3. Dec, 2016

03.12.16. Tocumen Airport, Panama City

We were up at 6, ready to take our bike the six miles to the airport.  We had to be there by 10, but couldn’t make out the route from the map, it appeared to want to take us on the runway!


After breakfast, and a quick stress explosion whilst making sure everything flammable and liquid had been removed from the bike’s storage, and packing everything as neatly as possible, we were off.


There was a diversion on the highway  (of course- we already knew this was one of the busiest roads ever from Thursday's jaunt to the hotel), and we were soon down on the back streets, bumping up and down in the potholes again. A roundabout appeared through the belching fumes of the traffic, and after a quick recce, we decided our route and took the left turn.  This turned out to be completely correct and the cargo terminal appeared after 1 kilometre on the right.


Entering the cargo area we passed the Customs office on our left, but were keen to check the bike in with Air Cargo Pack, the air cargo company so sailed past.


The offices and warehouse of the shippers were the usual busy hub of any freight terminal, and i waited whilst Paul went to find Leivy, the lady who had been so helpful by email yesterday.  He soon returned stating that we needed to head back to Customs right now. By this time I had packed our jackets, trousers and helmets into the sidecar, so my only option was to walk back again.  In the dripping heat, that turned out to be easier said than done, but no matter I was soon there.


Paul was already at the window of Customs, with three ladies giggling at him and asking if they could come with them to Colombia! We had a laugh together, and the super lovely lady at the window carried on going through our bike paperwork, whilst we enjoyed the shade outside her office.  The customs or migration people are always behind a window with glass, but this one seemed a bit awkward as the opening to speak through was so low, Paul had to crouch down to speak. Very odd! Perhaps that’s why a lot of the drivers were just opening the door to the offices and putting their heads through for attention.  I guess a lot of the drivers are there most days collecting cargo for local delivery, or forwarding.


All was going well, no mention about me being the driver on the paperwork, until the lovely lady asked Paul about why it said we were to exit from the Port of Colon, which is North of Panama City.  Once again, when we had entered Panama, we had made the naive mistake of thinking it didn’t matter where the vehicle was going to exit, just as long as it did.  This turned out not to be the case, it was a big deal, and we started to worry, thinking about having to make return journeys for alterations to paperwork.  We knew there was an office in downtown Panama City where our friend Gord had some paperwork done yesterday, but we also knew about that hellish 2.5 hour journey to leave the city on Thursday………


We both entered apologetic, humble mode, using smiles and soft words, whilst kind lady started to make some phone calls.  We weren’t quite sure what she was doing, but it seemed to be in our favour?


After a few minutes, she told us to wait and started seeing to the queue that had begun to form behind us. This entailed seeing to their paperwork, taing some money and inspecting their vehicles.  After 10 minutes, the door of the office was opened and a chair was pushed through for me to sit on - we took this as a very good sign. 5 minutes later, we were asked if we wanted to buy a drink from them for $1 US. We did, and looked at each other again, with hope.


Eventually, after about an hour of waiting, nice lady took our passports, and returned with them stamped with the vehicle exit. She explained that she had managed to call the border where we had come in and have them alter the exit point on the vehicle permit (she did not have authority to make this change for us). We were very thankful to her, and felt so relieved, and then she apologised for keeping us waiting! A great experience, with lovely, friendly people.


I started my hot plod back, and Paul rode the couple of minutes it took him back to the cargo area. There, everything went quickly and smoothly as we pushed the bike into the warehouse and were taken into the office, for payment, paperwork and some very friendly chat from Leivy and her boss. The boss told us that he has arranged shipment of 1,000 motorbikes over 10 years, and average of 2 per week, either to or from Colombia. He asked us to recommend his wonderful service to our friends, and we told him without a doubt that we would.  He also stated that we could call him with any problems, of any kind whilst travelling South America.


They called a taxi for us, and we were back to the hotel by 10.45 am, a little early for a Pina Colada perhaps.  We can now relax and make sure that we are ready for our flight at 11.35 am tomorrow. The bike leaves slightly earlier than us at 11am.


We shall be able to collect the bike on Monday from 8am onwards, from the warehouse and offices of the same company, in Bogota.


For those of you wondering why we are not riding to Colombia, the roads stop in Panama before the Darien Gap, which is 60 miles of jungle and no thoroughfare. It's a notoriously dangerous area,  where drug lords live in dens (could be stuff of legend only?) and would require me going ahead of the bike with a machete, cutting our way through! So, the choices are to take a sea passage or air freight at a similar price. We chose air for ease and speed.