Sunday, April 19, 2015

Crossing into Panama from Costa Rica

Sorry we've been MIA, guys. We've been racing around Panama in order to see everything we wanted to see and meet everyone we wanted to meet there before we had to catch the ferry to Colombia. I promise we'll be caught up soon ;)
This is another border-crossing blog - so unless you're super interested in bureaucracy or want to get some insight into the Costa Rican > Panamanian crossing, wait for the next blog about Bocas del Toro... which I promise will be coming soon :) 

Crossing into Panama was easy by comparison to the Nicaraguan>Costa Rican crossing, but the process on the Panamanian side was about as clear as mud.

1. Pay $7 exit fee to Bancredito (also exchange $$ if you want - you’ve already stood in line so it makes sense to kill to birds with one stone).

Bancredito on the left.
Migracion on the right.

2. Weasel to the front of the Migracion line to get the migration document so that you can fill it out while you’re waiting in the 20-30minute line to get your passport stamped out.

3. Wait in line, get your passport stamped out. (A note for those traveling together, they will let you do this for your partner, but he or she will have to show his/her face in order to get his/her passport back.)

4. Aduana. Get the temporary import cancelled.

The documents and receipts you get on the Costa Rican side.

Panamanian side:

5. First step was VERY unclear. Several ride reports have said different things. Officials versus helpers said different things (perhaps the helpers were just trying to get me out of the line they were waiting behind me in?) Anyway, I wound up buying the seguro (insurance) first and that seemed to work well.

The insurance shop is on the left - she also makes copies. This building is directly across from the building where Aduana/Migracion are located.

6. Second step also unclear but a helper helping someone else told me to go upstairs to an office in the back of the building and get my seguro stamped. I eventually found this office, but no one was working. Duh, it was NAP-TIME! No joke, the official had positioned herself in the office so that she was not visible from the counter window or the window on the door, so when I opened the door to see if anyone was around she woke with a start and then began yelling at me to get out. Fortunately, she still stamped my document. Probably on so that she could go back to her dreams.

If you don't see this lady in the window when you arrive at the end of the hall upstairs, don't worry: she's just napping around the corner!

But this is the stamp she puts on your insurance document.

6. Then I went to the Aduana line - a line which I had already been in twice because things were anything but clear. This process was a royal test of my patience as it seemed there were 20-30 truckers in front of me who were being helped by the same helper, so they would just cut in front of me at any given moment because the helper was holding their place in line or because the official already had their paperwork. But to show you how things can vary. I was in this line for 45+ minutes. Shannon came just when the trucker helper left and I think she only waited for 10 minutes. Then the power went out. When this lady eventually gave our paperwork back, she had gotten Roel’s passport number wrong and didn’t want to go back into the system to fix it so she just hand-amended it and told us it would be fine. Hmmmmm.

The Aduana is next to the bus in this photo. The seguro office is across from the bus. Migracion is right next to where the bikes are parked. And the office where you get your insurance document stamped is exactly where the curtain has been drawn in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. I guess it was nap-time again.

7. Then I stood in line for migration - a line which I was told to cut for no reason. No problem. Roel also had to collect his passport. Since we were at this point in the same process as Shannon and Mike, it was easy to trade off watching bikes/helmets, ect. so that was at least really helpful. (Apparently we were supposed to have a sticker in our passports in order to have Migracion stamp them, and we were supposed to have paid $1 for this sticker... but we didn't and for some reason it wasn't a problem.) Next, a guy walking around in plain clothes found us to tell us he needed to inspect our bikes. No problem for Roel and I. In fact he was pretty cheeky with us and told Roel he should marry me after we told him we were just novios. He did want to take Mike’s sheepskin because it was an “animal product” (he had already seen both of our bikes with both of our sheepskins and they weren’t an issue somehow). Interesting how these officials are nothing if not consistent.
8. Bike fumigation took place about 20 meters down the road. We paid $3 for this.

And then we were off into Panama!!!

The embarrassing but sad truth is that our first stop in Panama was a McDonalds. We NEEDED air conditioning. And a little ice cream celebration of entering Panama was a nice side benefit.

Bearing in mind the ferry departure that we wanted to make in 10 days, we decided to bee-line it for Bocas del Toro. We found a great place to camp with a little help from iOverlander at a canyon river.
We rode the bike down and up a gnarly embankment across a little stream to ensure that no cars would disturb our sleep.

Good morning!!!

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