The Mexigonia Weekly

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Part I: Shipping a Car from Panama to Colombia

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Between Panama and Colombia there lies a great expanse of virgin jungle, uninhabited, and rarely crossed on land by travelers. The map shows the Pan American highway narrow down to an unpaved road before it altogether stops at the jungle’s door. This expanse is called the Darien Gap and even with such daring courage, Rocinante was not about to venture here. Elizabeth and Braden would have to send their steed on a cargo ship to Colombia, but not before experiencing the thick beauracracy of Latin America.

Elizabeth and Braden hiked up three flights of stairs to the office of Barwil Agency, a shipping company in Panama City. With the help of Barwil’s star employee, Evelyn, Braden and Elizabeth began the process of shipping Rocinante. They met a couple from Basque country (Spain) who were also driving to Patagonia, and thus shipping their camper to Colombia. To save on cost,  these two couples decided to share one large container, which would hold both cars safely on their journey across the Caribbean Sea. What started as a money saving scheme turned into an invaluable friendship between Braden and Elizabeth and Josu and Ana. First stop: police station for an inspection of the car before being allowed to leave the country.


“The office is closed,” the front desk attendant told the four travelers, who were then joined by a Swiss couple, Sonja and Markus, trying to acquire the same paperwork for their car.

“Well what time are you open?” Braden asked.

“Between ten and eleven,” the attendant replied.

“Until when?”

“No, we’re only open from ten to eleven in the morning, you have to come back then.”

The problem was that the ship would leave in just two days, and these couples needed to get their paperwork finished today! So they went around to the back of the building and found the men who were conducting the inspections. One of them said he would do all these couples a favor, even though it was noon and the office was clearly not open.

Including making copies of the paperwork, the inspection took all of ten minutes, and the three couples were informed that their papers would be received at the other office across the street around 2.30 pm. The three couples decided to reconvene at that time, as the others wanted to leave their cars at their hostels. Elizabeth and Braden were the only ones to bring their car back to the office at 2 pm in preparation for more paperwork.

“I’m sorry, you can’t come in with shorts on,” the officer at the front gate told the couples. Elizabeth and Braden had had this trouble before, and were already wearing jeans. The other four, however, were donning shorts to bear Panama City’s heat.

“But we didn’t bring our cars with us, we don’t have other clothes,” Ana told the officer. Then Elizabeth remembered that even though her bags were back at the hostel, she had some spare clothes left in the car. She ran back to Rocinante and grabbed the only bottoms she could find: a skirt, a pair of jeans, and some stretchy running pants. They would have to do. She gave the skirt to Ana and the jeans to Sonja. Josu and Markus would have to wait outside while the rest went in.

“I’m sorry, you can’t wear tank tops,” the officer told Sonja.

“Quick, give me your shirt,” she yelled to Markus. Finally, the four in proper garb entered the police station, leaving a shirtless Markus on the front lawn with Josu in his shorts. They walked to the office where their paperwork was being processed and began to fill out some forms.

“Are you the owners?” the woman behind the desk asked Ana and Sonja. Elizabeth was already filling out her papers as owner of Rocinante.

“No, but they’re outside and they can’t come in with shorts,” Ana replied, helping all the travelers with the Spanish translations.

“Well they have to be here to sign,” she insisted.

Ana and Sonja ran out and soon Josu and Markus returned with just Ana. Josu miraculously fit into Elizabeth’s jeans and Markus got his t-shirt back, which matched Elizabeth’s tight running pants nicely. If the dress code was meant to maintain a sense of respect for the law enforcement, then these travelers found the loophole: cross-dressing. Josu and Markus began signing away.

Suddenly, after a few moments of standard beauracracy, the other clients waiting behind these foreigners could not contain themselves, and all let out a loud burst of laughter simultaneously. The sight of Josu in his size 2 Express jeans and a tall Markus in his synthetic running pants about 2 sizes too small was too much to handle, and soon even the woman behind the desk was laughing.

Finally, the paperwork was finished, and they all returned to Barwil to hand in all the appropriate stamps, signatures and copies. Markus and Sonja were shipping to Argentina and therefore on a different ship. So from here on out, it would be Braden, Elizabeth, Josu and Ana.

The next day, Rocinante followed behind the Basques’ camper to the port at Colon, about an hour north of Panama City, on the Caribbean side. They stood in line at countless windows and offices for signatures, stamps, and copies, signatures, stamps, and more copies.

They pulled their cars into the port, surrounded by huge stacks of containers that look like children’s building blocks. As they await more inspections, they see Carlos approaching, the same Peruvian man who was one of the laughing clients behind them at the office the day prior. He would be shipping on the same vessel, and so joined the clan.

After the inspection it was off to load the cars into the container. Braden backed Rocinante into the large container and the men tied her down. Josu followed with his camper. As one of the workers backed the camper in, they saw that it would only just fit in the container with about two inches to spare. The driver would have to crawl out of the window because there was no room to open a door. Carlos had his own small container, and soon all the cars were ready to head to sea.

The five new friends bussed back to Panama City, boarded a plane to Cartagena, Colombia, to meet their cars at the port. They relaxed, as the difficult task of shipping was behind them, or was it?

Please read Part II to see what happens next!


Last Updated on Monday, 08 February 2010 20:52