Panama – or how to get on the ferry when the ferry doesn’t want you

Sat, Dec 20

6am: Drop Nikki’s sister off at the airport in Liberia. Drive 450km to the Panama border.

2pm: Arrive at the border. Check out of Costa Rica. Get ripped off by the exit fee people, skip the line of the bus that has just arrived (cutting off 45 minutes of wait time)

2:30pm: Cross over to Panama. Sit in the middle of an intersection and block traffic as a “parking spot.” Get insurance first, then go through migracion, then through customs. Split the tasks to cut down on waiting times.

3:30pm: Wait forever in line behind a tourist bus group.

4:00pm: Get to the front of the line. Border officer asks to see $500 in cash or a bank statement (standard for Panama). Pull out all the cash in your pockets and start awkwardly giving/showing it to the border officer who immediately steps back, starts waving his hands in the air saying “no! no! no!” Didn’t want to give the impression that he was taking a bribe.

5:00pm: Get stuck in customs for the car because it’s the Saturday before Christmas, and everyone else is bribing the officials to skip the line.

6pm: Find out that the insurance documents have our data completely wrong. No, it’s not a Mercedes. And the VIN does not match. Find out that the insurance office is closed for dinner. Find another insurance office and buy new insurance.

6:30pm: Type the vehicle information into customs computer yourself because the lady there wasn’t able to get it right after trying 3 times. Sit at her computer, in her office.

6:45pm: Ask for a refund from the insurance company that typed all the information incorrectly – surprisingly easy, she just handed over the cash without any questions.

7pm: Discuss with fumigation guys why our car is not a bus. Pay up for being declared a bus.

7:15pm: Leave the border area after 5 hours and drive to David, Panama, on an American-style highway.

8:00pm: Eat at TGI Fridays. Because that’s what you do when you arrive in Panama.

9:00pm: Camp in police station parking lot where you have to be out by 5AM before the next boss got in.

Sun, Dec 21

6am: Leave one hour late from the police station, nobody cares. Continue the journey to Panama City. Expect the awesome road quality to continue, only to be shocked by a 50km stretch of the worst highway possible.

1pm: Cross the Panama Canal

1:30pm: Find a pet shop and make an appointment for a health certificate for the dog

2:00pm: Get some new headlight bulbs for the car at a store that somewhat resembles Walmart but smaller and with more stuff (i.e. better).

2:30pm: Get a health certificate at the pet shop, get dog’s blood tested. Find out dog is healthy.

3:30pm: Drive to hotel near Panama Canal for the best wifi in months.

8:00PM: Eat at TGIFridays again, because that’s now what we do (in Panama?).

Mon, Dec 22

7:45am: Show up at FerryXpress office before they’re open. Be the first one in the office.

8am: Spend 30 minutes finding out why car shipping isn’t possible right now. Get all kinds of answers. Give all kinds of responses and reasons why they should take us. Find a well-meaning manager who promises to check what is possible and if an exception can be made.

9am: Arrive at DIJ office for police inspection. Be positively surprised when we’re out of there by 9:25am because we’re overprepared.

10am: Go to Ministerio Agropecuario to get a dog export permit. Find out that the doctor won’t be there until 3PM to endorse the document. Ask for alternative solutions. Get sent to the office where there currently is a doctor by the really nice staff.

11am: Go to another Ministry office. Wait for the doctor for 20 minutes. Get the signature. No questions.

12pm: Get stuck in awful traffice while trying to find a place to fix a camera. Change some money. Head towards Mercedes dealership to buy oil for our next oil change (in 8k miles – we have the time). Get into a fight.

12:30pm: Get an email from FerryXpress titled “Good News.” Quit everything, go straight to the DIJ office for more paperwork which supposedly isn’t done until 2:00pm. Get nervously excited. Not fighting anymore.

1:30pm: Show up at DIJ office 30 minutes early. Only one person can go in. Get nervous that something might go wrong. Make up a reason why the papers must be done before 2PM. DIJ then carries out the paperwork before officially opening at 2pm.

2:20pm: Run out of DIJ office with permit in hand. Paper work – done.

2:45pm: Get back to FerryXpress office, book a ticket for Wednesday sailing. Charged as a motorcycle. Not going to argue.

3:30pm: Book another night at the hotel to calm down a little bit. Still nervously excited.

4:00pm: Have some beers at a nearby restaurant (not TGI!!!).

Tue, Dec. 23

6:00am: Wake up to take dog out. Have dog run away. Assume someone stole her. Keep calling her.

6:25am: The dumpster diver comes back looking guilty.

10am: Go to Albrook Mall to find a new camera. Find out there are huge lines everywhere, obviously.

11am: Decide on the camera model and start shopping around every camera store in the mall. Including driving from one end of the mall to the other.

12pm: Negotiate a discount with a camera store and walk out with a new, very well priced, camera.

1pm: Book another hotel room, because we’re used to it by now.

2pm: Spend the rest of the day trying to not be nervous.

7:00pm: Eat at TGI Fridays (aaahh). Celebrate potentially the last night in Panama.

Wed, Dec. 24

6:30am: Leave Panama City, get on the toll road to Colon.

7:30am: Arrive in Colon, find out nobody there will show up for paperwork until 9 or 10.

8:00am: People on motorcycles show up for the same paperwork. Tell us that the ferry’s not taking any cars.

9:30am: Find out that insurance offices in Colombia are closed today. Ferry won’t let vehicles board without this insurance. Frantically try to find every insurance company phone number in Colombia. Observe one motorcyclist threatening the Ferryxpress employees saying he’s getting on the ferry and they’d have to shoot him to stop him.

9:35am: Ask the motorcyclist to calm down and play nice.

9:45am: Continue looking up insurance companies online that sell SOAT and give numbers to Ferryxpress. More motorcycles show up!

10am: Find out one of the motorcyclists has a relative in insurance, in Colombia! Raise your hopes on being able to get something done. But won’t know until much later.

11am: Proceed to hand in copies of all your documents for customs. Wait in the heat.

12pm: Continue to wait in the heat.

12:30am: Backpacker walks by and mentions he saw us at the Ferryxpress office the other day – talking with the employees a lot. Asks why we are there since the ferry doesn’t take cars. We deflect the question. He moves on.

2:30pm: Ferry arrives, docks perpendicular to the ferry terminal. Use of  the car ramp is now possible.

2:45pm: Backpacker comes back for his second round of interrogation. But how do we plan on getting the car on the boat if they don’t take cars… We explain that we simply don’t know. He gives us a look and moves on and tells us we can’t even bring water onto the boat, in addition to cars..

3pm: Go through customs. Get vehicle VIN number checked. Find out that Panama customs has accidentally stamped the car out of the country 2 days ago (!!!). Explain that this must be a mistake since we are in Panama right now.

3:30pm: Wait for customs boss to arrive. Customs boss gets upset. Show him our online hotel reservations to prove that we were actually in Panama the past two days. Customs boss fills out a bunch of paperwork and rushes us to get in the car and “drive”.

3:45pm: The car is on the ferry!!! Captain of the ferry comes down to ensure all is set. The ferry gets turned to be parallel to the ferry terminal.

4pm: Colombian relative of our new motorcycle friend figures out a way to get insurance. It’s overpriced, but we happily take it.

4:30pm: Animal “inspection” completed. Try to figure out where and how to board with dog. Get 5 different answers.

5pm: Get told that a crate is absolutely required for a dog because of Colombian regulations. Tell FerryXpress that we don’t have a crate. Get told that we can’t board without one. Tell FerryXpress that we’ve been here for 10 hours and nobody told us about this. Get told we have to figure out a way to get one by the super-unfriendly supervisor. The only negative interaction all day.

5:20pm: Get really nervous. Find an officer from the K9 unit to help us, after asking to buy one of his crates off him. Find another FerryXpress employee whose father has a vet clinic. Get offered a crate for $150.

5:30pm: Get in a cab. Drive to the nearest mall. Have taxi driver help you pick out a nice crate for your dog. Meanwhile, announcement comes on that they forgot to fuel up the ship so will be delayed.

5:45pm: Victoriously present the dog crate at the ferry terminal.

6pm: Get in line for baggage check.

6:45pm: Get told that crate is oversize luggage, requiring an extra charge. Explain to the baggage manager that we won’t pay. Get crate on for free. They put it in storage – we thought we needed this?

7:00pm: Get in line for check-in.

8pm: Find out that other people have dogs on board without crates. Flip out at the supervisor. Also get checked in.

9pm: Get stamped out of Panama. Go through security. Board the ferry.

9:15pm: See the car safely parked on Deck 3. Get Leika’s stuff out. Ferryxpress employee recommends to put unnecessary crate in car.

9:30pm: Put dog in kennel provided by ferry, go to room. Realize it all worked out. Leave Colon 2 hours delayed.

9:45pm: Buy a small bottle of champagne. Realize what just happened and that we hadn’t eaten since 6am, champagne goes straight to our heads.

Thu, Dec. 25

6am: Wake up with Nikki feeling seasick.

3pm: Arrive in Cartagena, 2 hours late. Get excited.

3:45pm: Drive car off ramp, park next to ferry.

4pm: Go through immigration while one of us waits with dog.

4:30pm: Go through dog paperwork with woman from ICA. Help her fill out forms. Pay her.

5pm: Go through customs.

5:15pm: Motorcycle friend pulls up with insurance papers that we overpaid for. Asks for another $25.

5:30pm: Get vehicle inspected by customs and then ICA. Encounter no issues.

6:30pm: Drive off into the imaginary sunset!!!!! With a dozen motorcycle friends. Sunset was 1 hour ago.

6:35pm: Motorcyclist girlfriend from ferry asks for a ride into the old part of town. Why not? No better way to end than driving through narrow, crowded streets.


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