Dear Father and Mother,
March is the month that I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my whereabouts like I promised to last year, though I will let on that I am somewhere south of the Darien. The sensitive nature of my work for the government demands the utmost secrecy. I know you will understand. I am healthy and well and seeing lots of things and I even have a recipe for turtle. I have been going with a brown-skinned latina girl for several moons now and I know you would be proud if you could see her. Her name is Betsy but I can tell you no more than that…I hope this card finds you all well as it does me. I hope no one has died. Don’t worry about me. One day, they’ll be a knock on the door and it’ll be me.
Sobre todos con mucho mucho amor
Let it be known that there is no road between North and South America. No hay camino. Solamente jungla. It’s all jungle. The Darien Gap separates Panama and Colombia and they say it’s dangerous. My guide book says it’s crawling with snakes and angry Indios and the FARC guerillas, all waiting to gobble up lost souls. There was an idea to ditch the bike and hike it but the Panamanians won’t let you through. For your own protection they say.
And now the only safe passage to South America is by boat or plane.
The decision was made to do the Darien on one of the countless overpriced sailboats that ply the coast, ferrying people and 1975 Honda motorcycles back and forth from Panama to Colombia. Overpriced yes, but yet still the cheapest and seemingly most attractive option because you get to spend a few days in the idyllic San Blas islands snorkeling with the Gods. They just strap the bike to the back of the boat and cover it with a tarp, and charge you the same as if it was another person. It doesn’t even get fed, although the CB is always hungry (for adventure). And I’m not a sailor but it seems that you can’t pull a sailboat up to a dock because it sits too deep in the water, so to put a motorcycle on one you first have to put the bike in a smaller boat and then transfer it to the sailboat while both boats are bobbing up and down in the water.
You can’t just drive it on the boat with a ramp or something.
Godamn these guidebooks. The MooN Guide to Panama sports a boxed text tip to bring a lifejacket to Panama just “to be on the safe side,” especially if you know in advance that you’ll be making any sort of water based trip. What sort or retrosade writes this malarkey? They are easy to carry in your luggage, says MooN. A bald faced lie to anyone who has ever donned a puffy lifejacket. Donate it to a boatsman before you return, that way you’ll have extra space for souvenirs, it says. Si, senor. Yo necesito mas espacio para mi “I went to Panama and I all I got was leshmaniasis” camiseta. I have leshmaniasis. It’s gross…
Backpackers are nerdy enough, but to be bobbing about in a lancha and witness a doughy sun-scarred European rip a home-brought lifejacket out of their oversized backpack or wheeled suitcase would be a divine spectacle, one for the ages and sages, and one that might just bring out the inner bully in anyone, provided they even knew what they were seeing.
Always better to ride the bike than to ride the dog, dog.