The easy way to cross the Gap
Everything said and done, I have to admit while I found the whole Panama City experience very stressful, I had it SUPER easy.
What a lucky turn of fate that I got introduced to Adolfo, and that he happened to be shipping his bike the same week
I’d been corresponding with a couple other moto-travelers, and for a few weeks we’d all been trying to research– independently, and then sharing information–how to get across the Darien Gap both economically and efficiently. It was frustrating trying to juggle that with the daily travels, and quite stress-producing actually. many folks on ADVrider.com and HorizonsUnlimited.com advised that all would become clear in Panama…that basically you arrive in Panama City, do a little sightseeing, check your options, then wait for your selection to leave/embark/whatever you choose. Now I am sure that seems easy enough reading it here in my blog, but I assure you when you are traveling, and are faced with a big logistical problem, it haunts you all the time until it is impossible to relax about arriving somewhere and working it out (which, ironically, is one of the HUGE lessons that long-term travel teaches you–that you will work everything out in due time)
Anyway, I was terribly grateful to Adolfo to have solved my logistical problem so easily and efficiently. especially in light of reading my friend Ben’s blog and his “adventure” crossing from Panama to Colombia. Here’s a link to his journey if you are interested: https://afewmoremiles.com/2010/01/28/mutiny-on-the-bounty-crossing-the-darien-gap/ . Igor also finally made it across, and you can read about HIS adventure here: https://afewmoremiles.com/2010/01/28/mutiny-on-the-bounty-crossing-the-darien-gap/ (he also mentions our time together in the Darien, with HIS pics)
Anyway, on with MY Story.
Adolfo and his wife Marta picked me up at my hostal and we all rode together to the airport.
In order to save $150 I booked a cheaper flight on a different airline than Mario, so he dropped me off at the curb and we agreed to meet at migracion.
Well, I cleared security really quickly, and waited…and waited…and while I was sitting there waiting I took a look at my passport…I did not have the “exit” stamp for my bike in my passport ike I was supposed to….uh oh…so I asked the Aduana agent there if he could stamp my passport..um, calls, consultations with other officials, and some 20 minutes later he said the only way to get it was to go down to the Aduana office and get it from the main Aduana dude. “But what if he’s not available?” I asked. He asssured me that the man was available.
At this point I had 20 minutes until boarding time for my flight…do I wait to meet Adolfo ike I am supposed to and “wing it” when I get to Colombia potentially not having the right paperwork? Perhaps never being able to enter Panama again without a big fine? Or do I take a chance, walk a 1/4 mile in full motorcycle gear is the 956 degree head, and get my stamp?
I decided to set off as a brisk pace and allow myself PRECISELY 20 minutes…if I did not have my stamp in exactly 20 minutes, I would leave. My flight was $250 and I did not want to miss it–not did I want to miss Adolfo and my motorcycle on the other side.
Well, I should have known, especially after traveling in Central America already for 3 months, should have been smarter than to think that I could rush ANYTHING in Latin America. but I am American, yes a gringa, and a perpetually optimistic one at that. I find the office, of course the furthest one away, and of course the official was busy! I explained my plight, in a rather agitated way, to one person after another, until I had the entire office consulting on my dilemma: here was my paperwork that the bike had shipped to Colombia, yet I did not have it stamped out of my passport. Ack! My 20 minutes was up, but they had my passport…I was soooooo close…I was pacing…hurry up…hurry up…weird looks from office stamp whose usual order of business is ‘tranquila‘ (translate: relax!–It’s widely overused here and widely overrated!) they said he was stamping…25 minutes…pace pace…try not to pace…30 minutes, …………………….. ……………………………………..
With the admonition that next time I should alllow more time. YES M’AM! no problem. Yes, next time, I will allow more time!
And off I ran … in the now 976 degree heat.
Only to arrive at the gate and see the nice surprise of JP (who I met at the Nicaragua / Costa Rica border) waiting for the same flight…
He informs me that the flight is running 30 minutes late…great!
JP heads for the tarmac.
I know it’s prohibited, but I am a picture-taking m-a-c-h-i-n-e by now…
Sacked out on the plane…
Ah, Colombia. Land of coffee. Girls at the airport sit around with a thermos and will sell you a tinto.
After much confusion after landing (Adolfo is not waiting for me–wait, we did not see each other again in the Panama airport, so he does not know what flight I am on, does not know when I am arriving, does he even know my last name to ask for me?) — an hour later we run into each other and I rush up and surprise him with a hig. Sheesh. For a while there (an hour to be exact) I was a little worried…
Well, we’ve missed a valuable hour and cannot complete the bike paperwork tonight, so the airline agents (for the bikes) bring us to a local hotel. we order a chicken in a box–quite a curious thing–delivered, no less– and have a good sleep.
The next morning at the cargo office
I am greatly relieved to see my Suzi arrived safely and in one piece. wow, just two days apart and I realize I really missed my bike!
Sorry the pics aren’t that good…you are not supposed to take pic int he hangars…but how cool is this?!?!?
We repack the bikes, gather our paperwork
get directions to the local chuleco shop (these horrid orange vests that Colombian motorcyclists have to wear with their number plate on them–supposedly to eradicate drive-by moto-violence)
We get our chulecos made
And get directions out of Bogota.