FerryXpress started their service in October with a car ferry from Italy. The voyage takes 18 hours. Before October, because the southern part of Panama is virtually impassable, all motorcycles and vehicles were shipped to South America by freighter. They can go as cargo (and are often robbed of every removable part by the ship’s crew), or they can go locked in a container. Either way is expensive, complicated and can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month. Drivers, passengers and dogs get to fly, or charter a boat.
We got up at 4 to drive to the Colon ferry terminal as we were told to be there by 8 AM. Once there, we were told that we couldn’t start the boarding/customs/import/export process until about 9. We were soon joined by other “overlanders”, 8 people on motorcycles, a bicyclist and an Argentinian who was returning home after traveling in his van through Central America. These were the only vehicles, even though the ferry can carry at least 200 cars.
By 10 we were taking pictures of Capi’s new best friend, Katherine from FerryXpress. Katherine cheerfully and competently guided us all through each step of the paperwork process. Our paperwork was reviewed repeatedly, with occasional visits to Customs to get more papers processed, or to get more photocopies.
The “dog police” were supposed to arrive at noon. So we waited. They arrived at 5, after we had moved the truck and pulled all our bags out to be x-rayed. The bags were never x-rayed but were inspected by two drug dogs, who liked Capi and loved the smell of her dog chow. Then everything went back in the truck and we waited.
In the meantime at least 300 foot passengers had arrived, laden with huge bags of merchandise from the Black Friday sales. Everyone wanted to pet Capi. The noise, confusion and heat started getting to us.
Around 7 PM, Bill loaded the truck on the ferry. Nancy and Capi had to wait on shore. By this time, everyone knew Capi’s name and she was starting to lose her wag. After that there was a confused rush to get boarding passes, clear immigration and walk through an airport style security check. They confiscated Bill’s Leatherman multitool, oblivious to the fact that we have a machete and kitchen knives in the truck.
Finally we boarded the ferry, but had to wait on the car deck for the dog inspectors to deliver Capi’s papers. Then, of course, she didn’t have a ticket. They said she wouldn’t be allowed to disembark in Colombia if she didn’t have a ticket. A short twenty minutes later, she had her ticket and the ferry departed.
When we arrived at reception to get the key to our stateroom, we were told Capi wouldn’t be in our stateroom, but would be in a box on deck. Capi, who by this time was a frazzled wreck, took one look at the box and started to wail. We looked at the dog, looked at the box and decided to stay with her.
I come from a long line of sailors. I was told great Uncle Frank drowned at sea, so my grandmother never ate shellfish. Frank was probably seasick. My father got seasick. My brother gets seasick and I get seasick. There was a 25 knot wind running across a 16 foot swell creating an almighty slop. The lightly laden MV Adriatico is a very lively vessel and the stateroom was a lovely black airless box well forward in the action. Napping on the aft deck in a dog kennel was a lot more comfortable than the stateroom, so Capi got the deck and I got the box. We were both happier.
The ferry is a lovely ship, with restaurants, bars, a playroom for kids and even a spa. Most of the crew are Italian and have been on it for a while. The vessel is on 6 month contract with FerryXpress, and we are hoping it continues beyond that. Perhaps if the vehicle process was streamlined, they may get more traffic. But it’s great while it lasts.