Day 46 – Bogota Bound

Today we left our bikes at the Cargo Terminal of Tecumen Airport in Panama City.  They will fly to Bogota tonight.  We will follow tomorrow and continue our trip in a new continent.  We ended up chosing Copa Airlines to fly the bikes.  They were very helpful on the phone, and there was even someone in the office who spoke English.  In contrast, no one even answered the phone at Girag, the airline that seems to the popular choice among people who have posted in the forum at  The going rate at Girag (according to the forum) is $551 per bike.   Copa charged us $875 for both bikes ($437.50 per bike) which is quite a bit cheaper.  All we had to do was drain the gas in our tanks, disconnect our batteries, and remove the mirrors.  Copa handled the rest.  Other than getting lost repeatedly trying to find the airport, it was a relatively painless and hassle-free experience; certainly easier than the average Central American border crossing. 

The only drawback to Copa is that they only fly to Bogota once a week (Wednesdays).  This gave us several more days in Panama.  We took advantage of our extra time by going on an overnight trip to Isla Grande, an island just off the Caribbean side of Panama.  It was fun to ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic in just over an hour.  The only way to get to Isla Grande was on a small boat (there is no bridge or ferry).  We left our bikes parked in a fenced off area for a fee of $4.  We had to take it on faith that they would be safe there.  

We made the 5 minute crossing to the island ($1.50 each) in a small boat with an outboard motor.  When we got there, the only hotel we could see was also the local bar.  The bar was packed full of wife-beater clad teenagers drinking beer and shouting.  They were crowded around the TV showing the final of the Copa Las Americas between Argentina and Brazil.  I guess one of the guys had been cheering for Argentina.  Although we couldn´t understand the exact jeers, it was clear that the rest of the guys were mercilessly making fun of the poor Argentina fan.  They were all cheering wildy for Brazil, which was winning 3-0 in the dying minutes of the second half.  It looked like the Argentina fan was near tears.  I figured there was going to be a fight for sure the way the guys were pounding their chests and slapping their hands together to imitate the beating that Brazil was laying on Argentina.

However, it wasn´t the guys who ended up fighting.  With seconds to go in the game, someone burst into the bar and shouted something in Spanish.  Immediately the whole bar emptied out into the street.  Two women were going at each other.  By the time Ted and I arrived on the scene it was already over.  The guys thought it was pretty funny.  The women did not.  They were screaming at each other.  Of course I couldn´t understand what they were yelling, but I could hear the odd English swear word mixed in, so I knew they weren´t complementing each other.  One of the woman had blood on the side of her face.  She had a broken bottle clutched in her hand.  She obviously had not emerged the winner, which is not surprising given the size advantage of her opponent (who was one big woman).  I was thinking that this quaint looking Caribbean village nestled in the palms along the beach was a bit more rough around the edges than it looked.

We decided to leave the crowded bar behind and go for a swim.  Our impression of Isla Grande was further shaped by the garbage littering the beach.  It looked like people just threw their trash out on the sand.  Still, the water was nice and from a distance the island looked beautiful. 

When it came time to look for cena, we found that almost every restaurant was closed because it was the off season and a Sunday night.  There were three restaurants open in the entire village, and they all had the exact same menu.  I guess we were eating fish or chicken with rice.  We both ordered the fish because we thought it would be freshly caught.  Instead we got a heavily salted (due to a lack of refrigeration) deep fried red snapper.  It came with skin and head still attached.  It was a hard meal to choke down, but we hungry and we didn´t leave much behind.

That evening we watched what seemed like every man and boy in the village get drunk in the common area in front of the bar (and our hotel room).  They drank clear white rum right out of the bottle as if it were water.  And why not when it cost about the same.  A cold beer cost 50 cents at the bar and you could buy a litre of rum for $3.  By 9 o´clock, there were people stumbling down the street.  Across from a us, an old man sat passed out at a picnic table.  He did not even respond when someone slapped him.

We watched the carnival from the patio in front of our room, which overlooked the street (really a path – there were no cars on the island).  We had an interesting conversation with a couple of drunks who were passing by.  They didn´t speak any English, and we thought it would be a good chance to practice our Spanish.  I had bought a half litre of the most expensive rum in the bar ($3.50) and was sharing.  I was popular.  Unfortunately, even if we had been able to understand Spanish, I don´t think we could have made any sense out of what they drunks were trying to say.  They were too far gone.  Although we did learn that they were father and son and were originally from Puerto Rico.  It was amusing to watch them try to communicate by miming, especially when the topic of conversation turned to women.

At one point a young guy came by and told us his friend could take us out in his boat in the morning for a tour around the island and to go snorkeling on a reef near another island.  He seemed sober enough, so we agreed.  We met the captain and a couple of his buddies at 8 the next morning and set out in his boad to find snorkel gear.  Unfortunately, after trying 3 places on the island, we were still empty handed.  The captan even tried a place on the mainland.  A perfect example of how humour transcends language occurred when he had to beat off an angry barking dog with a rake.  All of us watching from the safety of the boat shared a good laugh.

We ended up not finding any snorkel equipment.  The earliest we could get equipment was noon.  This was too late for us to start because we wanted to make it back to Panama city in the daylight.  So we decided to just go for a tour around the island.  There was a solid wind blowing, and as we left the lee side of the island the swells starting throwing the little boat around.  It got to a point where the swells were over 10 feet high.  The entire boat could fit on the side of the wave.  Nearby, the waves were crashing onto the rocks.  We were all soaked from the spray as the boat bounched arond like a cork.  It did not bode well for my confidence when one of the guys went to the front and starting taking life jackets out from under the bow.  If the crazy guys were worried, it must be serious.  How much would it take to flip one of these little row boats over? 

We passed through a channel between a group of rocks and back into calm water.  On the other side of the island was a fancy resort with cabanas and a pristine beach.  When we got back to the village, we found a path that led us through the rainforest over a hill to the other side of the island and had a nice brunch on the patio overlooking the ocean.  We were the only patrons in the restaurant.  After brunch, we ran into a dutch
family who were disappointed we weren´t staying at the resort.  They were the only guests there.  We borrowed their snorkel equipment and spent a couple of hours on the reef just off the shore from the resort.  It wasn´t quite Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, but there were still fish everywhere (even some big ones).  Plus we were the only ones in the water.

By the time we left, Isla Grande had grown on me.  They even cleaned up all the garbage on Monday morning.  I liked the fact that there were no cars and people got around by walking or taking a boat.  It was a nice contrast from the horrendous non-motorcycle-respecting traffic of Panama City.

We´re back in Panama City for one more night.  Panama city is experiencing an economic boom, partly because the money from the canal is not being robbed by a dirty politicians as it so often was in the past.  There are fancy condos and office towers being built all along the bay.  The entertainment options in Panama city are limitless.  I can see why Sailors look forward to Panama city for months so they can blow their entire pay cheque in one night.  Quite a few blow their money in one of Panama´s Vegas-style casinos.  Hopefully the poker Gods will cooperate and I can win the cost of the flight to Bogota…


7 thoughts on “Day 46 – Bogota Bound

  1. Tyson,So glad to read your blog. I didn’t know if you were in Columbia already along with Stephen Harper who was in Bogata yesterday promoting free trade with Canada. He is in Chili today where Canada already has a free trade agreement. Your adventures continue and I do enjoy the read. Keep us informed as both Panama and Columbia scare me a tad. I would like to know what direction you are heading from Bogata so that I can continue to follow your travels on the map.I wanted to let you know that kodakgallery cannot be accessed either at work or at home. It says server unavailable which has never happened before.I miss seeing your pictures.Do take care,Mom

  2. Hey Mom, you may want to spell-check before posting next time. Oh by the way, stupid gringos and Canadians scare us a tad here in Bogota, Colombia.

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