Day 122 – Panama City, PA

Day 122 – Panama City, PA      12/21/10      Mileage: Local miles

I spent the morning, you guessed it, using the hotel wifi and making plans for the road south. Afterwards I rode over to the Girag air freight office at Panama City’s Tocumen International airport freight terminal to get information on shipping the KLR to Bogotá, Colombia. I have been looking for a sailboat to take me and the bike from Panama’s Caribbean coast to Cartagena, Colombia…but so far I haven’t found a viable option that will fit my time frame. Let me back up a minute for the folks who may not know that there is no road between Central and South America. The Pan American Highway (indeed all roads south) ends in Panama and begins again in Colombia. The inhospitable and roadless jungle that separates them is called the Darien Gap. The only way to get from Panama to Colombia is by boat (there is no regular ferry service, only chartered boats) or to air freight the bike over the Darien Gap. So, it’s the latter option that I was at the Girag office for. I spoke with Madeleyne who laid out my options….pack the bike and ship it right now or wait a week for the next flight….crap!! I wasn’t prepared to pull the trigger just yet as I was still waiting for some emails back for the boat option. Hmmm…wait a week in the hopes that a boat will turn up or just pull the trigger now. Oh well, f–k it…I pulled the trigger! I didn’t have a flight for me yet…or even the money in hand to pay for the bike, but it was 1:30pm and I had to have the bike prepped and paperwork through customs in under 2 hours for the bike to make the flight! Crap! This was gonna be tight!

First I went to try and get $900 out of the ATM in the freight terminal next door as without that, the KLR wasn’t going anywhere. Money in hand, next I got the paperwork going with Girag while I started to prep the bike and gear for the plane ride to Bogotá. I was in my riding gear, so I did a striptease behind some freight pallets into my street clothes.

The bike is prepped and waiting with the other skids of freight!

Next I paid for the flight and once all that was sorted it was off to the Panama officials to get all the appropriate stamps and signatures. I wondered why if I’m paying Girag $901.38 they are not doing this instead of me…but at this point I didn’t care and would do whatever it takes to get the bike on that plane! At the customs offices, I was pointed to the right office after a few attempts and got the first of 3 stamps I needed. Next I was pointed to the agriculture inspectors office (or that’s what I think it was at least), and she seemed to have an issue that I had ridden through Central America and wanted to ship the bike on to Colombia. She had a somewhat heated discussion with some of her colleagues, but I missed most of it with my limited spanish. In the end she begrudgingly applied her stamp, signed it and passed it back to me. I smiled, said thanks and went in search of the last stamp at the police checkpoint. This official also wasn’t happy with something with my paperwork or maybe they didn’t know what to do with a motorcycle…I’m not sure. She also spent a few minutes chatting with her coworkers, but in the end applied her magic stamp…success! One last window where the official said the policia woman didn’t fill out the stamp correctly. Crap! So I ran back, she had another look, muttered something, put a few more pen strokes on the stamp and handed it back to me. Now back to the last window and….success! I ran back to the Girag office with my freshly stamped, signed and otherwise processed paper pile. Sweet! It was now 3:45, 15 minutes past the deadline but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Done deal….the KLR has a plane ticket to Bogotá! Now, errr…perhaps I should look for one for me! I hailed a local cab to take me to the main passenger terminal where I caught a cab back downtown. The 2 cabs cost $40 in total….3 tanks worth of gas for the KLR. I could go over 600 miles with that same $40…oh well. Once back at the hotel I booked a flight using some of my frequent flyer miles (thanks Jimmy Choo!). Since I was going direct to Bogotá, I would of had to backtracked north to see Cartagena and then down…an 800 mile detour. I really want to see Cartagena, so I booked a flight to Cartagena, then on to Bogata. This way I get to see it without having to backtrack so far north. After that I walked around Panama City for a bit and found some dinner.

Old Panama City

New Panama City from Old Panama City

Tomorrow I’m going to tour the Panama Canal locks at Miraflores, then it’s on to the airport to catch my flight to Cartagena!