Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Long-Awaited Panamá


We were apparently eager to get into Panamá as, when we entered the border area, we completely skipped over Costa Rica customs/immigration. We didn’t even know we had until after we had stood in line at the Panamanian immigration exit line (thinking it was Costa Rica’s) and been told that we needed to go to aduana first. We walked around trying to find the appropriate aduana (it wasn’t as it was listed in our guide—for obvious reasons as we learned afterwards). As we wandered, a guide came up to us and asked us if we had gotten the Costa Rican exit stamp yet. We said no, they told us to cancel our permit first. He then explained that the Costa Rican booths were further up the road and we had passed them. Apparently Costa Rica really doesn’t care if you don’t get all your paperwork taken care of when you exit as there was no inspection when we crossed over. And, I hadn’t been looking for Costa Rican buildings on the way in, because google maps showed it as after the road splits into two one-ways (satellite view wasn’t working with the slow internet I had).

View Larger Map
This illustration is wrong and the Costa Rica office are on the north side of the road a quarter of the mile up the road.

So, we got back in the vehicle and drove back up the road to the correct offices. We quickly got through the Costa Rican paperwork, suspending our vehicle permit (instead of canceling it since we would be back within 3 months). We then went back to the Panamanian side and the entry line was long (it had been short when we arrived earlier), so we thought we would try purchasing insurance first. However, the office we had been told about  (directly across the street) was closed. So we went and got in the entry line this time. After we got up to the front, we found out that we had to have a “ticket” and he sent us away. I had no idea what this meant, so I went to talk to the agent who had put a sticker in our passport. He said that since we drove a vehicle (and needed a vehicle permit and insurance), we had to get our insurance first and we could get our “ticket” there (I did remember seeing something about being able to buy your ticket when we were at the insurance place). I told him we tried to do that, but it was closed. He said there was another on the other street, so we walked over that direction again. But, as we walked up the street looking for the insurance place, the guide came up to us again. We explained the situation and he walked us over to the other insurance place (which was not on the street I thought it was). We got insurance and I asked her about the ticket. She explained that the insurance substituted for the ticket. She also combined the title and passport copies onto one page (and said we only needed one copy not 2) and only charged US$0.40 instead of the US$1.60 we were expecting for copies and $15 for the insurance (side note: Panamá uses the US dollars but calls them balboas—only difference is their dollar coins and fifty-cent pieces).

Insurance in hand, we stood in line at the entry again and this time got our approval. We then went to the next stop: the Transito office. True to our perfect timing, they were out for lunch. So we went back to the van and made ourselves some lunch. That helped put us back into a good mood for when we ventured back up. They quickly stamped our insurance pages and then we went to customs line. From here, everything went according to the guide, except that we got stopped before the fumigation booth and had to pay $3 for fumigation. Free to go!

And, as a reward, there was a four-lane divided highway. We actually went 100 km/h (62mph) for the first time since México. It was pretty exciting. Then, to top things off, when we stopped for gas, there was a self-service station. This was a first since the States! These two things (other than the trouble at the border crossing) gave us a very good first taste of Panamá.


We hadn’t decided where we wanted to stay in Boquete yet, either at a hostel that allows camping (Pension Topas) or at a free boondocking spot. We decided to try the hostel first, as it was closer and they might have laundry. Surprise of surprise, when we pulled up there was already a vanagon here. This was the first vanagon we had seen since southern México. I think that nearly sealed the deal for us. We asked about price ($12) and laundry. We couldn’t do laundry there, but there was a place down the street. Deal sealed. We pulled in and immediately started talking with the fellow vanagoners, Andamos de Vagos. We pretty much spent the evening swapping stories and parts.

DSC04313 Installing the LED lights that Jonathan gave them.

These experiences combined with the pleasant air (not hot and humid) in the highlands made for a very pleasant first experience with Panamá. On a side note, we are now in Eastern Time, but without Daylight Savings Time, which is equivalent to the Central Daylight Time right now.

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