The border crossing was less chaotic but less organized than the rest. The dog was examined by the vet, and the fee was $10, or $20 or $130 that had to be paid at the bank 4 blocks away which closed at 3 and the paperwork was not ready until 2:45. Then we didn’t need the paperwork to go to the bank, just a deposit slip to deposit the money to the government only it was the wrong wording on the deposit slip and the stress increased. Finally the bank took the money, Bill had the truck papers, the dog papers, the immigration papers and the duplicate copies for the customs and we were in Panama.
We followed the ioverlander app suggestion to camp at a swimming hole that our map called a spa, set up our home and slept like babies. But only for an hour. I awoke to a threatening growl, deep and throaty. The growl was followed by a mean sounding bark, and we were surrounded by light. Bill went out and yelled “Police” at me and “Hello” at them. Two officers were loudly asking something in Spanish. Bill said quietly “no habla Espagnol” The officers went quiet. Bill said “Canada”. The officers said “Canada! No problemo” and left. Crazy Canadians.
Early the next morning I went down to the stream for a bath, and found a local had beaten me to it. I waited my turn, then splashed around and lathered up, watched by a rufous coloured heron and a white heron. Something bumped me underwater. I was in a school of little fish. Fantastic. Or maybe not. Are piranhas small, slim, clear grey and snub nosed? And what was the larger fish? Whatever they were, they weren’t hungry.
As we drove away, the head fell off the lucky Cheshire Cat that bobbles on our dashboard. We should have known then that the day was going downhill.
We realized that the paperwork for the mandatory Panama car insurance was not there. We had bought it, as that was the first step in getting the truck imported into Panama, but there was no paper for it.
Bill drives and Nancy navigates. Bill has better depth perception and the aggression needed to squeeze the truck threw insane traffic. Plus, we have been told that the owner of the truck, whose name is on the papers, is the insured driver in some countries. Bill is the sole owner. Nancy can organize the maps, monitor the hazards, handle the GPS and trackers and recharge the devices needed to support us: even the flashlight is rechargeable. Everybody has ignored the speed limits since we crossed the border into Mexico. The speed limit appears to be a modest suggestion from the government, nothing more. But not in Panama.
In Panama the police standing around everywhere actually enforce the speed limit, by handing out tickets and non-tickets. The first time it happened the officer told Bill he was going 76 Kph in a 60 Kph area, and he could pay the ticket of $50 or the non-ticket for $20. We have been advised to insist that we pay any tickets at the police station and not pay an officer. In this case, the officer had flagged us over at the police station. Bill opted for the non-ticket. A short time later we were stopped again. We had exceeded the 80 Kph speed limit passing a slow motorcycle. Same scenario: a fine of $50 for a written ticket or $20 for a non-ticket. Same response, but after that we obeyed the speed limit.
We found out that we have to get the truck inspected in Panama City for export to Colombia so changed our destination for the day to a hotel in Balboa in Panama City. As we got nearer, the GPS started acting up. It eventually transpired that the GPS maps were ancient and conflicting. The GPS would indicate a right turn but call for a left turn, or the screen would do a 180 degree flip. We ended up in the Black Friday inspired shopping chaos in a busy street in a mob of people carrying flat screen TVs and a solid mass of cars. Eventually we ended up on a wide street with few cars with Nancy screaming “I don’t care where it goes, just stay on it” while the GPS kept demanding “Turn Left”
On the 5th attempt we got to the hotel in Balboa. No dogs. I asked to use their internet and got a list of hotels that take dogs. We headed off to the Westin, on the beach across the Canal from the City. We only got lost once on the way to the Westin, as we alternated between ignoring and following the GPS.
The Westin was a walled compound on the beach. Pleasant, but obviously a destination resort. I asked about a room. $199 a night for two people, and the dog program cost $250. The dog program was non-refundable. We left and drove around the neighborhood. The next hotel didn’t take dogs over 10 Kg or, it seemed Rottweilers and Spaniels. The village nearby was cheerful, but poor, and, as we drove past a crippled man and some destitute looking families, I wondered what Westin did with their money. What they charged for a dog would equal an annual income for some people.
But it was getting dark, we had been driving for 11 hours, were desperately needed good Wi-Fi to download new maps, and we have done worse things with our money, so we went back to the Westin.
They loved Capi. Kids and staff petted her in the lobby. They arranged for the room to be stocked with toys, bowls and a dog bed and took an $800 deposit. We unloaded our bags from the truck and asked the valet to park it nearby so we could leave the dog in it when we went to the restaurant. We were on the way to the room when a woman approached us and asked us if we had a box. She told us the dog had to be moved to and from the room in a box. We could let the dog out of the box in the room, but she should be in a box in the room. Nancy told her we had a box, but it would have to be unpacked, and we weren’t willing to do that, and, besides, how do you carry a 19Kg dog in a box through the hallways, 5 or 6 times a day? We suggested we use a side entrance. She said that was impossible. She said that the pool area was off limits. Bill left in frustration. Nancy continued to protest. Upshot was, Bill got his money back and we left the hotel in the dark, with rough directions to a potential hotel at an airport on the far side of Panama City.
We got lost several times but in less than 2 hours we arrived tired and bedraggled at the hotel Riande Aeropuerto. They made so little fuss about the dog that we were half expecting to get thrown out when someone realized we had her. But no, she is welcome at the Riande.
Now we need to solve the problem of the missing insurance document, get the export permits for the car and the dog and Monday is a civil holiday.