Loading up in Panama

We had enjoyed our speedy tour of Panama, putting over 1000 miles on our new engine already, but now it was time to get down to business. We had booked our slot in a container that was scheduled to leave on the 7th of May. Aside from that, we hadn’t done anything. Once we hit the city, it was going to be a busy few days. The container was due to be loaded on the 5th, but now it had been changed to the 4th. It was recommended to complete the police inspection prior to loading, which would need to be done on the 3rd. We decided to leave Anton Valle that morning, meaning we would arrive at the Overland Embassy on the 2nd. There was not much margin for error here. 

Fortunately, having friends that had already done the crossing we had a little extra information on our side. With that in mind, the first thing we did was head to the airport to book our flights. The only real issue here is the pets, otherwise we could have booked them long before online. However flying with an animal is more complicated. You can only fly weekdays and the airline only permit three animals on board per plane, you can’t buy the pet tickets online either, only at the desk or over the phone. Considering we have two, we wanted to make sure that the flight we booked could accommodate our pets too. There was only two days we could fly on for the cheaper price as well, the flights departing later in the week costing double the amount. 

At the airport, we went and checked at the desk to see whether there was space for the pets on our flight. The guy confirmed it was fine and that we could book it now. Unfortunately booking at the airport means you have to pay tax, so it would cost us an extra $60 to do that. We opted to go and sit on our phones in the corner and book it, which he was fine with. With our fights booked, we went back and booked the cats on aswell. That was the first step sorted, we all had a ticket outta here. 

It had only been a short drive from Anton Valle that morning, so we still had some time left in the afternoon. We decided to head over to the Overland Embassy and see what was going on over there. This is a business run by a guy, who like us, used to travel in his vehicle. He set up this place that helps out other travellers with work on their car, shipping options and other logistics. He’s the guy who got a tow truck out to us when we first entered Panama and promptly broke down. We pulled up on the driveway, where we met Heather making good use of the pressure washer. She would be one of our container buddies, shipping her bike along with three other bikers. Then we met Alejandro’s sister, who invited us to park up inside where we could stay that night. 

Already here, were Kartik and Sim. The Indian couple that we had been messaging for a while. We had planned to share with them at one point, but our two respective engine breakdowns had made the planning a little difficult. They were here, redoing their whole interior. While we would not be in the same container, we would be on the same boat and with only a few days to go, they still had a lot of work to do. We also met Matt, Cinta and Gaila who would be shipping their van too, but via RORO. In fact, the embassy was a pretty busy place and we spent our afternoon getting know the various people around us. We also got the news that one of the bikers had pulled out of the container, but luckily for us a car had taken its place. This was good news all round as by sharing with another car, the costs dropped yet again for all of us. 

The following morning we were due to go to the police inspection, but after spending a sleepless night roasting in the camper we just couldn’t quite drag ourselves out of bed. There seemed to be some debate as to whether it was necessary anyway. This was also the day that the lovely lady from Guanico was going to bring us back all our shoes, and so we spent some time in the morning driving around the city to collect them. Happily though, we found her and she presented we with a large bag full of everything we were missing. With half the day left, we decided to get the part of cat paperwork sorted, firstly the health certificates. In the end, we could have probably found them cheaper, but for the sake of speed and convenience we opted for a big vet chain that did them on the spot. After several typos (at one point Lizzy was unfortunately called Jizzy) and a bit of a wait, we had them sorted, this meant that tomorrow we could complete the final step for the cats. It was also good because it meant we would be able to complete all the required documents and office visits with the van, rather that paying for taxis once we had loaded. 

The only thing left now was the police inspection. This got off to a stressful start. We were told to be there between 7-7.30am and we were ready to leave by 7am. Then we had to wait for Kartik who was coming too, but was stuck in traffic in a taxi. Lee went to get fuel in the meantime, but then got stuck in the one way system which they change the routing of during rush hour. I got a lift with Kartik, and in the end we all arrived much at the same time. To say the guys were rude was an understatement. Then to top it all off, despite my careful checking (or apparently not so careful) there was an error on the vehicle paperwork. We had to go to the aduana and sort that, which was fun in itself. A huge building that looked like a repurposed hospital with no signs and endless offices. I wandered the halls asking random people for directions, while outside I heard the roar of Ruby as she repeatedly circled the block with nowhere to park. Finally, the TIP paper sorted, we went back to the police check. He checked off the VIN, argued about with our number plates were a letter ‘O’ or a ‘0’ on the documents and the fact that my middles names weren’t on there. Eventually, he began to look for the engine code. This is completely wrong, being the original VW code for starters. Fortunately, when it wasn’t obvious, he gave up and signed everything anyway.

With that ridiculous procedure done, we went to find the government pet export office. We filled out the online form and went and paid the bank fee. Apparently it was the wrong online form though, so after yet more faffing and resubmitting it, we eventually sorted on the pet side of things. There was no rest for the wicked though, we headed back to the embassy where the container would shortly be arriving, ready to load this afternoon.  Apparently dirty vehicles can make for a difficult customs inspection. The heat here was no joke. As we washed off Ruby in the midday sun we both had to take a break. So much sweat ran down my face and into my eyes that I couldn’t see. The humidity pushing the ‘feels like’ temperature into 40s. Finally though, we finished washing her, emptied the fridge and shut down our batteries. She was ready for loading. 

A lorry would be bringing the container to the embassy, but obviously they didn’t have the equipment there to pick up the container and put it on the floor. Therefore, in order to get our vehicles in we would be loaded on via a tow truck. This was a part of the process I missed, as I had to go back and collect our inspection documents, fortunately Heather was on standby to take a load of photos. 

Record breaking moment: Ruby on a tow truck but not broken down!

 I arrived back in time to see the container fully loaded, just before the doors were closed. I even picked the lucky number, which meant I got to be the one who put a special lock on the doors once they were closed.  Alejandro explained how to fit it and then told me to try and pull it off to check!

After we had watched the truck leave with all our precious cargo inside, we headed inside to sit in the air conditioned office and collectively celebrate by work our way through a bottle of whisky. In a few days, we would follow in Ruby’s footsteps, leaving Panama far behind us and starting another new leg of our journey. 

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