Sailing The Gap

It has been a time consuming and difficult process trying to find a way around the Darien Gap here in Colombia, but we have finally managed to bypass the gap and are going to do it in an exciting way. Dealing with the shipping companies in Cartagena has been pretty much par for the course in terms of mind numbing complexity and ridiculousness. The first several quotes we received for our 40′ container were well over $3,000. If you consider that it cost us about $4,000 to ship the trucks in a 40′ container from Cape Town to Buenos Aires via Spain and about $5,000 to ship them from Los Angeles to Sydney with both of these previous shipments consisting of thousands of nautical miles of distance to be covered and over a month of transit time, you can imagine our frustration. The shipment from Cartagena, Colombia to Colon, Panama only takes one day and covers only a few hundred miles, so the shipping companies are raking in some good money down here. In fact, they are raking in so much money transporting goods around the Darien Gap I would not be surprised if they were somehow responsible for the blocking of and the delay in finishing the final section of the Pan-American Highway through the Gap. If and when the missing section does open, the shipping businesses serving this particular route will be hit hard, even if they decide to charge outrageous tolls to cross that section of highway. The good news is that we did manage to track down a German guy, Manfred, who has been living here in Colombia for the past 20 plus years who describes himself as a “facilitator.” Manfred has successfully facilitated a much cheaper shipment for us and if we get the trucks to Panama without any problems for the price we have been quoted, we will spread the word about Manfred’s services. So, that seems to have taken care of the difficult task of getting the trucks around the Darien Gap.

As for the four TWBR crew members, there are a couple of ways to get to Panama. The most obvious and convenient way to get to Panama is to fly. Colombian airlines fly regularly from Cartagena to Panama City and the flight is short (about an hour) and cheap. However, the departure tax from Colombia will cost you about the same as your airline ticket, so flying to Panama will, in actuality, set you back about $250. If you have some flexibility and some time on your hands, a much more exciting way to get to Panama is by boat. There are sailboats making the trip between Panama and Colombia, but the trick is finding one and finding out when they are actually leaving as there are not set schedules. There are some hostels in both Panama City and Cartagena that can help to arrange these boats, but we decided to try and see what we could come up with on our own. We went down to the Cartagena yacht club to ask around and within minutes, found captain Hernando Higuera and his 35′ sailboat the Stella Luna. For a little more than the price of airfare, Hernando agreed to take us to Panama on his boat. The trip with Hernando includes 5 days on the boat, all meals and the experience of learning how to sail in the open ocean. To make the deal even more appealing is the opportunity to spend three of those days exploring the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. So, instead of getting a complementary soda and watching the Caribbean pass by beneath us on an airplane, we opted for the chance to fish, snorkel, sail and meet the indigenous people of the San Blas Islands with captain Hernando. Hopefully the trip will go smoothly and the weather will be favorable. One thing is for sure, we will be traveling around the Darien Gap in style. We will let everyone know how the trip, (and the shipment), went once we arrive and get situated in Panama.


Cartagena Yacht Club