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Latin America Shawn Dispatch

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Life on a Cargo Boat

Panama and Columbia
Sorry that we worried everyone for the past week. Trust us, we didn't want to be stuck on boats for 11 days without any phones, but that's what happened!

Getting to Colombia was just about the most difficult thing we have done on the Odyssey yet. Since we do not fly and there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, our two options were to walk, carrying all of our computers and cameras through some of the most dangerous territory in Latin America, or we could take a boat. We opted for the boats, but they are infrequent and Kavitha, Monica and I ended up waiting in Panama City over a week, as you may know from some of our previous dispatches:

Abeja - The Darién Gap: Blow-darts, Guerrillas, and a Mother's Worst Nightmare
Monica - Being Tardy Sucks
Monica - Hey There Sailor, Got Room for One More?

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Land at last! Hey wait, this isn't La Palma!
The day we were finally to depart, we did not set out for the sea until almost midnight. So when we dropped anchor in a small harbor in the middle of the night, we thought we had made good time and were in La Palma, which was supposed to take 18 hours. We did not think much of the canoes that came up to our ship in the darkness and paddled off with mysterious cargo. Once the sun came up, we found out that we had made an unscheduled stop at Isla Contadora and that we wouldn't even get to La Palma until late the next afternoon. This trip was already becoming tedious.

The next day just kept getting hotter and hotter, until it seemed like it couldn't possibly get any worse, and then it got a little hotter. Just as we were entering La Palma Bay we encountered our first dolphin, which none of us had ever seen in the wild before. The dolphin swam back and forth in front of the boat as if guiding us into port and reminding us how hot we were, and then it disappeared.

Hey Shawn, unhappy to be stuck on the boat? It's only a week more!
When we arrived at La Palma it seemed that the whole town was waiting on the dock, the arrival of our boat being the biggest event of the day! We walked around a bit in town, which meant we walked up and down the only street until after sunset and then we returned to the boat, where the crew was busily unloading cargo. It was fun to watch them tossing fifty pound bags out of the hold as if they were pillows, then they would throw them up to the dock where someone would catch them and stack them up. All of this was done with incredible ease and coordination and we were very impressed at how efficiently the crew worked together.

Life on the Voz Confio was not a very comfortable experience. Most of the passengers slept inside downstairs on makeshift beds of cardboard and palettes, while a few of us braved the deck in hammocks. That second night it began to rain, so I went downstairs to find someplace dry to sleep. Most of the good sleeping spots were already taken, so I ended up on a cardboard mat on the slimy galley floor and was rudely awakened in the morning by someone dumping water on me while cooking.

There was no dock in Jaque, our final stop in Panama, so when we anchored, large canoes came out to get the passengers and paddle them to shore. They charged a dollar per passenger, which seemed a little ridiculous since it was only about 100 yards, so I gave my backpack to Kavitha and Monica and swam to shore. We spent less than two hours in Jaque before cramming onto a tiny launch with about 12 other people and rocketing down the coast to Jurado. Jurado, our first stop in Panama, is a little town surrounded by jungle and rivers. It has no connection to the outside world other than the delivery boats and television, which is dutifully watched by its inhabitants for the six hours a day when electrical power is available.

When we arrived in town, we learned that we would not be able to leave for at least three days, which was a little worrisome, since we discovered that we were running dangerously low on cash and there were no banks for a hundred miles or so. (Check out Kavitha's story on our money woes: "Starving and Penniless".

We found the cheapest accommodations in town, but even there we couldn't even afford a room, so we worked out a deal where we would hang our hammocks and sleep on the porch for less than a dollar a night each. Of course, the boat was delayed an extra day, and by the time it finally arrived we did not have enough money to pay for passage! We worked it out so that we could pay upon arrival in Buena Ventura, but the captain demanded that we give him one of our digital cameras to hold until he received payment. We also learned that the crew was unwilling to work during Semana Santa, one of the holiest Christian holidays, and so we would have to spend three days in a place called Bahia Solano while the crew vacationed.

At least this boat was a little more comfortable than the Voz Confio and we had our own beds (which were about 3 inches too short). Meals were included in the ticket, but since Kavitha and I are vegetarian, there was really nothing to eat except for white rice. Around the second day, I began to get really hungry and I did something I haven't done in eight years -- eat fish. I had to eat something besides white rice and so I sort of held my nose and dug in. It really was not as bad as I expected, although it was very salty and fishy tasting (go figure!) and sort of kept staring up at me from my plate. I ate fish three times on the trip and I even helped cook it once, figuring that if I'm going to eat it, I might as well make sure that it tastes good.

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Buenaventura - Show us the way to the ATMs and snacks
We actually had a good time in Bahia Solano. We made friends with some of the locals and practiced our diving skills off the top of the boat. Once we departed, it was only 24 more hours to Buenaventura, which is a major port on the Pacific Coast and is actually connected to the rest of South America with roads and telephones! (Hooray!) On Easter Sunday, we watched the lush green coast roll by, gradually becoming more and more developed until the skyline of a city appeared on the horizon.

Part of me is really going to miss the relaxed lifestyle of never being in a hurry and the wilds of the jungle, still untamed by humans. However, as the skyline of Buenaventura grew on the horizon, my excitement grew as well -- a whole new adventure, and a whole new continent was before us.

South America, at last we have arrived!


Kavitha - Starving and Penniless
Monica - We Began the Journey as Paupers and Finished with a Japanese Feast!
Making a Difference - Live from Death Row
Kevin - Graverobbers and Life After Death - My Visit to a Moche Lord's Tomb
Team - Peru's Early Hunters, Artists and Fighters
Abeja - Hot! Hot! Hot! I Looked Into His Eyes and Melted...
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