The first stop was a walk to La Bolivar Plaza.








The PLaza is surrounded by the Cathedral of Colombia, Courthouse Alfonso Reyes Echandia and Capitolio Nacional.

I kept walking around the old city.


Until I happened upon the Teatro Colón Bogotá. I read about that and how beautiful it was inside.


I booked a tour even though I was warned it would all be in Spanish. This place is really worth while to see. Amazingly beautiful.















Palacio De Nariño

I have always been intrigued by politics. So one of my stops had to be Palacio De Nariño or the Presidential Palace of Colombia.




Walk Back Home

By this time I had enough energy to walk back home 🙂


Once home I looked up where I could have dinner. According to Tripadvisor, the 5th best restaurant in Bogota was just a couple blocks away – La Castana.


They served awesome empanadas and natural lemon juice. A really informal place with couches and live music. Very cool.

Sunday NFL Football

The next day was Sunday. And you know what that means :-). I looked up where to watch the games and it looked like Hooters in Zona T was the place to go. Of course another long walk. But also a good chance to see another part of Bogota.

Like this church.



Not sure what the significance of the dog is ha ha.

Zona T turned out to be another affluent spot in Bogota with all the name brand stores and lots of nice restaurants.





But Hooters? It was a bust. I guess a pun was intended. They had the NFL on their TVs but were also playing really loud music. After a quick bite to eat I looked around for the NFL at other restaurants. But all of them had soccer of F1 on. So I decided to walk back home to watch the games on my computer.





The one thing really evident during my exploring of Bogota was the tagging and graffiti art. To me, the tagging means they have a significant gang problem in Bogota. When I Googled it I see that Bogota has 107 gangs! And people are really concerned about their increased activity. Here is a sample of the tagging I saw.







Graffiti Art

At the same time there is some amazing graffiti art all over Bogota.















And that was my time in Bogota. Next stop, Medellin.

My Route on October 20, 2017

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My Location on October 21 and 22, 2017

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Crossing the Border into Bogota Colombia Via Avianca Air Cargo

This was an unusual border crossing into Colombia as my motorcycle was entering via Avianca Air Cargo. I know I said in my last post that I was using Girag Air Cargo, and I did, but they in turn contract Avianca Air Cargo to fly my motorcycle to Bogota Colombia. It had me thinking though, why couldn’t I just use Avianca? I’m not sure. I haven’t read anyone using Avianca before, just Girag. Anyways, what is done is done.

My Entry into Colombia

My entry into Colombia was pretty basic. I flew from Panama City to Bogota Colombia via Avianca Air, passed through Immigration and I was in.

From there I took a “taxi” to the Hotel Golden near the airport so I could walk to get my motorcycle out of Avianca Air Cargo.

Now I put taxi in quotation marks because I made a rookie mistake. I thought I had made arrangements for the hotel to pick me up. When I got off of the plane they weren’t there. I ended up standing in the airport thinking about what I should do next. All I had was US money and I had passed the exchange booth on the other side of Customs and couldn’t see another one around me. As I was standing there a man approached me and said, “taxi.” Without thinking I said “yes.” I have never done that before as I know what that means. But before I got my thoughts together I was being escorted into a parking lot and an unmarked car. Oh well. I figured I would just go with it. The driver took me to my hotel and I ended up paying him $20 US. I am guessing way more than I should have. It was late now and I just wanted to go to bed.

Avianca Air Cargo

The next day I walked from the Hotel Golden to where Avianca Air Cargo was. Except there was a fence around it and the entry point was guarded. The guard told me to go into the building and register. I have marked this number 1 on the map.

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At the counter they wanted my passport and checked me in. I then went back to the gate at #2 and the guard carded me through.

From there I walked to Avianca Air Cargo. The first entrance I went to was the wrong one for me and a staff member directed me around the corner up to the third floor of the building that I marked as #3.

No one was at the desk in the lobby but I noticed that the door into the offices was not locking properly, so I walked in ha ha.

Language became a problem as no one spoke English. We had to rely on my Spanish! Eventually we got it sorted out and they found someone that spoke English. He gave me a bunch of papers and said to go to Customs at #4 on the third floor and they would sign the documents. When I was done, come back and get my motorcycle.


Off I walked to Customs.


The same guard had to card me through to the elevators to get to the third floor.

When I got up there, this is what I saw.

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Not knowing where to go I asked the security guard. He pointed me to one desk. When I got there he directed me to the desk you can see in the middle of the picture with the white haired man and woman sitting at it.

The woman at the desk asked for my papers and then told me to leave ha ha. I just walked to where the picture was taken and just stood there looking at her ha ha.

Eventually, she waved me over and went through my documents. The officer didn’t speak English but luckily the woman you see in the picture jumped in and interpreted for me. What the officer wanted was a scraping of my VIN number off of my motorcycle. Ahhhhh …. my Spanish just doesn’t extend to things like that ha ha.

Back to Avianca Air Cargo

Soooooo back downstairs I went. The guard had to card me out of the building and back into the fenced compound where I went up to the 3rd floor of Avianca barged my way through the door that was suppose to be locked and went over to the woman who had been helping me. She got the English speaking guy and I explained what Customs wanted. He explained it to who appeared to be a warehouse supervisor. He was not happy.

Down we went to the warehouse where I had to check in, leave all my belongings at the desk, be searched, and wear these metal covers over my runners. Soon a tractor wheeled in my motorcycle all wrapped up in plastic and netting.

The workers uncovered part of it, took a felt pen to my VIN and then put a piece of tape over it and scratched an impression of the VIN onto the tape and put the tape onto a piece of paper.

Back to Customs

With my VIN impression in hand I was back to the gate where the guard carded me out and carded me to the the elevators and back to the third floor where I went back to the officer. She looked at the impression and then passed me onto a woman you can see at the far end of the photo along the same row of desks.

She took forever to fill in paperwork both manually and in the computer.

Meanwhile, who walked in but Carlos who I met at Girag. It was like an old homecoming ha ha. His English is poor but still better than my Spanish. We just talked while the officer was filling out the paperwork. Once in awhile he had to interpret for me.

Eventually my paperwork was done.

Back to Avianca Air Cargo

Back to Avianca Air Cargo and the same routine with the Guard and the woman on the 3rd floor. The English speaker was there and he said to go downstairs and wait for my motorcycle. Down I went.


Eventually it was my turn to pick up.


Finally. Four hours later.

Hotel Golden

With my motorcycle and I finally into Colombia and reunited, I went back to the Hotel Golden. Now this hotel isn’t the nicest, but it is within walking distance to Avianca Air Cargo. And it is inexpensive. The area isn’t that great either. But is seemed safe. It reminded me a bit of an old run down English village. I had booked 2 days there just in case it took that long to get my motorcycle out. So I had a day to kill before heading into downtown Bogota to explore.

My Location for October 18 and 19, 2017

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Flying My Motorcycle to Colombia with Girag

Having done my sightseeing in Panama City, my number one priority became making arrangements for my motorcycle to fly to Colombia with Girag. Of course there was also the small matters of watching Sunday NFL football, getting my motorcycle serviced before heading out of the country, and a bonus, an unexpected visit from a classmate and friend of mine from Royal Roads University!

By the way …. it is still rainy season here 🙁




Sunday NFL Football

One thing I love to do is get lost in NFL football all day Sunday, and Monday and Thursday nights. I love the buildup, drama, ups and downs, and the excitement when my teams win. It has been somewhat marred this year by people politicizing the game and then there is the head injury issue. Many choose to boycott the NFL because of them. I choose to ignore all of that for now and just enjoy the game. Not that I don’t have opinions on those subjects, but I’m not going to let those issues take away from my enjoyment. I have my own things I boycott ha ha.

It took a while of searching to find a place to watch the games. I figured somewhere around the Hard Rock Hotel there would be a spot and I was right.



My spot.


Motorcycle Servicing at Bavarian Motors

My little onboard computer said I needed a servicing in 500 km. Being the dutiful BMW motorcycle owner I am, I set out to Bavarian Motors.

Actually, regular maintenance is really important for me. I have next to no mechanical ability. For that reason, my best line of attack is to really take care of my motorcycle to prevent breakdowns the best I can.

Bavarian Motors was unique from what I have experienced in the past. Unique for a couple reasons. First, it seems to operate like an assembly line. I pulled up into a servicing lane behind a bunch of cars. Being a motorcycle, I was singled out.


And being an English speaker, I was singled out again to talk to a person who spoke some English. He advised they would do the regular servicing and check everything for me. I was then escorted upstairs to another unique feature of Bavarian Motors. They basically have their own coffee shop that is free to customers!


They had tables, couches, workstations and great wifi. So there I sat and wandered around until my motorcycle was ready. I was then escorted down to their downstairs lounge ha ha


Quite the place. The servicing didn’t cost too much and I got a wash out of the deal too. However, as I rode away I remembered that I forgot to tell them about my right front signal light that wasn’t working. Crap! This light has been giving problems ever since I dropped the bike on the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Oh well. Next time.

Meeting a Royal Roads University Friend

One highlight of my stay in Panama City was meeting Christa who I had gone to Royal Roads University with to get a Masters Degree in Human Security and Peacebuilding.

Funny that Christa lives in Edmonton and I live in Abbotsford. Yet we have never met as those places. It has been at school in Victoria, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where she was doing a field practice, and now in Panama where by coincidence she was taking a vacation with a friend while I was there.

The hardest thing about being on the road is not having friends to be with. Loneliness can creep in for sure. Even if you are an introvert like me. Soooooo is was very nice to have dinner with a friend. It made my evening for sure!

Girag Air Cargo Inquiry

Now for what I had been dreading …. how to get my motorcycle from Panama City to Colombia. I’m a big fan of Oisin Hughes. He has the best adventure motorcycle video series out there. I’ve watched it many times. When he got to Panama City he used Girag Air Cargo. Others also recommended Girag. So that was going to be my first attempt.

I rode out to the airport where Girag is located.

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To get there I ended up going through these toll booths again. I haven’t figured out how to pay yet, so I just keep riding around the gates. There is no one there and no place that I can see to deposit money. So far the police haven’t stopped me 🙂

Anyways, to get to Girag I also had to pass through a Customs road block at the entrance to the airport cargo facilities. I just said Girag and that I didn’t speak Spanish ha ha. They waved me through.

Once at Girag I spoke to a woman who didn’t speak English and ask if anyone there did. She got me her supervisor who spoke fluent English. YAY! For such an important event I didn’t trust using my Spanish to communicate.

What ended up happening was she took a copy of my passport, vehicle registration, and Panama Temporary Import Permit and told me to bring the motorcycle in on Monday and they would fly it out to Bogota, Colombia on Tuesday. It would cost just over $1000 US cash. Awesome!

Girag Air Cargo to Bogota Columbia

That next Monday I brought my motorcycle back to Girag. It all seemed too simple! I rode my motorcycle into their warehouse where they checked it over.



Yup, that is another motorcycle flying out with mine. It belongs to Carlos from Brazil who I met at Girag as well. He had packed everything onto his bike. I had just put the bulky and heavy stuff in my panniers and bought a spare suitcase to put the other things in. In retrospect I could have put more on my motorcycle to save paying an overweight fee at the airport when I flew 🙁

Anyways … I paid my $1000 US and that was it!! All the paperwork had been completed already by Girag after I gave them my documents on my previous visit. Now I needed to find a way to get back to my hotel. Here Girag went the extra mile.

The English speaking Girag Supervisor asked one of her staff to drive me out of the complex to find a taxi. We drove out of the complex and attempted to get a taxi. But the drivers in the small town didn’t want to take me all the way into the city. So Girag drove me around until he found a taxi driver that would and negotiated the price for me. So nice.

I would definitely recommend Girag to anyone.

My motorcycle and I were now both flying to Bogota, Colombia, on Tuesday.

My Location from October 9 to 16, 2017

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My Route on October 17, 2017

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Riding to the Infamous Darien Gap

I debated for awhile about whether or not I would ride to the infamous Darien Gap. My hesitation was because it would be a two day easy ride from Panama City, or a one day long ride there and back, along the same road. I hate having to backtrack over the same road. If I have to do that I generally say no to doing it. However, in this case, going to the end of the road at the Darien Gap would be a milestone. I road to the furthest north you can ride, Prudhoe Bay, and this would be the furthest south you can ride on a contiguous road from there. So I had to do it.

Darien Gap

I have been asked before why you can’t ride from Panama to Columbia. The reason is the infamous Darien Gap separates the two countries. There is no road, pavement or dirt through the Darien.

The following is from a BBC article on the Darien:

Stretching from Alaska to the pencil tip of Argentina, the 48,000km-long Pan-American Highway holds the record for the world’s longest motorable road. But there is a gap – an expanse of wild tropical forest – that has defeated travellers for centuries.

Explorers have always been drawn to the Darien Gap, but the results have mostly been disastrous. The Spanish made their first settlement in the mainland Americas right here in 1510, only to have it torched by indigenous tribes 14 years later – and in many ways the area remains as wild today as it was during the days of the conquest.

“If history had followed its usual course, the Darien should be today one of the most populated regions in the Americas, but it isn’t,” says Rick Morales, a Panamian and owner of Jungle Treks, one of a few adventure tour companies operating in the region.

“That’s remarkable if you consider that we live in the 21st Century, in a country that embraces technology and is notorious for connecting oceans, cultures, and world commerce.”

The gap stretches from the north to the south coast of Panama – from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s between 100km and 160km (60-100 miles) long, and there is no way round, except by sea.

After the conquistadors, the Scots also wagered badly here. Having established a coastal trading colony in 1698, most settlers perished from disease and Spanish attacks. The loss would deplete enough Scottish wealth to compromise their independence less than a decade later, when the country opted to sign the Treaty of Union.

It was only in 1960 that anyone managed to cross the Darien Gap by car – in a Land Rover dubbed The Affectionate Cockroach and a Jeep. It took nearly five months, averaging just 200m per hour.

The team included noted Panamanian anthropologist Reina Torres de Arauz and her cartographer husband, Amado Arauz. Hand-chopping a route through the jungle, they forded hundreds of rivers and streams, improvising bridges from palm trunks that didn’t always hold up. Their research later helped establish the Darien National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Twelve years later, the renowned explorer, Col John Blashford-Snell, led a 60-person crew in Range Rovers on the first complete road trip from Alaska to Cape Horn, via the Darien Gap. This short section of the route, he describes as the toughest challenge of his career.

The seasonal rains came early and locked the vehicles in mud. “Something had to go and it was the back axles,” Blashford-Snell recounts. “They exploded like shells with shrapnel coming through the floor.”

Redesigned car parts were parachuted in a month later. Later, custom-built inflatable rafts floated the vehicles across the problem area of the vast Atrato swamp. Eventually, they made it, though half the team had succumbed to trench foot, fevers and other ailments.

The story of the ill-fated Scots colony at Darien survives in the oral history of the Kuna Indians, who are the only people who have ever settled successfully in this inhospitable place.

In 1698, a fleet of five ships sailed from Leith docks near Edinburgh carrying 1,200 settlers to found a colony in Panama. Few of the Scots who went, made it home.

Half a century on, the number of successful motorised crossings can be counted on two hands. These days armed drug runners are as big a hazard as the region’s lethal pit vipers.

Those who wish to enter the interior must register in advance with Senafront (Servicio Nacional de Fronteras), Panama’s border police, who control access with multiple checkpoints along the Pan-American Highway. At these stops, documents are checked and rechecked. At any point a traveller may be turned back.

At the run-down frontier town of Yaviza, the road ends but settlements do not. Rivers are the highways of the interior, with small motor boats and dugout canoes providing expensive and infrequent passage, which must often be timed to coincide with ocean tides. The destination, for those intending to continue south by road, is the town of Turbo in Colombia.

Missionaries have disappeared in the interior, and others, including orchid hunters Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder, have been kidnapped. Yet travelling into the interior is still worth the effort for conservationists, for whom the Darien is a key site, with some of the world’s greatest genetic diversity.

With eight other colleagues and students, Dr Ruediger Krahe of McGill University in Canada recently headed to Pena Bijagual, to study weakly electrical fish – fish that use electrical signals for navigation and communication. The village of thatched huts, a 45-minute trip via motor canoe from Yaviza, was the perfect research base. Their Embera hosts offered security and even served them a culinary speciality the researchers had thus far only studied – the macana, a one-metre-long electric fish.

“We felt super safe there,” says Krahe. “It was an amazing place… our very best field site.”

But this year, there was no village to go back to. In March, a group of armed outsiders invaded Pena Bijagual. Senafront then engaged in a shootout which killed one assailant and injured policemen. Five months later, the dispersed villagers have still not returned.

The problem with drug-trafficking has increased as maritime patrols have been stepped up, and the trade has been pushed inland. Commissioner General Frank Abrego, director of Senafront, says the traffickers emerged from the remnants of Colombian drug cartels and demobilised guerrilla groups.

They employ local people, mostly indigenous, as porters or guides – to the distress of Tino Quintana, regional cacique or chief of the Comarca Embera, a semi-autonomous indigenous territory. Part of the issue, he says, is isolation which reduces work opportunities and commerce. “So come the narcotraffickers,” he says. “They offer considerable sums to our youth to work.”

Every so often, the dream of completing the Pan-American Highway is resurrected. The last push came a decade ago from former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who anticipated a boom in commerce as the conflict between the government and guerrillas waned. It’s bandits who benefit from keeping the Gap a no-go area.

But Panama, along with the US and local indigenous populations, have a range of objections. A road would pose a threat to indigenous cultures, accelerate deforestation and allow the spread of disease – such as foot and mouth cattle disease, which the Gap has so far effectively prevented from spreading to North America.

Rainforest destruction is already evident en route to Yaviza. In April the sale of rosewood or cocobolo was suspended in Panama after it was found that much of it was flowing from illegal sources, and largely from the Darien. The rare hardwood has been valued at $2,000 per cubic metre.

“The worst thing that could happen to the Darien would be the completion of the highway across the Darien Gap,” says Michael J Ryan, a University of Texas biologist who researches the amphibians threatened by chytrid fungus in the Darien National Park.

“The loggers will follow the road, forests will fall, and huge chunks of paradise will be lost forever.”

Ride to the Darien Gap

I decided to do two easy days of riding. My overnight stop would be at the El Hotel y Restaurante Avicar. From my reading it appeared to be a common place to stay for those riding to Yaviza at the end of the road.

Sure enough, when I arrived there were three other bikers from Panama staying there who were also riding to the end of the road.

The next morning I woke up early to ride to Yaviza and the end of the road.

At about 100 km from the Darien Gap I was stopped at a border police road block where I had to register and be sure to check out with them when I left. They were surprised I was riding in alone and asked several times if I was traveling with others.

Up until now the road wasn’t that great. But just past the checkpoint it was newly paved. What an awesome ride through the jungle on a newly paved road! It certainly lifted my spirits.

Yaviza is the town at the end of the road. It reminded me of many small border towns. And I guess it was sort of. I weaved my way through small narrow streets until finally I got to the end of the road and the narrow swinging bridge across the Rio Chucunaque.

My reaction to being there surprised me. I was elated! A big smile crossed my face as I walked along the swinging bridge. I would have walked further across the bridge but I was fearful for my motorcycle.






Looking back, I should have stayed longer to savour the experience more. But I headed back along the newly paved road through the jungle which I got to enjoy all over again.

I got to the border checkpoint and they recognized me right away and waved me through as the one officer crossed me out in her big book.

I spent another night at El Hotel y Restaurante Avicar before riding back to Panama City.

My Route on October 6, 2017

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My Route on October 7, 2017

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My Route on October 8, 2017

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Touring the Panama Canal and San Blas Islands

For the first two days in Panama City I booked tours to the Panama Canal and San Blas Islands.

Panama Canal History

According to Wikipedia:

The Panama Canal is an artificial 48-mile (77 km) waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 85 feet (26 m) above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. The original locks are 110 feet (34 m) wide. A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.

France began work on the canal in 1881 but stopped due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The United States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan.

Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The U.S. continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999 the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government and is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.

Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, for a total of 333.7 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal. It takes six to eight hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has called the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the world.

One thing that Wikipedia glosses over a bit that my tour guide really emphasized was the taking control of the Panama Canal Zone by Panamanians. Apparently, the US owned by treaty a huge swath of land on either side of the Canal. Panamanians were not allowed in it except through designated travel routes. This really upset a lot of Panamanians that they did not have sovereignty over their own land. Students protested this by climbing the walls. They were shot and killed by American soldiers. This precipitated the Torrijos-Carter Treaties giving control of the land and canal to the Panamanians. The students’ pictures are memorialized on a wall. My tour guide was very proud of this.

Visit to the Panama Canal

We got to the Miraflores portion of the Canal at about 9 am. and stayed to about 11 am when the last of the boats heading to the Atlantic were going through.

From Miraflores you can only really see the old portion of the canal and not the new portion where the massive ships pass through. That was disappointing. Apparently you have to go to Colon and the Gatun visitor sight to see the new canal.

I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Canal. I am still glad I went though. It is something you have to see.




San Blas Islands

The next day I had booked a day tour to San Blas. Ok … I was completely unprepared for this trip. First, I thought I was going to the island of San Blas. I didn’t realized San Blas was a group of over 350 islands!

The tour bus picked me up at 5:30 am from my hostel 🙁 We then headed to a grocery store. No idea why. Later though I found out it was more for those people staying overnight(s) to get snacks.

Off we went. Well, at least until our bus driver decided he needed breakfast at some hole in the wall. We all waited in the bus until he finished breakfast.

As we approached the San Blas Islands we encountered a border patrol roadblock where we were suppose to show our passports. Being totally unprepared, I had forgotten mine 🙁 The driver sweet talked the police officer and none of us had to show our passports. Phew! He said that was unusual as they would normally have sent me back.

As we got closer to the islands we stopped at a view point.



Finally we made it to the drop off point to take us to the islands. Of course they asked me where I was going. I said San Blas. They laughed and said San Blas has over 350 islands. Luckily the bus driver came to my rescue and said I was going to Diablos Island for the day. I was directed to a boat and off we went.








After a long boat ride we reached Diablos Island, but just for a few minutes.









On the island we picked up an Israeli couple who were on their honeymoon. Such nice people. We had a great discussion on Israel and the traditions there. So glad I met them.

First, we went to a shallow part in the water to swim. Being unprepared I forgot a swim suit 🙁


Then we were off again.






We stopped at another island for a hour. In that time I walked around it twice ha ha.


















Then it was back to Diablos island for a couple of hours and lunch. The couple from Israel had been there for a couple nights already. The island was small and they lived an a basic shack on the sand. They said there was nothing to do but play cards and go for swims.










It might have been nice to spend one night there. But then again maybe not. You are really isolated. In the end I was glad to just do a day trip, even if it was a very long day, and ready to head back to Panama City.

My Location from October 3 to 5, 2017

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My Route to San Blas on October 4, 2017

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Riding Into the Big City of Panama.

I really enjoyed Playa Venao, but it was now time to ride to the big city of Panama City. But first I would stop at another beach I circled as a highlight – Playa Blanca.

Leaving Playa Venao

I said goodbye to my bat twitching on the floor of my hostel and started into the country roads of Panama. Country roads are the best to ride on for me. Quiet, pavement, small little towns, all very nice. Once I got to Chitre then it was back onto the highways again until Playa Blanca.

Hostal Acuarela

Once again I booked a hostel. This time Hostal Acuarela at Playa Blanca.


It was a small hostel owned by a young beautiful Venezuelan women. It just so happened that her father was visiting her from Venezuela. I took advantage of their expertise to see if I could ride into Venezuela. They advised that the border from Colombia was closed to vehicles right now and that it would be very dangerous to be riding through the country. I asked about flying into Caracas. They said that should be OK.

Restuarante Pipas

After settling in, I walked over to the Restaurante Pipas.




A very cool restaurant and entertainment venue right on the beach. A great place to just sit and enjoy the sun and beach.



Walking back to my hostel along the sand road, I encountered some kids riding their horses and just fooling around.





Panama City

The next day I took off for Panama City. Panama City is like nothing I have encountered in Central America. The place was huge with towering thin skyscrapers.



While most of the building with simply thin towers. There were a couple architectural marvels.


One of the buildings has now become the iconic building for the city – the F&F Tower.

F&F Tower

It is really hard to take your eyes off of it as you walk around the city. It just captures your attention.




Here is some info on it I got from the Alluring World website:

The F&F Tower, previously was known as the Revolutionary Tower, is an office building located in the capital city of Panama, Panama City. The initial concept of the tower has been only a theoretical idea based on rotating geometry and a prism.

However, this experiment was undertaken in the studio, and has been observed by the prospective client who wished to appropriate the design for their own office tower. The tower is located on a prominent commercial street in the capital, which is know as the bank district.

One of the major problems for the designers to ensure the iconic status and success for the tower has been the budget of only $50 million, there were also underground wells that have been troubling the designers.

Nevertheless, it got its iconic appearance. It has a concrete structure, where the upper 39 floors rotate around a central axis, representing something like helis, and as it allows each floor to rotate nine degrees from the floor below it creates four small balconies for each office floor. The first 13 floors are actually a parking garages.

The architects are Pinzón Lozano & Asociados, who had an excellent idea how to make something to function in a reality. The official start of the construction began in 2008 and it was completed in 2011. The tower is 243 meters tall (797 feet), with total area space of 60,759 square meters (653,939 square foot), allocated on 52 floors (plus 4 floors underground).

There are many complaints lately that the tower is leaning, it is going to fall down…

I sure hope not!

Hostal Entre 2 Aguas

For the first part of my stay in Panama City I stayed at the Hostal Entre 2 Aguas.

The next two days would be busy taking a tour of the Panama Canal and San Blas islands. Stay tuned.

My Route on October 1, 2017

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My Route on October 2, 2017

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