We have all had them... days or weeks where the world seems to be against you, and where something or other just keeps going wrong. It may be the most minor things, but all clumped together, you are just flat out having a bad day! Well, that was the majority of Panama for us. To be very honest, Panama has been our least favorite country thus far. It was full of hassles, traffic, crazy drivers, poor service, swindlers, and rude people. Not just ordinary rude, this was next level rude that almost pushes you to the breaking point. Part of this definitely has to do with the fact that we were forced to spend some time in cities just waiting around for paperwork or the right time to process something or other with our vehicle. Nevertheless, this time deserves a chapter for recollection in our travel diary. (Caution, this post may be boring if you are not an overlander interested in the Darien Gap shipping process. Also, if you ever thought that this travel thing was all beautiful beaches and big adventures and fun, then here is a little look into the small things that we do day to day to make it happen. Little things like the stuff we talk about in this post, go wrong and unmentioned all the time, but in Panama they were back to back and relentless!) To clarify why we must ship the car, there is a large area of land at the Panama/Colombia border called the Darien Gap. This mountainous area of impassable thick jungle, armed rebels, and threatened indigenous groups is dangerous and has no roads connecting the two countries, matter of fact this is the only broken section of the PanAmerican Highway from Alaska to the tip of South America. Both governments have agreed to keep it this way as a disease, immigration and drug smuggling barrier. For those of us with vehicles, we must ship it from the Carribean port of Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.
First off, we left out something in the last blog, merely because it is better suited here... The part where after we left Boquete we went back to the border to have our temporary vehicle import permit revised. When we entered the country, we were given a handwritten Temporary Import Permit (TIP) that was lacking a VIN, motor number, and port of exit. We had a bad feeling that it was insufficient, but they insisted to us that it was okay. A few days later we verified that it was indeed crap, and would not be accepted to ship the car. We decided that taking a one hour detour back to the border would be easier than finding the Aduana (Customs) in Panama City. WRONG! Very wrong. Although it was clearly their fault for giving us an unaccaptable document, they refused to fix it without us leaving the country. That meant exiting Panama, going back in and out of Costa Rica, and then entering Panama to create a new TIP. Here we go again, they must know that border crossings are our favorite thing! ;) (To save on fees we only had Chris do it, and we never actually took the car out and back in, we just hid it, since they only needed a new entry stamp in Chris' passport to begin the process). This go around, EVERYTHING took a little longer and there were at least 4 or 5 additional hassles and steps included that somehow we dodged last time. This included being harrassed because our license plate is all letters, not having $500 cash on us, and dealing with lazy inefficient personal. After nearly three hours of this, we are finaly back in Panama with the correct version of paperwork! Whew! Chris now has an entire page of his passport stamped out as a lovely reminder of the ordeal.
|Waiting, waiting, and waiting|
|Welcome to Panama, again!|
|Panama Customs Office. Lady with our papers digging in her purse to find her phone and send a text, man in the back straight up watching a movie... That is how they roll.|
We need a police inspection done on the vehicle within a week of shipping, so we set our bearings towards Panama City. On the way we took a detour in search of an elusive waterfall campsite using some vague directions from our Lonely Planet. We made loops around the area only to end up at a dump, literally! We gave up on the waterfall and continued on while trying constantly for a bit a wifi to check our email because we are still trying to find the best way to get ourselves to Colombia! Wifi is hard to get and we found ourselves sitting in a booth at McDonalds (a place we would never be found at home) one too many times trying desperately for email updates!! That night we show up at what we thought was a RV campground, that would have been perfect for the next two nights, but of course, the campground is closed with a "For Sale" sign posted. No surprise, this happens sometimes... so we end up in a parking lot on the beach for the night... in the pouring rain! The next day we are in the same predicament. Need wifi, have no place to go, and not willing to shell out the money for a hotel for the next week. For some reason we decide going to the biggest mall in Central America will be the cure to our problems. But of course Panama conspired against us. We tried over a dozen coffee shops, diners, and other miscellaneous food joints asking for the wifi password if we bought food or drinks. Two outcomes would occur: either told "no wifi" even though there would be a half dozen people sitting around on their laptops, or the staff would not even look at us or speak to us (so much so we felt like we were in our own episode of the Twilight Zone - the Invisible Shoppers). On top of that, the mall advertised free wifi...which did not work. Sadly, when stuck in a city with nothing to do we improvised by spending our day by harnessing our inner senior citizens and basically did laps around the nice cool airconditioned mall for exercise for the rest of the day, then treated ourselves to a "fancy" dinner at TGIFridays (funny how the idea of fancy changes when you havent gotten a paycheck in 5 months)! Being a mall rat was a certainly a low point.
|Not the waterfall we were hoping for!|
|Thankful for our awning!|
|The nicest guy in the mall|
Throughout the country we had continually bumped into Michael and Veronika, and they had told us about a road that overlanders have been camping on for the past few decades within the city limits. Before there was internet to arrange all our shipping needs, overlanders would converge near the Balboa Yacht Club to arrange such details. Til this day it remains one of the only options for car camping in Panama City, so we were there! We spent a good chunk of the next day going back and forth from the police station for two seperate apointments, car inspection in the morning, and return again in the afternoon to pick up the paperwork. The inspection went smoothly, however driving in this abysmal city was painstaking, and to make matters worse we took a wrong turn end ended up on a toll road. We approached the toll booth and found that all three lanes required an electronic pass leaving no cash option. We awkwardly stopped in front of one of the gates and hollared into one of the booth windows, trying to get the point across that we did not have a pass. An older toll booth operator stepped out and asked to see Chris' license, so we handed him what he wanted. He looked it over, then lifted the gate and told us to pull over just past the booth, success! The toll operator walked up and demanded $10 otherwise he would not give back the liscense, wait WHAT!! Hell no, the toll was only $2, which we argued. He was stuck on $10, so Mallary flipped into her relentless persuasion mode and after ten minutes of debate he gave back the license and let us go with a "warning." A demand for a bribe and a warning from a toll booth operator was a first for both of us which til this day we still laugh about. Good try Panama, but we beat you this time.
|Balboa Yacht Club street camping|
|The projects across from the police station.|
|Lets hang out here for a while to get an inspection|
While at the Yacht Club we managed to take a nice bike ride over the causeway to some little island, which was cool except for the fact that the amazing view to the city scape was constantly blocked by a construction fence! Lame.
|The view we should've had... :(|