On the way to Panama City we stopped to check our email one more time to see if we’d received our official departure date. To our surprise we found out that our ship was due to sail a day earlier than we had expected so now we had to start rushing. We quickly emailed in copies of our passports and vehicle registrations in order to get our bill of lading which we would need to do the next steps. The next day we were further shocked to find out that we had to load our cars onto the container the next day so we asked around and researched where the PTJ (police) office was, and then headed there following a homemade map, thankfully even though we missed one turn we still ended up at the right place. Our first step here was to get the van inspected. We made it there just in time because they don’t do inspections after 11am and it was now 10:55am. When we entered the inspection yard we were shocked to see Axel and Katarina (whom we’d met in Costa Rica) waiting there with an Australian couple. The inspection lasted all of ten minutes and then we had to wait until 3:30 for the next step to take place. We sat around in the parking lot killing time mostly listening to the Aussie couple, Chris and Elayne’s stories. They’ve been traveling the world in their homemade dune buggy for three years and have four years left. After about 3 hours Axel, Katarina, Elaine, Max, and Pete walked across the street to another office to wait for step number two. Unfortunately the cars were parked in the worst part of town where the police wouldn’t even let us cross the street to get some food which at first we thought was a bit overkill, but later found out that it really was for our safety. So while the rest of the gang waited safely in the air conditioned office and went out for lunch, Karen and Chris were left in the ghetto parking lot in the hot sun with no food to guard all the cars. All was going well until Karen and Chris decided they needed a 30cent ice cream cone across the dreaded street. They were approached by some kids who seemed friendly enough, but were promptly chased off by the local police and Karen and Chris were escorted back to the parking lot. Then not 5 minutes later the first gun shots rang out. At first Karen didn’t believe that it was gun shots, but then she saw one of the “thugs” holding a gun down his pants across the street and the second round of shots was enough to send her running into the nearest building. A few minutes later after it was confirmed that it indeed was people shooting in the streets Karen went back out and discovered that it had been 13 year old kids shooting at each other and that a tourist bus had been caught in the crossfire and had it’s window was shot out. The passengers were quite shaken up, but no one else seemed to think much of it. We’ve now learned that it is smart to heed all the police warnings. After another sketchy hour of waiting Karen and Chris were approached by a really nice man who told us in no uncertain terms that we had to vacate the lot in the next 20-30 minutes because things would get really ugly. Another 25 minutes later the rest of the group still hadn’t returned so Karen went off to get them whether the paperwork was finished or not. Luckily just as she rounded the corner she ran straight into Pete and Max, but not Elayne, Axel or Katarina. So the four of us had to wait another anxious 45 minutes for them to get their paperwork done as well. It was a nerve racking day, but we were successful!
We were up early the next day again and off to Colon, the only place that could be any worse than the ghetto in Panama City. We weren’t looking forward to this trip but it had to be done. Since Max had already been there we had no troubles finding the Sea Board Marine office at the Port. We checked in at the office got some paperwork then found out that we had to pay the whole shipping fee at the HSBC bank in Colon before anything else would happen. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that we had been told that we could pay later in Panama City so we didn’t bring any cash or many cards with us, due to the fear of getting robbed in Colon, which is highly probable. The good news was that Pete had brought his visa, but they could only do $1,000.00 a day, which left us with 880 dollars more to pay. All we had left were Pete and Max’s bank cards, but Max’s card is very temperamental. By some miracle both transactions worked and we could breathe a sigh of relief. We returned to the port for some more paperwork, and then visited three different offices trying to get our vehicle stamped out of the country. They kept sending us back and forth to the same places where no one knew what to do. Finally our friendly port inspector helped us and found out that we had to go across town to another immigration office. He tried to explain how to get there, but then grabbed his buddy and his car and personally drove us the 15 minutes to find the office which was in the middle of nowhere, but where we were finally able to get our cars stamped out of the country. Once again we went back to the port were we had to pay a two dollar bribe to an overweight security guard so he could get some lunch, then drove into the shipping yard. We waited for twenty minutes in a parking lot, got some more paper work done and then loaded the vehicles into the container. We were left all alone surrounded by thousands of containers and none of us had remembered a camera, bummer. We wanted to wait around to see them strap down the cars and lock the container but this wasn’t going to happen for a long time and we were exhausted so we left and hoped that the job would be done. We said our goodbyes to the cars, celebrated with a round of high fives then boarded our first bus of the trip back to Panama City.
Armed with 5 copies of all of our important documents, some food, a book and some cash we were up and raring to go early in the morning to get Patience safely into South America. This was quite an involved procedure....
Step 1 – Take taxi #1 to "Muelle Del Bosque" (our port), to obtain our official "Bill of Lading" from the Seaboard Marine office.
Step 2 - Get taxi #2 to the DIAN (Direccion de Impuestas y Aduana Nacionales) office at the entrance to the Port of Manda. At this office we were supposed to be issued our Temporary Vehicle Import Form (Formulario De Importacion Temporal de Vehiculos) and assigned a customs inspector, but unfortunately when we flew into Colombia Max’s entry stamp didn’t include how many days he was allowed to be in the country. The office worker told us that we were going to have to go back to the airport to fix this problem. Luckily we talked to another guy and found out that for half the price of the taxi ride we could go to the “DAS” office in town to get it done.
Step 3 – Taxi #3. Spent 45 minutes in the “DAS” office just so they could write 60 days down in Max’s passport
Step 4 – Taxi #4 back to step 2 where we were assigned an inspector who was heading over to the port right then and could do our inspection. Perfect!!
Step 5 - Took taxi #5 back to "Muelle Del Bosque", where we went to the Document Centre (Centro De Documentos, of the Port Authorities to find out where our car was and pay the Port Fees so that we could get our vehicle inspected. ROAD BLOCK!!! Our container hadn’t been unloaded yet. It was 11:00 in the morning and they didn’t think that it would be done until 3:00 that afternoon. Sadly we had to let our inspector go with promises that he would return at 3:30.
Step 6 – After over 4 hours of waiting our container still wasn’t unloaded. Then at 3:15 our inspector showed up. We were nervous because he wouldn’t wait long and this was our last chance to get the cars that day. Luckily they gave us the thumbs up and we quickly paid our fees and went to get our first view of Patience. There she was just as we had left her perfectly in the container. The inspector did his customary check of the VIN numbers and Karen quickly snapped some shots before she was told she had to stop and we were surrounded by officials telling us all the things we were doing wrong; taking pictures, not wearing shoes, hard hats or long pants. Oops. We were escorted out of the yard and told to return with the appropriate clothing.
Step 7 – Taxi #6 back to the DIAN to get our Temporary Vehicle Import Form. We were running low on time and as always it took forever to get a simple form printed out and signed, but eventually it was done and we ran to catch our final taxi of the day.
Step 8 – Taxi #7 back to the port where we handed in all of our forms that we’d collected during the day and were issued our Vehicle Exit Form (Planilla De Salida Del Vehiculo) which we had to sign 9 times and verify with 9 finger prints and were also given our copies of the Temporary Vehicle Import Form and Customs Release Forms (Levante), which we would need to exit the country. Holy paperwork!
Step 9 – We’d read that you needed closed toed shoes so we’d come prepared with shoes for the boys who somehow talked their way out of the rest of the gear and were allowed into the port to pick up the cars.
Step 10 – We completed some more paperwork for who knows what and then found the exit where they checked over all of our paperwork one more time before letting us out of the port and into COLOMBIA!!!!
It was a lot of work and took 11 hours, but we did it in a day and out of the 2 other groups who also did it we were the fastest, hehehe.
This was the biggest road block of the trip and now it’s over and we are so excited to be road tripping in South America!!
Click on a picture to enlarge