It was time to move out of our Cost Rica apartment and explore Panama. Fortunately, we had been to Panama in November (had to leave and come back for Visa purposes) and made several connections while we were there. We had tried to find a place to rent through people we met and places we saw, soon realizing it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. Our timing was not so good because the big coffee and flower festival in Boquete was happening right at the time of our arrival. As soon as places were available, they were rented. We found a home to rent that seemed to be a great deal. It was large with a property surrounding it. It even came with a caretaker and a big dog. The best part (in my opinion) was that it had a bathtub – very rare in Central America it turns out. But our hopes were dashed when we found out that internet was not included in the rent and it was going to cost an extra $200 per month. That was a deal breaker.
We went to plan B which was a condo in a gated community of Los Molinos. It is an upstairs 2 bedroom/2 bath condo that has twice as much room as our former apartment. The manager is a gringo who lives in the community and is on top of things. Our neighbors are an American couple from northern California and very friendly and social. We have been to two social events the first week in Panama. There is a lot to do socially and otherwise. I can see so many opportunities here. That’s why so many gringos have done well in business here.
We expected the second Panama border crossing to be easy. We went through the process in November and knew what to expect – so we thought. Getting out of Costa Rica – no problem. We were well within our new 90 days and they stamped the Passport quickly. We then trekked across no man’s land to the Panama border. The woman who puts the municipal tax sticker on your passport was there to greet us and I was prepared with our money – two dollars. I gave her the bags of US coins that I carefully pre counted out and she gave me a funny look. “What’s this?” she said. “Two dollars, like you asked” I replied. She shrugged her shoulders and said “Ok, I guess.” I’m not sure anyone has ever given her coins, but hey, it’s still money. Next stop, window number three. We both went to the window and they indicated one at a time. So, I stepped back, but I could hear the conversation. Mark showed the guy his passport and the return Tica bus ticket to Costa Rica. To get into Panama, you have to show a ticket out of the country if you are not a resident of Panama. The guy said “No. You need a ticket to the US. Do you have a ticket to fly to the US?” Mark said “No, but we have a ticket back to Costa Rica for May.” The border guy said “No. Go away.” He then shooed us off.
The thought of sitting on the curb with all six bags watching the Tica bus leave without us ran through my head. Mark and I stood off to the side of the building, looking at each other, wondering what to do next. I have to commend myself that I did not panic. We went to the bus driver and asked if he could help. He didn’t speak English, so that was a bust. Then we asked a few more official looking guys if they could help us. One guy said “Wait here. I will see if I can find an official.” The next thing we knew a woman approached us and asked if there was a problem. “Yes, we have been denied to cross the border because we don’t have a ticket to the US. But we do have a ticket back to Costa Rica.” She asked “Are you a resident of Costa Rica?” We answered no. “What is your business in Panama? How long are you going to stay?” We explained that we were touring Panama for 4 months, then after that we are going to another country to tour it. She said “Ok, what window did you use?” We said tres (three). She went inside the booth and directly to the guy that denied us. She said something to him in Spanish and then hit him on the side of the head – no joke! She motioned to come up to the window. I went first and handed him my passport. He took it and asked where we were going to be staying. I said “In a condo in Los Molinos.” All of a sudden his English was great and he was chatty as could be. He stated that he was getting married in November and that’s where his wedding is going to be. Wow, one little whack on the head and everything changed! Passports were stamped quickly and easily, now onto the baggage exam.
We had a fully loaded bus and everyone had luggage – us a little more than most because we were moving. The officials packed all 52 of us, and our luggage, into this small room with no air conditioning. They called us by name, one by one, as they checked the list. All present and accounted for – now the bag check. We decided to go last sense we would be the first ones off the bus in David. When it was our turn, we put our bags on the cement table and unzipped the cases. The examiner looked at us funny and then at our contents. We had several travel vacuum bags with clothes in them, a few household items and quite a few electronics. He lifted one of the vacuum pack bags and turned it over and over. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Then he called to the other examiner to help him out. The other guy was busy checking all the bags in his line and ignored him. Our guy said “Ropa?” We said yes, “para ropa” (for clothes). He shook his head and motioned for us to go. We quickly zipped up our bags and took them back to the bus to be loaded. We got back on the bus, sat in our seats and let out a sigh of relief. I looked at Mark and said “I guess we’ll be blogging about this!”
Posted by Tina