RHYS-PANAMA-FERRY

Round-the-world rider Rhys Lawrey is one of the first European motorcyclists to use the new ferry service from Panama to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Until recently, the only way to cross the Darien Gap – a 99-mile section of undeveloped swampland and forest between Panama and Colombia – was by air freight. This is expensive, with riders expecting to pay around $1200 for the bike and a further $300-$400 for themselves. At just $360 for bike & rider, the Panama ferry looks a much better bet. But this is Central America, so it isn’t all plain sailing…

“The ferry crossing itself should take about half a day, but you need to allow an extra two days for paperwork and customs” explains Rhys. “First you need a form from the police to prove that the bike isn’t stolen. That takes pretty much a whole day. Then you need Colombian bike insurance. Luckily I ran into some friendly Costa Rican bikers, who put me in touch with a company in the USA who could sort me out – for $200! That took half a day. Then it takes another half day to load the ferry. I had to remove all the luggage for sniffer dogs to check, then reload, only to be told to unload by another policeman, for no apparent reason, and then reload all over again.”

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Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry

It’s wise to take plenty of photocopies of all your documents, as police and customs officials seem to like them, even if they aren’t sure what they’re looking at.

The boat itself is similar to a roll-on/roll-off cross-channel ferry, except that cars and trucks aren’t permitted. So it moors alongside the dock and motorcycles must be ridden up a gang plank, like the passengers use to board.

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“It’s an overnight crossing, from 7pm to 1pm the following day” says Rhys. “Except that our journey took an extra two hours because they forgot to refuel the boat. We left Colón in Panama on Christmas Eve and landed in Cartagena, Colombia, at 3pm on Christmas Day. By the time we’d cleared customs it was getting dark, which was worrying, what with Colombia’s reputation for drug gangs and the dangers of travelling after dark. It turns out I needn’t have worried – the Colombians are the frriendliest bunch I’ve met since being in China.”

Rhys with the Columbian police

Rhys with the Columbian police

Rhys is raising money for The Prince’s Trust, asking for a minimum donation of just £6 (one pound for every continent he crosses). You can follow his progress, view his video diaries and make a donation at www.2mororider.com.

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Tony Carter

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