This is a fifth installment in a series about a motorcycle trip that my friend and I took in January of 2016. Here is Part 1.
It doesn’t matter that January is dry season in Panama – it rains all the time in the province of Bocas del Toro. We were drenched by the time we made it to the other side of the mountains yesterday and this morning was wet and foggy as well. It’s a nice change of pace from the oppressive heat in Panama City but it does get old rather quickly when you are on a motorcycle. Luckily all we had to do today was ride down to Almirante just a couple of miles away where we’d part with the bikes for 48 hours.
There is a ferry that goes from Almirante to the island of Colon where we were headed. Every time we asked about the schedule we got a different answer. Some said the ferry leaves at 6 in the morning, some said 7 while others swore it was 8. We were so tired from riding through the mountains the night before that none of these options sounded appealing. But more importantly we were told that a ferry ride would take 3 hours!
The only way to get our bikes to the island was on that ferry but we didn’t want to waste 3 hours to get there. The return time didn’t work either since the ferry comes back once a day at night which would mean another night in a hotel in Almirante. We were quickly running out of time in Panama and wanted as much flexibility in our schedule as possible.
In the end we did find a solution that worked out very well. We left our bikes in Almirante and took a 25-minute $6 ride in a water taxi. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
Tip: If you want to go to the islands forget bringing your motorcycle or a car – leave it in Almirante. You won’t need it anyway because the islands are small and you can rent a bicycle or a taxi to take you around.
The town of Almirante is pretty run down. There are shanties everywhere and the only reason anyone visits is to get on a boat to the islands. Naturally we were apprehensive about leaving $40,000 worth of bikes parked on the street while we disappear for two days island hopping.
I read somewhere that as soon as you roll into town you will be chased down by a kid on a bicycle who will offer to take you to a secure parking lot. That’s exactly what happened when we got into town. A kid on a bike took us to a lot where we tipped him a buck or two. This young entrepreneur will do just fine.
There were maybe 20 cars parked on the lot. There was a house too so I’m assuming it was just someone who found a way to make their primary residence throw off some serious cash. At $4 per vehicle per day it’s not expensive by any means but, times 20, goes a long way in Panama.
A petite lady came out to greet us. We asked her about security. She pointed at an 8-foot fence. Then she pointed at a big rottweiler in a dog pen. She said that they let him out to roam the perimeter at night. We smiled. Then she added that there are 5 other rottweilers to keep him company. We signed the papers.
Then suddenly in the middle of nowhere el capitan cut the engines bringing the boat to a halt. Out of nowhere a canoe came alongside and people began throwing their suitcases from our boat into that canoe. There was an older nun sitting next to us and she proceeded trying to get into the canoe. Honestly, I thought she is going to fall in the choppy waters but miraculously she managed to get in. At half her age it would be a challenging trick for me, but God must’ve been on her side that day.
Of course we didn’t know if we were supposed to get into that canoe. At least half the people stayed in the motor boat so we figured we’d stay put. That turned out to be the right choice. I have no idea where that canoe went, carrying the nun and the others.
We made it!
Colon in Bocas del Toro was just a random destination that we picked while browsing Google Maps in the States and we were finally here. We crossed Panama on motorcycles! It’s always satisfying to accomplish a goal, no matter how arbitrary it may be.
After checking into Hotel Don Chico we went for a walk to see what there’s to do on the island. Colon is small but packed with bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. It’s definitely a touristy spot with a relaxed island vibe. It was exactly what we needed after travelling non-stop for almost a week.
If you are staying downtown you won’t find any picturesque beaches. We looked on the map and found Playa Bluff about 5 miles north of the main town. A taxi can take you there but we decided to continue our 2-wheel adventure so we rented a pair of bicycles. That was definitely the way to go! This island is perfect for leisurely rides on a beach cruiser.
The road quickly changed from asphalt to packed sand meandering along the coast. Soon enough we reached Playa Bluff – and it didn’t disappoint. We were the only people for miles and you just couldn’t ask for more as far as picture-perfect beaches go.
Later that night we went to a restaurant for some great seafood followed by a bar on the water. We wanted to carve out a couple of days for R&R on this motorcycle trip and so far it was shaping up exactly as we hoped.