Total distance travelled: 40,600 kilometres (25,217.39 miles)
You’d think 208 days in Mexico & Central America would be enough, but strangely, there was still a hint of sadness as our vessel pulled away from the Panamanian ferry terminal, Colon 2000.
When we’d arrived that morning and sighted our vessel (yes, we loitered around the terminal for pretty much a whole day) for the first time, we were wowed by its size.
Incredibly, as we began to board, she was now dwarfed by the luxury Dutch cruise ship that sat off our stern.
Eventually, after being forced to discard some food, but not all (it seemed a bit random what was confiscated), we were through customs and ready to board.
We’d purchased a bottle of rum in anticipation of the trip, and unfortunately had stored it in our backpacks which we’d assumed we’d be able to take with us to our cabins.
Turns out we were wrong, and the bags were checked on board, with the suggestion we’d not see them until Colombia.
That’s how quickly our plans of drinking our way to South America quickly evaporated… that is until, as we made our way on board, we noticed our packs in the cargo bay right there beside us!
With some quick thinking, we asked a steward if we could retrieve a few things before being ushered upstairs, to which he was very agreeable.
Now sorted, we found our way through the maze like warren that is the ship and our cabin on deck 7, where we 4 celebrated with a relaxing rum!
We thought it best that we then make our way up on deck where we could then farewell Colon, Panama and indeed all of Central America!
We didn’t however expect to be first up farewelling the gargantuan cruise ship that had been berthed beside us…
Eventually, with the skies by now dark (due to the sun having set, not an impending storm), we did pull away from the wharf, and with rums in hand (at least Chris and I had one each) we gave the continent one final salute.
This was easily the largest vessel on which either Sarah or I had travelled, and upon first boarding and when we had our first little explore of decks 9 down to 6 (we weren’t allowed to go lower into the hold) I felt like a giddy child let loose in a brand new adventure playground!
Feeling all upper class (after all, we did have a cabin), we thought it novel to be able to wander towards the rear (or stern if you’d prefer) of deck 6 and take a peek at those poor folk in steerage!
Okay, so it wasn’t actually called that, but those poor souls were left with only chairs (or if lucky and quick to claim it, a piece of floor) on which to spend the night ahead.
After a final glimpse of Panama, where looking like a floating city, we were in fact able to take in a night time view of the many ships clustered around the canal entrance, we retired to our cabin for more rum and an evening of cards.
In time, our dry ginger mixer ran low, and eventually even the rum itself ran out, prompting us to eventually emerge from our cabins and back to the upper decks where a bar sat perched overlooking the stern.
I surely didn’t need it, but nevertheless indulged in a half litre beer, while Sarah, sensible as she is, thought better of it and declined (I wasn’t drinking alone however as both Chris & Faye had a beverage as well).
Our meanderings eventually took us to where the real night time action was.
Whilst none of us hit the dance floor proper, we certainly did have a little boogie in our corner before deciding that the most sensible course of action was to retire our inebriated bodies to bed.
Now I may have already made one allusion to Titanic with my reference to those poor folk in steerage.
When, during what felt the darkness of the night, a possibly still drunken Chris (that would be myself, not our English companion) woke to an incredibly loud bump and lay disturbed even further by the continued shudder of the ship.
Sure, no icebergs are in these waters, but could it have been a reef, a sand bar? Hmmm, it’s an Italian vessel with an Italian crew… are we the next Costa Concordia?!
Eventually I realised that the ship still hummed and no alarms had gone off… but sleep would not reclaim me.
As the stingy backpackers that we are, our cabin was a cheaper 4 berth, so we lay in the bowels of the SNAV Adriatico, meaning no portholes, so there I lay in the dark with no idea whether it was 3am or 11am (none of my companions had stirred).
Eventually I left the other three, donned some clothing (thankfully for the other passengers) and emerged into the lighted corridor.
Up on deck, where the rocking motion of the ship made walking a difficult affair (indeed the previous evening we were often unsure whether the ship was rocking, or if we were simply swaying due to the rum), but it was indeed after sunrise, around 8am in fact.
The fact that I spied several passengers reading nervous passages from their bibles suggested that perhaps I wasn’t the only one to have been roused by loud bangs throughout the night and morning (indeed many more would follow, but it was just large waves crashing into the ships bow).
Out, the day looked wonderful, at least from behind the reinforced glass of the ships windows and portholes.
The reality was a little different, as true whilst there was sunshine aplenty, large waves and strong winds made being out anything but a pleasant experience.
Eventually I was located by Sarah, as I sat soberly (from that, read feeling rather poorly) just outside one of the ships overpriced dining establishments, where apparently Chris & Faye had just headed.
As expensive as it was, I really didn’t feel like the few sweet buns we’d brought along with us, so eventually I succumbed, purchasing a roll and a few rashes of bacon with which to make a bacon butty!
Around mid-morning, an announcement aired confirming that we’d be an hour late getting into Cartagena, news unfortunate, but really what is there you can do.
We began to spot more and more vessels on the horizon, at first they’d been only the occasional yacht or catamaran braving the crazy passage, but as we neared land, they became larger, cargo vessels, tankers and the like, as well as more regular.
It was around 2pm that we finally passed the Spanish forts that mark the passage into Cartagena harbour, before a slick reverse docking manouvre, baggage retrieval and customs/immigration (a process of an hour or so, condensed here into a brief sentence) saw us finally enter Colombia, and South America!
* Our Ferry Xpress tickets from Colon (Panama) to Cartagena (Colombia), cost us $115.00 US per person for a shared, 4 berth cabin.
* That evil rum had cost us about $6.00 US and cost me personally an enjoyable morning…