Page 47: - No Return Ticket - Just a Ride Report /w Pics - From the beginning
Panama to Costa Rica border crossing. Not Pretty……
Even our shoestring guide book warns about this crossing as being hectic and confusing. And the guide book is geared for backpackers who just need to get a passport stamp. Anyway, we were ready but arrived late, after 11:30 AM. I find the Panama immigration office right away and get my exit stamp for Panama. Heidi is standing by the bike right next to me. She gets her stamp also. I asked the immigration guy where the ‘aduana’ is. He points me down the building and I thought he said ‘right over there’. I walk over to an almost empty room with a couple of long tables inside. No indication of any customs office here. Next I see a couple windows with people inside. No indication of customs there either. A friendly guy walks up to me and asks if I need help. He says he’s a helper, that’s his job. I tell him I just want to know where the Panama customs building is, and I don’t need anything else. Well, he walks me past everything then says I need to first get fumigated at this booth and that I need to bring the bike. I tell him that I just want to go to the Panama customs office, that’s all. He next says that the customs office is past the fumigation booth and that I need to fumigate first. This made no sense to me but I went along with it, I figure it won’t hurt to just get the fumigation over with. I pay the $2.50 and position the bike under the sprayer. I get out of the way.
Next the helper tells me to park the bike in front of the buildings over there. I say “?esta Panama aduana?” He assures me it is. I park. Heidi waits by the bike while the guy guides me over to the immigration window and tells me to stand in line here. I say ‘?por que!? (Why!?) I was standing at the Costa Rica immigration office.
Now I’m pissed. I looked at the guy, a nice clean cut short body builder dude wearing a tank top and say “F!, F! Necesito Panama aduana primero. F.” (#! #! I need to go to the Panama customs first. #)
He finally got it and told me that it’s back where I just come from. I had him show me. He wanted me to bring the bike again but I told him to forget it, I just want to see where the Panama Aduana is! Of course it’s right at the first room I looked into, the empty room with a couple of long tables. I was still pissed. I was worried that now that I have the bike on the Costa Rica side I wouldn’t be able to get it back to Panama. I storm off again in the sweltering heat and go back to get the bike. Heidi yells out “Don’t you want your helmet?” I yell back “No” About 10 yards later I ask if she will bring it to me. I need to ride right past a police station and I don’t need any more hassles.
I blast off on the bike and zigzag around several semi-trucks then park almost right where I parked the first time, in front of the Panama immigration office. I walk into the empty room with the long tables. A guy pops out from a back room. I say “ ?esta aduana aqui?” (Is this the customs office?) “si”
I tell him I need to un-declare my motorcycle from Panama. He takes my papers and walks out to the bike with me. We start chit-chatting about our trip, where we are from, where we have been, where we are going. He pats both panniers with both hands at the same time. He does the same thing with the backpack and tank panniers, then smiles at me before walking into the next building, the one with the people behind the windows. He fills out a form, has me sign it and tells me that I’m done “fin”.
Now I’m happy. I ride the bike back toward the Costa Rica side and around the fumigation booth. I park where Heidi is waiting. She knows the drill, sit tight by the bike while I go and get my Costa Rica passport stamp and the bike cleared into Costa Rica. I get the stamp in no time. I ask the immigrations guy where the aduana is. It’s right next door. There was only one person in the office and me standing patiently outside the window. About 15 minutes later a young guy walks into the office and waits inside. Now the guy inside taps on the glass I’m standing in front of and motions for me to come inside. I guess I should be waiting inside. 15 minutes later it’s noon and the guy behind the counter is gone. I suspect it’s lunch time. 45 minutes later my helper guy reappears and tells me I need to get my insurance taken care of first and that I need a copy of that before I can clear the bike. I guess I knew that from last time. I think I was still a little rattled. We walk over to the seguro (insurance) window. I hand the woman behind the glass my title and passport. A few minutes later I sign a document, pay $17 and I have my insurance. Next my helper walks me across the street to a copy building. There I get a copy of my insurance papers and my passport page with the Costa Rica stamp. Now I’m ready to clear the motorcycle through customs.
Back at the aduana and I'm the only person waiting. Almost an hour goes by. Now a helper shows up with 3 truckers trying to clear customs. Ten or fifteen minutes later a woman comes in and sits behind a computer screen. She hands all of us another sheet of paper to be filled out, all in Spanish. I do my best while holding my place at the front of the line. Of course the helper gets one of his truckers papers finished first and hands it to the woman. I wait standing at the counter with all my papers in hand and ready. She then asks ‘who’s next?’ A 300 some pound trucker tells her I’m next. I hand over all my papers. Now everything is getting entered into the computer. Next the woman asks me, where are my papers from when I crossed from Nicaragua into Costa Rica. I explain that I don’t have them. She tells me I need them. (this is all in Spanish) I walk out to the bike and look for the papers I knew I didn’t have while informing Heidi about the situation. We talk about it and both remember giving my motorcycle customs papers to the Costa Rica customs people before I entered Panama, just like I’m supposed to do. Crap.
Back inside the customs office I say that I don’t have the papers. The 300 pound trucker tries to help translate. He takes a bunch of papers he has in his hands, opens up some pages and shakes them at me while rattling out some rapid fire Spanish. “You need these papers” Big help but I got it. At this point I’m dripping with sweat, I feel like I’m going to puke. I’m not sure if it’s the greasy empanadas I ate this morning or my rattled nerves. I fight the sensation. In my best Spanish I explain to the customs woman what my deal is and that I handed back all my customs papers to the people at the border post at Sixaola before entering Panama. She says “Sixaola!” like it all makes sense now. Whosh. She tells me that she needs to call the border post at Sixaola. I sit down and try to relax.
It seems like an hour goes by, the phone rings. The woman is on the phone for at least 10 minutes, I think she’s talking to Sixaola. A little time goes by after she’s done on the phone, then she tells me it will be just a little longer. Another phone call comes in from Sixaola, now a fax machine, I think, fires up. A new woman comes into the office and is told to take care of me. Two people help her with filling out the form on the computer. She asks me what color the bike is. I say “rojo” (red) “similar a su pelo” (similar to your hair) We exchange smiles. My nausea passed, I feel cool and dry now. Finally the woman stands up and points me to go out to the next room. There she sets all my papers on a table in front of a guy looking over some other papers. He tries to pretend I’m not there. 10 minutes later I’m still not there. A pretty young girl walks in and stands behind me. He snaps to attention and helps her answer some questions. It seemed like forever, but he finally grabs my papers and starts filling out a line in a notebook by hand. He couldn’t have taken more time to do this. Finally he stands up and barks out something in super rapid Spanish. I didn’t get it and tell him that. He gives me a disgusted look and says something about ‘no English’. I was confused because I was speaking in nothing but Spanish this whole time. I point him to the bike. He writes down the license plate number on a small piece of paper then barks out to Heidi “?habla Espanol?” (Do you speak Spanish?) She walks over to listen. She tries telling him that she needs to go to immigration. We get another disgusted look. Then he points down the road. Heidi and I both say “policia” he says “si”, we need to hand over the little slip of paper to a police post up the road, we remember that from last time now. This guy was a real ass and for no reason we could see. I was as patient and polite as I could have been. Heidi and I figure he either was just having a bad day or he was ‘in’ on the failed extortion attempt with me and all the missing customs documents I was suspiciously suppose to have. Either way, Heidi and I are smiling now and are riding into Costa Rica. Oh yeah..
While Heidi was waiting at the border:
Heidi waited for over three hours next to the bike while I was taking care of customs. While waiting, she had numerous people try to talk with her. She was cool with everything until an obviously drunk guy tries to get her attention. She tried ignoring him at first. Then he moved in close and was pinning her between the bike and a concrete wall. Now she tells him that he’s drunk (he was carrying a bottle in a paper sack) and that she is not interested in having a conversation. He tries to move in closer with his hand sticking out like he wanted ‘five’. Heidi grabs the helmets in her hands and was prepared to wale on the guy if he didn’t back off. He yells out in English “Chill out” Heidi tells him to in Spanish ‘Leave Now’ He finally does.
Heidi’s mind is spinning now about why I’m taking so long. She thinks she hears me hollering off in the distance for help. She wanted to look for me but knew she couldn’t leave the bike alone. She’s thinking I’m in trouble and was afraid of hyperventilating.
Heidi sees an old guy about ninety with coke bottle glasses shining someone's shoes, she asks if she could be next. Heidi gets the best boot shine ever and was glad to give the guy $2 for the extra effort. He spent time chatting with her and asked if she had more shoes to shine. It was comical because he could hardly hear and Heidi had a hard time understand his Spanish. They smiled at each other a lot and that helped calm Heidi down.
Later, Heidi was really happy to finally see me walking toward her with a big smile.
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