Monday, March 28, 2011

Leaving Boquete

It was a leisurely start to a day I was anxiously looking forward to for over a month. I would meet my riding partners, Gary and Jennifer, at noon at a restaurant in David, Panama. This gave me an opportunity in the morning, to stop by a few places to say goodbye to some of the friends I made,

 including Neil’s shop. I particularly wanted to thank him again for all that he has done to get me up and running again. Unfortunately Neil was not there but I did get my appreciation across to his son who helped on the repair job. He smile and bid wished for my safe return to the USA.
Everything was moving along as planned and I was enjoying riding to the David meeting point which was a bit further down the slope of Vulcan Baru so higher temperatures were expected at the lower elevations.
Gary met me at noon as planned but still had a few errands to run and Jennifer was still doing some packing. We had to stop off at the cable office to get the internet turned off in downtown David. The three of us on the two bike ready to roll outside the cable office waiting to get this last detail squared away. About 40 minutes later Jennifer came out needing to catch a cab back to the house to get the actual cable box to turn in in order to complete the deal. Gary and I sweat a bit longer.

At about 2:30 PM we finally got rolling toward the Costa Rica border. Feeling good to be moving we sailed right along for the 40 minutes it took to get to the border. Good weather and riding a motorcycle who has it better than us?
We got our passports punched out of Panama pretty quickly but Gary didn’t have a plate on his motorcycle yet since it was a new purchase so I figured he would have more difficulty getting through the Aduana paperwork. His process was very involved as he walked back and forth from one office to another window and back again several times, while I waited what seemed an eternity at the Aduana window.
I watched the lady behind the window check her computer monitor intently then disappear behind another room for maybe ten minutes then back again to the computer all the while indicating to me a confident signal that I should wait a little bit longer.
Finally, to my relief, she came out from behind her booth to check the bike numbers after which she talked to another Aduana fellow who checked my papers and showed me the problem. My vehicle permit had expired during the month I was stranded in Boquete. I indicated that I would be happy to extend it at this time but he indicated it is not possible and that I need to surrender the motorcycle keys.
Feeling about as anxious as I did when the stator burned out, I couldn’t believe he was serious about impounding my motorcycle. I could not bring myself to hand over the key to my WEE. He insisted that I must indicated the consequences with a gesture of handcuffs. I refused insisting there must be another way to handle this and that I would not give my bike away not knowing where they would take it. The situation became a standoff for a time, during which I consulted a few people about my options. Jennifer translating what she could, all the while Gary, still in a mire of bureaucracy of his own, tried to talk in my defense.
At one point I had about eight people all talking at me at the same time all with different answers to my problem. One man said I should just jump on the bike a run to the Costa Rica side of the border. That didn’t look like an option since there was a border guard three feet from my bike.
Another woman said I can call a number that she gave me and talk to the “fixer”, and woman who can “handle” these situations and get the fine reduced for a $50 fee. I took the number just in case it became necessary to utilize her services.
Overwhelmed at all the attention I was getting and yet not any closer to freedom, I began to feel faint and loose my peripheral vision. My field of view paired down to a tunnel, I slowly dropped half conscious to the ground in an attempt to protect myself from falling hard. With what was left of my consciousness I thought it best to just stay down even with the Aduana goon in my face trying to say something. It was when I heard Gary tell them I had a heart condition that things took a slight turn for the better. I finally got up but still feeling and probably looking unsteady, the Aduana goon gave me one other option as I came to understand there was no way around the impound for the expired permit.

Still dazed and amazed at the consequences of an expired permit, I was allowed to ride with the bike in the back of a small pickup truck to the David Aduana impound yard. Gary and I looked at the truck and agreed it was much to small to handle the bike as it would need to hang over the edge precariously to be carried. I said it is not possible to transport this bike in this truck even if we could get it up into the back. More standoff, eventually he compromised further and let me ride the bike following two Aduana agents in the truck back to the David impound yard. I had no choice but to take this last offer since Panamanian policy is very strict, and requires an impound when the permit expires. There is no way around it, not even cash offers.
Gary had to take Jennifer to San Jose airport for a flight to Miami for a conference and were unable to stay with me but the plan was to meet in San Jose in 24 hours as she would be back the next day. We were scheduled to leave San Jose after a three day stay anyway so it looks like it is possible to meet up again.

With strict instructions to ride slowly as I followed, we rode back the 40 minutes to David near dusk. I don’t think they wanted a foreigner having a heart attack on their watch. Too much paperwork even for these mega-bureaucrats I suppose.

The Aduana agents I was following were much more amenable and even offered to take me to a hotel of my choosing with all my gear. I only had to tell them how much I wanted to spend. They told me to be at the Aduana office in David at 9:00 AM the next day for the hearing and such.

It was a acrid feeling checking into a strange hotel in a strange city alone with all my MC gear and no motorcycle. It was all I could do to get myself out to find something to eat. It turned out I was one block from the Central Park in David so I walked around the colorfully illuminated fountain and landscaping of the square. I even chatted with three Germans who were at the border during all the drama. They were looking to ship their bikes to Colombia for a ride through South America.

I called a few friends to see what I could come up with as far as a defense for the next day when I face whoever needs to be faced. I called Anya first since she’s been such a good support during the repair. She said call Ibu, and Ibu said he would call Neil for me since he spoke better Spanish to explain the situation. Ibu also called the “fixer” from the number I had been given for her.
Ibu called me back from Panama City where he was at the time and said the fixer would make a call to the Aduana to try to smooth it over a bit but she could not show up for the 9 AM appointment.
Neil volunteered to show up at 9 AM and it turns out he knows people in the Aduana office. I felt there was hope.
To say I was concerned about the bike being in the impound yard would be too much understatement. I imagined my WEE on death row as I tried my best to get some sleep that night with little success.

The next day, I decided to leave all my gear at the hotel except the valuables while I go try to get this thing settled. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the bike had not been touched overnight and the staff at the Aduana was friendly. Neil showed up on time

 and the process began…but didn’t end until four hours later. Much paperwork, signing, sitting with the big man behind the big desk, who Neil happened to know, then the long wait for it to go through the legal department. It seemed interminably long but Neil stayed and was poised like he was there through it before. Neil explained to the desk man

 that the reason the bike permit expired was because of the breakdown and wait for the parts. This seemed to work pretty well since the normal fine for such heinous acts is $500 but I got off with only a $100 fine and a “don’t do it again”.
Proceedure apparently required me to surrender the key to the bike, although it was not going to be used for anything more than the paperwork process. I did this, then Neil and I went to get the gear from the hotel and were packed up and ready to roll whenever the legal department was done with my paperwork. Neil had his son bring his Honda Magna to the Aduana so he could ride with me to the border to make sure that crossing goes well the second time.
Panama procedure requires another escort to the border since I had no current vehicle permit and I had already checked out of Panama on my passport. That Aduana agent also was a friend of Neil’s and opted to escort me out of Panama via the back of Neil’s bike. That was a ride that I wish I got a picture of. We stopped at a police check point where they just waved as they knew each other and tossed a few words and a laugh as if to say “We are throwing this foreigner out”…………..
I didn’t feel up to laughing with them, not yet…..I did manage a smile J


  1. Oh boy honey. This is a ripping good read. I was sweating with you the whole time!

  2. The latin Gods are with you. I may have to sleep with Neil to thank him on your behalf. What do you think?