Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crossing into Panama

Daryll writes:

There are three land border crossings from Costa Rica into Panama, the Pan-American Hwy., a northern crossing close the the Caribbean Sea and a somewhat central crossing that we were intending to take as all reports that I read indicated that this central crossing was laid back and not much traffic passed through it.  It is an adventure after all and as our plans change daily, we decided to cross at the more busy Pan-American Hwy. crossing after our stay with Norman in San Jose as he had offered us a few nights at his home in Panama, 30 minutes away from the border. 

So it was the busy border crossing.  Exiting Costa Rica took all of 15 minutes.  Entering Panama on the other hand took about 3,5 hrs.  It was insanity.  Start off at Migracion and that’s a good 30 minutes of lining up to get to one official working at the counter and trying to keep your spot from people trying to barge in from the sides.  Once our passports were stamped, I was off to buy insurance for the bikes as the customs officer won’t process the paperwork without proof of insurance.  That’s another 30 minutes of waiting for the young girl to enter in all our information in-between talking on her cell phone.  Then it was off to the customs line up together with 20 other truckers and helpers all pushing their way and handing in their documents.  The helpers know the 2 officials working the desk by name and continue to yell out to them to take their documents ahead of everyone else, and they do.  So it is a frustrating hour getting our paperwork processed.  Once we have the right paperwork for the bikes, it is off to the Fumigation desk to pay and have the bikes fumigated and I happened to be there at a shift change so had to wait another 20 minutes for the new person to get ready and take my payment and documents.  Once the bikes were fumigated, we suit up and say goodbye to a frustrating few hours at the border, or so we think.  I knew that there was a checkpoint about 5km from the border, so we get stopped and the customs official that checks our documents isn’t happy and wants us to go back to the border as we are missing one stamp and another officials signature on the back of our bike import permits.  What we missed or what the officials missed was to physically inspect our bikes, ensure that we weren’t trying to smuggle anything into the country and put their autograph on the back.  The guy at the checkpoint was really nice about it and phoned ahead to let the officials at the border know that we were coming back.  So back we go.  Now there is a military checkpoint set-up, which wasn’t there a few minutes prior and we now have to explain why we are going back to the border.  As we ride up to the border, an official is waiting for us, directs us to park and takes our documents and starts yelling at another guy for obviously failing to check our bikes.   The guy that just got yelled at comes over to inspect our bikes and you just know he is going to make us pay for the shit he just got into.  He starts with Angela’s bike and wants to know what’s inside the panniers, so we explain.  Not good enough as he wants to look inside.  Off comes the rear tire, off comes the waterproof bag, so that we can get into the pannier.  All of our items in our panniers are in separate stuff sacks, so merely looking at them won’t give you an idea of what’s inside the stuff sack.  He feels around the different stuff sacks for a few seconds, still not knowing what’s inside and is satisfied that we were not trying to smuggle drugs into Panama.  While Ang is re-packing her bike, he comes over to my tank pannier and starts feeling around.  I have my DSLR camera, a video camera and other bits and bobs in there and he is satisfied and signs and stamps the documents and off we go for the second time.  Go through the same military checkpoint where we get asked for our drivers license.  I show them the originals as there are way too many officials around for one person to ask for a bribe.  We chat about the bikes for a few minutes and off we go to the customs checkpoint further down the road.  He is happy with our new stamp and signature and make it to Norm’s place in the rain. 

Our gear being dried from the 2nd floor
Norm was a dairy farmer in England but now lives in Panama.  Before moving to Panama, he also spent a few years in Costa Rica.  We had an amazing evening with him in San Jose over several beers.  Norm has an amazing property with 4 dogs and 6 monkeys.  He has one of his son’s close friends (Alex) spend a few months of the year with him in Panama and Alex was expecting us.  That evening, I went to bed around 8pm as I was just beat from the day’s events.  We spent the last 2 days catching up on laundry, emails, blog and I got some bike maintenance done as well.  Thanks Norm for your generosity.  We really appreciated the down time at your place.  We head off tomorrow.

New photos added to the Panama photo album.
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  1. Hi Guys, Just a quick note to congratulate you on your journey so far and also to say what a great blog you have. Keep up the great work! Cheers from the bottom of the world :) Nick a.k.a. kiwionabike

  2. Awesome day! Not sure I could have handled it as well

    Just think, in a few days you’ll be trading your riding gear for a swimming suit and the bikes for a boat. Find a deserted island and play Pirates of the Caribbean.


  3. I am so excited about the sailing bit. I've never sailed before, so it is definitely going to be a new experience.

  4. Hi Nick,
    Thank you for your kind words. You also have a nice looking blog. Yes, the HUBB is a wealth of information to research for your next trip.
    Glad to have you along with us.