On Tuesday morning (1/27), I received a call from Sergio, my car-buying guide, about 9:30am. He said the wired funds had already shown up in his bank account - much quicker than his bank told us. Sergio had gone to the car dealer and paid off the balance on the Kia (shown above). I was surprised, because he didn't ask me if that's what I wanted him to do and we hadn't had a chance to take the car to the mechanic to have it checked out yet. He said he would come over an pick me up and take me to the dealer, so I could do the paperwork.
At the dealer, I signed all the paperwork for the purchase of the vehicle and for the government documents (title, transfer, etc.). Back in Boquete, Tina went to see an insurance agent that had been recommended to us. She was checking on what we needed in order to get insurance on the new vehicle, so I would be insured driving back. We found out the insurance agent needed a copy of the title, in my name. She could then issue a liability-only policy until she could inspect the vehicle, back in Boquete (then we could add full coverage).
It was after lunch time when I finished the paperwork with Susana (who didn't speak English). She told me, through Sergio, that the final paperwork wouldn't be ready until noon on Wednesday. That meant a 2nd night in Panama City. Fortunately, we had anticipated that and I already had my same studio apartment reserved for that night.
Once the paperwork was done, I drove the Kia and followed Sergio to the mechanic shop he recommended - only couple of minutes away. It didn't quite look like the Sears Auto Center but I trusted that Sergio knew they were competent and honest. Sergio recommended getting a "tune up" for the vehicle, since we didn't know when it had last been serviced and I would be taking it on a drive across Panama. This would include an oil change, new plugs, new filters, tire rotation and balance, etc. I agreed that was a good idea. We pulled up and the mechanic, Juan, came out. Sergio explained to him what we wanted and told me to give Juan $120 cash. This was unusual, to pay for auto servicing that hadn't been done yet. Sergio explained it was because Juan would have to go and buy the parts. Once again, I trusted my guide and did as he requested.
It was mid-afternoon and the mechanic said the car wouldn't be ready until the next day. That was fine, since I couldn't go anyplace until the government paperwork and insurance were finalized. Sergio took me back to the apartment building. When we got there, he said he had a favor to ask me. Sergio said he was out of money and asked if I could pay him his $200 fee now. I was not comfortable doing that, since we hadn't yet competed the car buying process. I offered to pay him half, with the other half being paid upon completion. He pleaded that he needed the entire payment. Given the strong endorsements he had been given by my friends in Boquete and since it seemed all we had left to do was pick up the documents and car the next day, I gave in and paid him the full amount. This turned out to be a BIG mistake on my part.
Since I was back at the apartment earlier than on Monday, I decided to take a walk to a large mall that was about a kilometer away (about a half mile or so). I ate dinner near there and walked around the mall a little bit. It was HUGE! It has 4 levels, a 9 screen movie theater, a Hard Rock Cafe, a casino and 3000 free covered parking spaces. It's very modern and apparently very popular [pictures from mall web site].
Although it would be later in the day than I had hoped to leave, I was looking forward to leaving the next afternoon.
Posted by Mark