28 September – Day 68
Panama City, Panama
After a later start, we headed for the airport cargo terminal to drop off the bike for shipping to Columbia. Although it’s a Saturday, I’d called ahead and the office was open… as long as we got there by noon. So we raced around getting ready and only just made it. It took about ninety minutes to get all the paperwork done (more specifically.. it took Adrian about ninety minutes to get the paperwork done while I sat with the bike… however there was shade and I’d brought a book, so it wasn’t so bad!!).
It’s the first time that Adrian has been separated from the bike since arriving in Alaska a few months ago – so it’s quite a big deal! It’ll hopefully get to Columbia on Monday, although the shipping people were a little bit hazy on the details… as in it might get there tomorrow… or maybe on Monday. Maybe also Tuesday. So we’ll see!
Why the need for shipping the bike? Unfortunately the Panamerican Highway does not run the length of the Americas. A short section known as the Darien Gap exists between Panama and Columbia that has no road and is considered impassable to all but drug runners and the desperate few individuals with motorcycles trying to prove a point and who have written novels about their exploits.
There are a few preferred options for circumventing the Darien Gap. Take a yacht and strap your motorbike on the front, get a few motorcycles together and use a container or take it to the airport and fly it. The first option has been recommended by some and opposed by others. The experience of each seems to depend on the yacht used and the weather experienced. Most agree that the journey through the San Blas islands is spectacular, however the overflowing toilets, confined spaces and lack of edible food on just one reported journey was enough for me, together with the fact that the Stahlratte (the best of the bunch) was booked full, was a bit of a turn off. Charges range from $250 per person + $300 for the motorcycle on short trips (3 days / 2 nights) to $500 per person and $650 for the motorcycle on longer trips (5 days / 4 nights) on one of the larger boats with a decent reputation.
We chose to take the third option of flying. I’ve flown my motorbikes from Beijing to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpar to Perth and Sydney to Anchorage so feel pretty comfortable with the requirements for arranging each. Of the two options I’ve looked at for flying (Panama Solutions Logistics and Girag), I chose Girag for no other reason than they seemed to be the most widely used. There are positive and negative reviews on both Advrider and Horizons and whether my bike turns up unharmed remains to be seen. Fingers crossed.
We arrived at the Girag cargo terminal on a Saturday practically unannounced besides a phone call two hours earlier to see if they were open. The cargo area is on the other side of the airfield from the passenger terminal and navigating to Girag was quite easy. The bike although recently cleaned was once again covered in filth and although I tried in vain to clean it with some water and paper towel, Girag did not seem to care. After the paperwork was completed and the cash paid ($902 US) I set about removing the windscreen and mirrors to try and protect them from damage. They made sure I locked the panniers and that I had the keys, hopefully they haven’t been busted open by a customs inspection. Girag had no idea about the final step of paperwork involving clearing the bike out of the country at the Aduana (Customs) at the entrance to the cargo area. Once this was completed I made sure Girag also had a copy of this paperwork. Maybe due to being Saturday afternoon the usual people weren’t around to ensure the process was completed, fingers crossed this doesn’t also mean that I won’t see my bike in Bogota on Monday as scheduled