Panama for us was all about getting Priscilla out of the port and getting moving north. We had made a decision to spend more time in Colombia which limited the amount of time we had to explore Panama.
We had also heard from fellow travelers that besides the San Blaas islands there was not much to see in Panama that we would not see elsewhere. We had decided against the San Blaas because of both cost and feeling Keira was a little young to thoroughly enjoy the experience and to cope with the sea sickness that is inevitable during part of the crossing. San Blaas islands were being left to explore on another trip.
THE PANAMA CANAL
We did however take the time to visit the Panama Canal. It is truelly a marvellous piece of engineering and it is incredible to watch the large container ships going through the lochs. We went to The Miraflores Loch, which has viewing platforms and a museum.
THE PORT/ PRISCILLA
, AlThe day came for us to retrieve Priscilla from the Port in Colon. We were very nervous about the process, having our previous horrifc experience in our heads.
There were two factors that had potential to complicate the process: 1/ we were sharing a container which meant in order for us to get our car, both vehicles needed to be cleared at the same time, 2/ it was a public holiday the next day (mothers day) and the port would be closed, so we needed to get it cleared in one day or we would have to wait 2 additional days.
In an attempt to alleviate these potential problems, we decided to employ the services of a shipping agent who came highly recommended by other overlanders, Boris Jaramillo. He proved to be a huge assest.
We were staying in Panama city, so our first step was to get to Colon. It meant another early morning. At 530 am we set off to get a taxi to the bus station to meet our shipping companions, Alejandro and Vanesa. Then we took a 1 1/2 hour bus ride to Colon. From there a taxi to the shipping companies office to get the original bill of lading, without which we could not progress.
We originally got told that the ship had not arrived. Through persistence we determined that it had arrived, but that they had not received the bill of lading. A quick call to our shipping agent in Colombia and we had our copy.
Next step, pay for the shipping container and get the container ready to offload. Done!
At this stage, Boris' father and business partner arrived, our knight in shining amor. he took Mike and Alejandro off to secure insurance and complete the aduana (customs) paperwork that was required.
Keira, Vanesa and I went back inside to a cafeteria inside the shipping company to wait for their return. We had no idea that this would be 6 1/2 hours later and we had no idea what was going on. Keira was so patient. For entertainment, we drew, cut out and coloured a multitude of figures which we incorporated into a play.
Later we learned that there was a problem getting the insurance companies to accept Argentine documents in order to process insurance for Alejandro's vehicle. Boris was the key to getting the insurance, taking them to 3 different agencies. Without him this would not have happened.
Then they waited at Aduana for the clearance of the documents and for the paperwork to release the container to us. This took a long time.
Having completed all of these steps, they were heading back to the port, when they got stuck in a traffic jam. Alejandro and Mike had to run 2 kms to get back to the port before it closed.
Finally we got site of Priscilla as Mike drove her out of the vehicle. It took about 45 mins to complete the final processing with Priscilla being fumigated on the way out of the gates.
We arrived at the port at 8 am and we finally got Priscilla at 4.40pm. It was a long and trying day.
The trip back to Panama city was OK, right up to the point that we drove onto a toll rode that required you to have a pre-paid card. Again, we were confronted with a "fee" that we had to pay, which again fluctuated as we talked to the guard. It was getting dark and we were tired so it was just one more thing to deal with. We paid the fee and went on our way. This happened twice but the second time we just drove off
By this point we were tired of Panama, on the whole we had found people to be less than friendly, the roads were busy, and we were done with cities. We were surprised at how obese the people were.
Sorry not much good to say from our point of view. Maybe this is unfairly so, as we did not explore the whole country.
We had 2 more early mornings with long days to drive through the country so we could cross the border to Costa Rica.
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.