Shipping from Panama to Colombia
Well, here we are looking for a safe spot to camp for free the night before our inspection. Tomorrow morning we were headed to where another Overlander watched a guy get shot and killed directly in front of him, for a mandatory police inspection of our truck. To say we were a bit nervous was an understatement.
So, we drove out the "causeway" to a parking lot for the Smithsonian museum. We asked the security guard there with exhausted and pitiable faces whether we could camp in the lot for just uno noche. He obliged and said we had to be gone before his boss showed up at 6AM and we happily agreed. Just a few minutes after popping the top on our truck "Goose" he came by with a big flashlight and told me to follow him. Just a few feet away he shined the light above our heads and illuminated two sloths moving slowly, do they have another speed, along a power line above our heads. I ran back to get Kelsey and we watched them make their way along the power line and back into the trees on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institute. Well, that just made our night!
Still, we found it a bit hard to sleep while listening to cars drive and people walk by throughout the night. We were also keenly aware of a story a new Overlander friend had told us about showing up TOO early to the police station inspection site. He got there at 4am because there are a limited number of inspections performed each day and if you're not one of the first 25 vehicles there, you're out of luck! While sitting there just outside the police yard in the dark he saw a gang of men walk up and shoot another man. So close that blood spattered on the front of his truck. The gang told him and the police that they saw nothing and they dragged the body away. With that sobering story we were tense to say the least. The community we drove through to get to this police yard was the starkest and most sad view of absolute slum and poverty I've seen (Not that I've seen it all, but from building houses in the tent/plywood city outside Tijuana as a teenager to the slums of Cairo, Egypt, this was worst I'd seen) It was a sea of trash and for the first time in our trip, we really felt unsafe.
Once inside the police yard we were given a #7 inspection ticket and we hung out with the other travelers in line. We also met the folks we'd be sharing a container with! (This saves on total shipping costs and there is an app called "Container Buddies") This inspection is to ensure that stolen vehicles are not leaving the country. An hour later the police looked at the frame stamped numbers on Goose and said with alarm that it was not matching! I looked down to see that he'd found the FZJ80 model stamping that Toyota puts on the frame. I directed him to the VIN as my heart rate was finally slowing down. "Okay, come back here at precisely 2PM and the paperwork will be ready. Then you will take it across the street and down the block to the other station to complete." Off we went and back we came. We walked to the other station and within a relatively short amount of time we were done and it wasn't even dark yet. 1 full day of work to get a sheet of paper was fairly routine at this point after dealing with all sorts of bureaucracy elsewhere during our trip.
We headed off with our new friends and container buddies, Jordan and Jacob (or Hacob as everyone pronounces it here), to an epic spot overlooking the Panama Canal. A new friend, Alejandro of #vibesofpanama dropped by with some pizza and Panamanian Chocolate for us! We'd met him by chance at the same spot the week before while we were looking for a place outside town to hang out while our shipping date approached. We both saw each others trucks (He's got a beautiful double-cab Defender) and started talking about our adventures right away.
In the morning we headed across the country to Colon where the next step in the process of shipping our vehicle to South America took place. Soon it was shipping day! We arrived early in the AM to the first of many stops to get our truck into a container. Then we walked to a window to pay some money and get more stamps. Then off to another office. Then we were at Aduana for the final step before dropping our trucks. All of this before 10:30 AM. Aduana said the computers were down and we'd have to wait for the system to come back online. 2 Hours later of watching employees sleep, chat or put on make up with nothing else to do we were assured that the system would be up in 10 minutes (10 minutes means an hour or more in our experience). If we didn't get our trucks dropped by 3PM we would miss the ship, period. Jake and I stood there getting more and more nervous. The girls were back in the truck waiting and wondering what was going on. Incidentally we decided to grab lunch from a food cart that had a big line just outside the Aduana office. It was fantastic and I've never seen a food cart chef with such impeccable cleanliness. If she was ladling food into a container and even a drop fell she'd promptly clean up. Our stomachs later confirmed that this food was A- Okay!
At about 2:30 the computers were up and the grumpiest and slowest lady in the office stood between us and success. She then decided she wanted one extra copy of a stamp in our passport. We brought what we were told we needed, but she wanted one more. Not having a lot of f@cks left to give I walked over and used their office copier without asking. At this point we had no time and had to move. We pulled our trucks in as most of the workers in that section of the port were going home for the day. We aired Jakes tires down on his hightop van as he removed his solar panel needing EVERY inch to fit into a highcube container. Jake and I grabbed the last cold beers in our fridge before we let the truck go. It was an exhausting, but triumphant day. Cheers!
Now... all we had to do was hail a cab to the bus station in Colon. Then find a bus back across the country to Panama City and catch our morning flight to Colombia. The taxis tried to make us pay gringo prices so we held out until a nice man charged us the normal rate. The very first bus we saw at the station looked clean and the quoted price was less than expected so we were off! Once we arrived in Panama city we all grabbed a triumphant beer at the bus station TGIF. Yes, you read that right, we walked off the bus and into TGI Fridays for a beer. It was hilarious, but perfect.
Time for a whole new continent! We should be back in our truck in 4 short days... right?
P.S. Right from that bus station/mall in Panama City a new friend named John came by and picked us up and gave us a place to stay for the night. The internet can be a wonderful thing. Someone on Instagram reached out and had been giving us tips on spots to explore in Panama. She no longer lives there full time, but hooked us up with her friend for a place to stay the night before flying to Colombia.
The next morning John even gave us a ride to the airport which was actually situated on the former US Military base.
Cheers to everyone in Central America, we're lucky to have met so many wonderful people!