Rum, Lobstery And (Being On) The Lash
22.9.09 David, Panama
Oh Balboa! To understand quite how good this 4.8%, moreish Panamanian brew can be, you should:
a) spend 4 days tossing on the Caribbean, performing acts of borderline self-harm with a quite extraordinary quantity of weak Colombian lager and cheap rum (selected because "the label looks quite piratey")
b) check into a nice Panama City hotel and spend a further 5 days drinking ice water, coffee and Coca Cola, woefully trying to imagine the day you'll ever be able to eat lobster again, or even look at one without retching. (Half a lobster is nice. One lobster is a treat. Six and a half is only a good idea at the time.)
There is no better way to get from Colombia to Panama than on the 103 year old Stahlratte - the Steel Rat. (I haven't been on any of the others; but the force of my argument is actually enhanced by my iron resolve, which remains firm in the face of my total ignorance of the other options.) Especially if you find out at the last minute that Adam and Neil, my Bogota booze buddies, are on the same boat. There are several very good things about the Stahlratte. It's big - plenty of space for both motorbikes and humans; there's a lot of extremely good food (if you're sailing from Colombia it's easily the best breakfast you'll have had recently) and, while the ship carries all the lager a man could want, Captain Ludwig suggests you stock up at the supermarket (from where giggling Colombian dolly-birds will push your straining trolley to the jetty), to save yourself some cash.
That, in fact, is where the seeds of destiny are scattered. The supermarket lager comes in 12 can boxes. Within moments me 'n' Neil are deciding on 5 boxes each, plus "some" rum, in case of "emergencies", such as the lager "running out", which would be mathematically impossible, but still.
Groceries bought, we set sail (or rather switch on the engine, as there's not enough wind to blow an ant off a bun). Having scoffed breakfast, Neil suggests that we might like to make a start on the lager. It's 11.02am; opening time in English money. We have to* drink 20 small cans a day in order to fulfil our mandate, so I accept. Which of us can honestly say we know what happened after that? There were dolphins (look closely), lobsters, islands, arguments about religion and the "Bean Soup" gag (I don't want to know what its been, I want to know what it is now!).
The world's worst ever picture of a dolphin. Magnifying glass recommended.
Adam clutches at his last "marble"
Some time that night we make it to 20 each; it's suggested that we have a 21st, to "celebrate". So we do. The rum remains untouched, so all is well the next day, which plays out in much the same way, but with rum. Adam hits his peak - tomorrow he will become mad. The ripe, salty madness of the open sea, intensified by the fact that his skull, or brain-pan, has become a sealed container of rum with a walnut floating in it. There's a bout of prop-comedy with marker pens, and still our boat-mates take it all on the chin.
Day 3 arrives. We're literally in Paradise** - Panama's San Blas islands - and we're utterly, utterly plastered. The evening ends with Neil and I finishing the "emergency" rum and singing Highway To Hell at shouting volume 17 times in a row.
That's it , ladies, and hold that pose...
...Oh! Well that's disappointing...
Day 4 arrives. I don't feel over-well - part rum, part lobster abuse. Neil and Adam are both way beyond help. Sea-mad and rum-crazed, they batter each other and everyone else with foam flotation devices, weeping with laughter, ignorant of the ice cold fingers of death which clutch at their shoulders.
It's all I can do to feebly suck down a few more lagers at sunset. Neil hits his 60. I think I made 52. Adam is way too mad - crab crazy, a lobster loon, a rum cove from a cove full of rum - to know how much he's had. Alternating between tears of joy and the wretched snickering of the damned, he disintegrates in front of us. We can only salute his destruction, thanking Neptune for taking him first.
Yes, thank you Neil, I do believe I will have another.
Not even remotely scared. (Thanks Phil for the pic.)
It may readily be apparent that trying to get an extremely heavy motorcycle into a canoe, then sitting on it in open water for a nautical mile, then dragging it up a muddy bank, then riding it through a frightening river, then along a steep, wet gravel track through a jungle, with a Force 8 lobster hangover and - oh look! - no water, is something of a trial. Never mind - it's done, and I didn't die. Good.
*We don't really "have to', legally
** if there was a telly
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 10:11 PM
Why Are Pirates Called Pirates?*
21.1.09 Santiago, Panama
You might even conclude that I deserve to 'ave me collar felt, doing just over double the speed limit on the first stretch of proper road in an unfamiliar country. My attorney's rebuttal (or summink) will centre around the fact that it was a dual carriageway (which might be "2 lane blacktop" in the USA) and the speed limits were switching, seemingly at random, between 100 kmh and 50. Clearly, the primeval gobs of brain matter that control motorbikin' interpret this information as "do 120 everywhere". Case dismissed! Ah - beg pardon your honour.
As the radar-equipped bike cop signals me to stop, the dubiousness of my import permit and the total, actionable inadequacy of the sheet of A4 that I will have to proffer as "liability insurance" vanish from my mind, as the urge to Do The Right Thing takes hold. I pull in at the next lay-by. There's a little bit of a comedy Panamanian stand-off - the lay-by is 200 yards up the road, and we squint at each other, thinking either "Well, you stopped me mate - you come up here!" or "I'm the bloody copper pal - you come down here!" We meet in the middle.
There's the inevitable chit chat about "infractions" and "102 in a 50 zone" as we plod downhill to his tatty police Virago. Oooh! A copper on a chopper! The sum of fifty US dollars is mentioned, but not demanded, and then he pulls out a book of speeding tickets. I manage to pluck the necessary feathers of information from the burbling turkey of his Spanish. 50 bucks is to be paid at some weird office before I leave the country. It occurs to me at this point that - hey! - I won't bloody bother, but say I will.
This is the fulcrum of our encounter; the leverage moment after which a bribe becomes unnecessary. I nod mournfully, indicating - I hope - that
a: I really am most awfully sorry to have troubled him; that
b: I feel genuine remorse for my actions; and that
c: I have every intention of repaying my debt to society - to the tune of fifty smackeroos - at the nearest A.T.T.T. office (whatever in the blue-bottomed hell that might be).
Then I hand him my UK registration document and my UK driving licence (or amateurish copies thereof). There's a brief pause while he tries to decide which chunks of information - in English, obviously - are the relevant ones. I elect not to help, deciding instead that this is the moment to start audibly cooing over his bike (which is actually quite groovy - a Panama police 1100 Virago.)
Minutes pass. The speeding ticket has many boxes to fill in, and a UK registration document has many more. Importantly, I've made it clear that I'm not gonna bribe my way out of it. He folds: "too complicated!" and I'm on my way with a friendly warning. As I pull away, teeth a-chat with joy, I thank Booda he didn't ask to see my insurance.
*Because they Arrrrrrggghhhhh!
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 09:36 PM