Tina dropped me off early in the morning on Monday (1/26) at the David Airport, about 45 minutes from Boquete. I took the only morning Air Panama flight to Panama City (PC), with the intention of buying a used car. It’s an easy 45 minute flight. At the airport counter, I asked for an aisle seat, so, of course, I was assigned a window seat. No big deal. It actually afforded me some great views along the way.
Note: The 2 slides of a bridge shows the Bridge of the Americas, which spans the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.
I arrived at Albrook Airport (the smaller Panama City airport) about 9:15am. Sergio, my contact and auto “broker”, was picking me up at the airport. He was late and I started wondering if I was at the right place. Unfortunately, my phone was not getting a signal, so I couldn’t call him to touch base. He showed up about 45 minutes late and explained that he had a flat tire on the way (evidenced by the spare tire that was mounted on the back wheel).
Sergio had lined up a few vehicles for me to see and we did our introductions on the way to the first rendezvous. The first car was an individual seller (we met in a parking lot), then we went to a small, used car dealer called TD Motors, then across town to see another privately-owed vehicle. All were small SUVs, as I had requested.
By 12:30pm, I had decided the car I wanted was at TD Motors: a 2008 Kia Sportage. We went back to the dealer and I gave them a small ($100) deposit to hold the car until I could get the money transferred.
Tina and I had researched our options for getting the money for a car purchase, since we don’t have a bank account in Panama. We had 2 options: a large ATM withdrawal at a bank (a “cash advance”) or a wire transfer. The money would be put into Sergio’s bank account and he would provide the money to the dealer. This is where some pretty serious trust comes into play.
We went to Sergio’s bank to talk to them about transferring the money. They said it would have to be a wire transfer and it would take 2-3 days, due to Panama regulations for international wire transfers. I was not happy to hear that and I hoped they were wrong. We got the bank’s wire information and I spent about a half hour in Sergio’s car, in the bank parking lot, using Sergio’s phone as a WiFi “hotspot”, accessing our online account and arranging for the wire transfer. There is a lot of info and the financial institution is very picky about exactly how it is entered. It wasn't easy, working with a little iPhone screen, but I got the job done. After several attempts, I finally got it all input correctly and received a confirmation from the bank.
It was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch. Sergio picked a lovely local restaurant for our lunch, called McDonald’s. It was fancy, but the food is pretty much the same…
We kept checking the status of the transfer via our cell phones. Just before 5pm, Tina received a call back at our condo (via our US Magicjack phone number) from our bank. They wanted to confirm the transfer details. She reviewed it with them, ended the call, and the transfer went through about 10 minutes later. Excellent! Now, I just had to wait for the money to show up in Sergio’s account.
Sergio drove me to an apartment building in downtown PC. It was directly behind a large Marriott and there were a number of skyscraper bank buildings within a few block radius. He had arranged with a friend of his, named Scotty, for me to rent one of the 5 apartments Scotty owns in the building. We met Scotty’s girlfriend, Jessica, at the apartment and she showed me to my studio apartment and gave me an orientation. It was a secure building and the studio apartment was very clean and functional – much better than a hotel room. The price was a real bargain, too: $60 a night. That’s amazing for accommodations in the heart of a major city. There were plenty of restaurants, banks, supermarkets, and other facilities within easy walking distance.
The setup of Scotty’s apartments was a little different. He had bought half of the 7th floor of the building and divided it up into his own little “apartment world”. When you exited the elevator, you entered a door straight ahead, marked “7A”. This door led to an L-shaped hallway where there were a number of additional doors. Jessica opened the first door on the right. This opened into a very small entry area, with 3 more doors: one straight ahead, one on the left and one on the right. She then unlocked the door on the left, which led into my studio apartment. The door on the right was the bathroom for my unit – separate from the studio but exclusively for my use. The door straight ahead was no longer used. This seemed obvious, since there was a small (about 12” high) wall built in front of it. On the other side of that door was a privately owned condo. The door to the hallway didn’t lock, but the doors to my studio and the bathroom were “lockable.”
As the panorama shot above shows, the studio unit (about 13' x 14') was very functional. It had a flat screen TV, computer desk and office chair, and a kitchenette with a microwave, refrigerator, dual-burner cooktop, and toaster oven. The cabinets below the kitchen counter had pots, pans, dishes, plates, silverware, etc. It was well stocked. The condiments in the refrigerator included possibly the world's smallest bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Since all I had brought was a backpack, there wasn't much unpacking to do. I went out to dinner, came back and settled in for my first night in the Big City.
Posted by Mark