Panama – Stahlratte

I left around 4am on November 5th to catch a plane to Miami. After 14h, I was landing in Montreal. My uncle Jean was kindly waiting for me at the airport. We chatted about many different things over some wonderful pasta downtown. He then dropped me off at the small apartment I booked for the week. I spent most of the week preparing for my interview with the IESE Business School on the 11th. My family joined me in Montreal for the weekend. It was my brother’s birthday on the 7th and we celebrated together. I was happy to see them all and we had a great weekend.

IESE has been my top choice for a business school since I have been seriously evaluating my options. It features a bilingual program (English and Spanish), a student body that is 85% international, uses the case study method in classes, is located in Barcelona and is one of the top 10 business schools in the world. I had my interview on the 11th and believe that it went well. I had practiced most questions that I was asked. I took a plane to New York the following day which was a connection to Barcelona. I arrived in Barcelona just in time for breakfast on the 13th. I had registered to attend an Open Day at IESE on the 14th and the Assessment Day on the 15th. The Open Day was a great experience. We had a good presentation covering the MBA program and we did a case study with a marketing professor. I loved it. An alumni then spoke about his experience before leaving the stage to three current students. We then toured the campus before meeting in the cafeteria for cocktails. It was very entertaining to meet with other prospective students, current students and the admission team. I went out for dinner with a small group including my interviewer in Montreal. I was impressed with the other students. They were all smart, interesting and from very different backgrounds.

The next day was the Assessment Day. Even though it was not mandatory to attend, they strongly advise to do so. I woke up after sleeping for a full 4h due to jet lag. We all met at 9h30 and sat in a classroom at 10h. The 50 students or so were split in two groups of 4 teams. The first thing we did is present ourselves in front of the others for about 2 minutes. We were then given a case study to prepare with our team within an hour. We had to prepare a 20 minutes presentation on the situation, the problems and our potential solutions. After an hour that went by way too fast, we all gathered in the cafeteria for lunch. All four teams presented in the afternoon. Once again, I think that it went well for me, but the admission officers were hard on students. Once again, I was impressed with the quality of the other students. I thought it was such a great experience to be surrounded by all these awesome people. I felt like despite our different nationality, background, native language and appearance, we were all so alike. It was the first time I felt that way. During the whole day, other students’ comments and stories kept convincing me that IESE was the best environment for my MBA.

Some students were catching planes that same night, but we formed a group of 15 students to go out that night. We met on La Rambla and ended up in some other place for dinner. I got to know my new friends much better and had a great night. Everyone was very outgoing and interesting. I came back to my hostel around 5am that night.

I spent another 2 days in Barcelona. I walked around town quite a bit and sent my fancy clothes back home in a box. My plane to Panama via Miami was leaving at noon on the 18th. I arrived in Panama about 26h after I woke up that day around 10pm local time.

November 19th: Panama City

My bike was still behind the steel doors at the Lemon Inn B&B. I took some time in the morning to organize my stuff before heading out to the Panama Canal. It was about 8km away, so not a big ride. I was expecting it to be a major attraction and was surprised to ride a very narrow road up to the locks. There was a big visitor center at the end of this road. I paid the 15$ visitor fee and went in. The locks were on the other side of the building and I climbed to the second floor to have a better view. It was very impressive to think that the whole system had been built 100 years ago. I then met with Ryan and Joel from British Colombia. They were also riders, but took the bus to visit the locks. They were booked to board the same boat to Cartagena the next day. We chatted for a bit and then visited the various exhibition. When leaving the center, we agreed to make plans over the internet for dinner. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my stuff ready for the next day.

Jenny and Ricardo, the B&B owners, were finishing their new hostel wing that night. I tried to help them with some difficulties they were having. They then signed the map. They were both great people and had been very helpful with my situation! I then headed out to the shopping center where I was meeting with Joel and Ryan. While waiting by the front door, I met a very interesting man named Hernan. He was from Venezuela and was the owner of a cake factory. He told me how he got shot in his car through the mouth. The bullet had shattered his jaw and he had been through many surgeries since then. I could still see the bullet mark on both of his cheeks. He confirmed what other told me about the situation in Venezuela right now. Then Ryan and Joel arrived and we went upstairs for dinner. I had a great night as I really enjoyed chatting with them. Even though they are brothers, they were two different characters in a good way.

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Jenny and Ricardo

November 20th: Panama City to Port of Carti – 135km

I was ready to go by 9.30am. The road to the port in Carti took me 2h. It got very twisty and nice in the last 50km. I arrived at the port facing the ocean and could see the Stahlratte out far. It turned out that I was not in the right side of the port. I rode on a small path and almost ran into a small restaurant by crossing a creek on a 2×6. I parked the bike on the dock next to another. Then Joe and Tom arrived together. Miguel came to get us with a smaller boat. We took all our luggage off the bikes and boarded the boat towards the Stahlratte. There, we installed our stuff on our bunk bed and grabbed a beer to chill out on the top deck. We met with captain Ludwig, and the two other crew members, Olivia and Sacha. The crew had cooked a delicious lunch and we started eating when Joel and Ryan showed up on the dock. Soon they were eating with us. The Stahlratte was very impressive. It was built in 1903 and was still in great condition. The reinforcement brackets were obviously cut with a torch and nothing was symmetric on that ship. Nevertheless, it is still up and floating after more than 110 years of abuse.

The crew dropped us on a small island filled with small huts where they were celebrating 2 young girls who were having their first period. For them, the girls were now women. I heard that another biker just arrived on the ship and decided to go back there with the crew. I met with Nate who I had not seen for more than three months by then. I was happy to see him and I had so many questions I wanted to ask. We boarded the small boat together and chatted before reaching the others. We were then all dropped on a small island inhabited by a family. We played Frisbee and I chatted quite a bit with Nate before we were called for dinner. We then played cards for a while before going to sleep in a hut.

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November 21st: Stahlratte

The crew came to get us around 9am. We were starting to eat breakfast when the other travelers (not riders) arrived from the port. We all got to know each other around the main table. A few hours later, the ship was sailing towards our first destination: the San Blas Islands. After an easy 3h sail, we were stopping next to three islands that looked like paradise. We had a BBQ on the beach and spent some time hanging out afterwards. At night, we observed many sea rays swimming around the ship.

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Floating market

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Proudly built in 1903

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November 22nd: Stahlratte

We would spend the whole day stationary between those islands before sailing towards Cartagena the next day. I really wanted to explore the marine life around the islands. A soon as I was done eating breakfast, I put on some snorkeling gear available on the ship and jumped in the ocean. I saw many interesting things underwater and tons of different types of fish. Before I knew, I had been in the water for over 3h. By that time, most people had been snorkeling as well. I spent the rest of the day reading, swimming and resting.

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November 23th: Stahlratte

At 5am, the ship started moving. It did not take much time for me to feel sick in my bed. The ship was rocking and my stomach did not like it. I popped a few pills and ran upstairs to get some fresh air. I tried staying focused on looking out at the horizon. At 5.30am, I was seriously asking myself why I booked that boat in the first place instead of a bigger one. The captain told us that we would arrive in Cartagena some 30h later. Looking at my watch almost every minute, it seemed like a gigantic task to keep my meals for myself until then. By 7am, I started feeling better. I could walk around without too many problems and was starting to be in “sync” with the rocking motion of the boat. My pills made me feel very sleepy and I slept outside on a long chair for most of the day. At dinner, I was able to eat properly and then finished reading the book I bought in Barcelona. I slept outside under the main table that night. The air was cooler and the stars were beautiful. I was happy that I had not been sick like many others that day.

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November 24th: Stahlratte

I once again was up around 5am. Cartagena was in front of us as the sun was rising. With good currents and some sailing boost, we made the trip in 24h instead of 30h. I did not complain. Soon enough, the rocking motion stopped and we were floating still in the bay next to Cartagena. After breakfast, we took the smaller boat to get to shore. The custom agent barely looked at each of our face before we headed back to the Stahlratte. We all packed our stuff and went back to shore. Ryan, Joel, Nate and I all took the same cab towards the Mamallena Hostel that I had previously booked. They had space for everyone and we all went out for lunch together after dropping off our luggage. We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling. At night, we ran into most of the ship group who were sitting outside at a restaurant. They were waiting for their passports and we ended up all eating together.

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Captain Ludwig and Olivia

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Main table on top deck

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Port of Cartagena

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