18 - 26 September
Well here we are in Panama and our priority is to get the vehicle shipped to Ecuador. For those of you who are wondering why we are shipping at all, there is no road between Panama and South America, as the area known as the Darien Gap is rain forest. Therefore we have decided to ship into Guayaquil in Ecuador and have had a very positive meeting with shipping agent Maricarmen Arauz at Panama Shipping International. They seem to have a lot of experience in this type of thing and know the documentation process. We have to take the vehicle to the police so that they can confirm it is not a stolen vehicle, then to customs for checking and then back to the police to complete the first part of the documentation. Worried that my Spanish was not up to that we were only to happy to accept their offer of assistance and arranged to meet their representative at their offices on Monday morning. In the meantime, Maricarmen promised to shop around for the best shipping rates, space and dates. So, here we go, we will definitely be here until Monday, at least, probably much longer but we both felt that we had made a positive start and are very grateful to Adrian Holmes and Nora Castillo of C B Fenton for their help in recommending Panama Shipping International.
Spent some time sorting out the boxes and packed up maps, guidebooks and clothes that we don’t think we will need on our journey South into two boxes. Lesson learned – too many clothes. Should have taken a tip from Nikkis T Shirt “Before your journey – lay out the clothes and money which you expect to take – than take half the clothes and double the money”!
When we first visited Panama Shipping, we took a taxi rather than wander around Panama, so in preparation for our meeting on Monday, we bought a map and headed off on a trial run – we have to be there by 0830am and, as with other cities, the early morning rush is unbelievable so we needed to make sure we know where we are going in the maze of one way streets that is Panama. We are still attracting attention, on the way back from our “recce” we met Jan Masek, a character from Alaska. Although living and doing business in Panama at the moment, he still breeds huskies in Fairbanks who have taken part in the famous Iditarod races. What a character, gave us some tips about Panama whilst buying a stack of “designer perfumes” from a street salesman for $20! Maybe should have bought some myself at those prices!
The following day, we awoke to a massive storm which had been raging for most of the night and some of the streets were badly flooded. The drivers are bad enough as it is here but the potholes, the floods and the colourful buses which push in everywhere made for an interesting drive which took us along the front and into the old town – two very different locations - from the modern banking sector to the maze of tiny, narrow streets in the old town. Apart from the flooding and the strange one way system, we got caught up in a religious procession around the Cathedral and the main road out was closed for the Market. We seemed to be going round and round in circles for a while before we eventually found our way out. Fortunately we made it back to the hotel in time to meet Adrian and Cathy for dinner. We enjoyed a great evening with wonderful company – many thanks to you both.
Big day today at the agents. Up at 6am and on the road by 7am to beat the rush hour and arrived at the agents 0730 – an hour early – you know JC he can’t bear to be late for anything – he’d been awake from 3am waiting for the alarm to go off! Thank goodness we had a Spanish speaker with us on our trek around the police and the customs! The only difficulty was that he didn’t speak English so every time he needed to know something which we couldn’t understand he had to ring the office and we did a translation over the phone. First stop police compound to check the engine number etc and the paperwork. We waited in an area filled with impounded cars, whilst a couple of guys went around the vehicle doing their checks. What a place – although surrounded by a high fence, most of the fence had fallen over and the homes around the area looked decidedly dodgy with police on most corners – even our helper with no English made us understand that it was a dangerous area. What a day – our first problem was that the customs officers at the border had mis-typed one digit of our vin number so the registration document and the temporary import document did not match up! Don’t know what we would have done if we had been faced with this on our own – probably driven back to the border to get it amended – but our helper took us to customs who issued a new form – easy when you know how! Lesson learned – check everything! Back at the compound, the police were now happy and at 1030am we made arrangements to return there, meet with our representative at 1pm and, hopefully, collect the necessary documents which the police would prepare in the meantime. At 1pm on the dot John and our helper went into the police station and didn’t come out until 4.30pm. I actually thought that it would get to 5pm and they would come out and say we had to go back again the following day! With tales of very large armed police wandering around inside, sitting in the line of fire whilst security guards were emptying an ATM machine inside and plain clothes detectives wandering around with bags full of confiscated guns, I was glad that I had stayed in the vehicle, where locked in I watched the strange mix of people come and go. At one point I looked up and saw what I thought was someone “hot-wiring” a car but what was actually someone who had just arrived, removed the rotor arm, went to the police, came back re-fitted the rotor arm and drove away. Obviously taking no chances that his run down, battered and rusty old car would be stolen! I was very glad to see JC and get on our way out of there! After a very long day we were both glad of a drink in the bar that night, despite the fact that we still didn’t have a shipping date!
The following day good news from the agent with shipping date of 1st October. We had not really expected it to be any sooner – trouble is we are getting too comfortable at the Country Inn and Suites, where we now know all of the staff by their first names. No paperwork to attend to today so we went up to Miraflores Locks – the Panama Canal and had lunch on the terrace watching one ship and a catamaran go through. Can’t imagine what the catamaran must pay to go through there unless he just “hitched a ride” with the other ship??
Homes around the police compound..... Panama Canal what we expected..... We waited and............
She entered the lock........... The waters dropped.................. The gates opened.............. and she's on her way to the Pacific
She made it through too............................
Spent a lot of time going over our route and itinerary for South America and relaxing as tomorrow will be another day of documentation and visits to the police and customs as the stamp in JCs passport which gives details of the car has to be removed before he can fly out of Panama and we can only get this done by going along with a draft Bill of Lading or confirmation of shipping date email etc. So we will meet again with the agents and are hoping that once this is done, we can get the vehicle into a container ready for shipping. Once this is done we should be able to fly out of here to Guayaquil from where we are hoping to take a trip to the Galapagos Islands before the Toyota arrives. Lets keep our fingers crossed for that.
Another day, another hurdle – today we were expecting to get the vehicle stamped out of JCs passport. No luck – we went to the correct customs office with a shipping confirmation, got the correct documents from them but were then told that the “system” has changed and that we can’t get the stamp out until the vehicle is physically loaded into the container! Our agent is doing her best but we still don’t know when we can load the vehicle or when we can leave the country. In despair we left her and went to comfort eat ice cream whilst waiting for her telephone call. Heard nothing further yesterday so you will have to wait until next week’s update to find out how we get on from here.
It’s very frustrating all of this waiting around and we have to keep each other’s spirits up but it’s a 100% improvement on waiting in Fairbanks and, as we sat outside at the Yacht Club last night, having supper with the lights of a distant island twinkling and the large ships making their way into the canal, we thought “its not such a bad place to be”.
Hope you don’t find this update too boring. Keep your fingers crossed for a much more positive update next week!
POST SCRIPT – Just heard that we can go and get the vehicle out of JC’s passport at 1:30pm today. We could be on our way soon!