Saturday, January 25, 2014

Panama Boarder Crossing ....Gateway to Hell?

Go to Panama. It will be fun! Not the boarder crossing!
It was 8:00 PM and we were standing in line to enter Panama. The last 2 days of travel on buses had drained me. I was delirious. Everything was funny now. Chantal and I had traveled from Managua to San Jose, Costa Rica (10 hours by bus), slept at the Tica Bus station hotel and then boarded another bus to David, Panama. As we were in line to board the bus, I was told I needed to buy a return airplane ticket to the USA before I could board. What?!? I had arranged a bus ticket to cover the issue but they said the USA government required I had a flight home. I looked at my watch. The bus was leaving in 28 minutes. Ugh! I was not happy but realized I needed to buy a refundable airline ticket. I went online and bought it with plans to cancel the next day. I boarded the bus to Panama and was ready for the boarder crossing. Everyone we met had stories about the boarder crossing. Several people were on boarder runs and had been using the same "airline ticket" they had been doctoring for months. Wish I had known about that, I would have made a fake one too! They also told us we needed to show USD $500 cash to enter. Ugh. I hate stupid rules like these. It makes me never want to come back to a country that is not easy to travel. As I stood in the long line waiting, I was even more certain I did not want to do this again. We were the third bus in line. Everyone had to get off and line up at the counter. There was a long line of people in front of us. A gentleman walked up and handed us the forms to fill out in line. Everyone was trying to balance the form on a bag and answer the questions. We had to account for all the money we had in every currency. Locals were standing around watching as tourists pulled out money and counted it. Yeah, I felt safe! Then  someone walked up and said we had to pay an entry tax ($1) and placed a stamp in our passport. We stood in line for 2 hours. Finally, I reached the window. I handed the gentleman my passport. He asked me to show him $500. I pulled it out of my money belt and handed it to him. He motioned for me to fan it out. Then said ok. Then he asked for my airline ticket. I gave it to him. He saw it was out of San Jose, Costa Rica and asked for a bus ticket from Panama to Costa Rica. Seriously! I pulled that out. This was ridiculous! Next he asked where I worked, my degree, when I was going back to the USA and where I was traveling. When he opened up my passport he noticed all the stamps and asked when I had left the USA. Ugh! I had a bank statement prepared to show him if needed.  I was contemplating if I would have to give him some money to stamp my passport. Luckily, he had enough information and stamped my passport.
You would think this was sufficient to get us through the boarder. Nope! Now we had to wait for everyone on the bus to get stamped and then they would open the bus for us to remove our luggage for search. I decided to find a bathroom. Unfortunately, they were closed for the day and we would have to wait. Nope. I needed to go. I was irritated at this point. I asked the bus driver if I could use the one of the bus. After promising I was only going to urinate, he let me. Then I returned to the curb to sit and wait. Chantal and I started making up Panama tourism ads. We decided they should start one that is " puts the FU in FUN!" I have been to 22 countries and Panama was the most difficult and costly to enter. Why? Who knows. Bureaucracy gone bad. It is not a country made for backpackers. We finally got the ok to get our bags and enter a small room. Everyone rushed to get a place on the tables. I sat on my backpack on the floor waiting. I looked around. All the backpackers were chilling on the floor. Everyone at the tables was forced to open and unpack their bags for the customs agents. When there was space, I moved up and lifted my bag. The guy said ok. I never even opened it. Huh?!?  Just another checkbox requirement with no real purpose. I was happy to finally be back on the bus. It was late and we still had an hour to David and 45 minutes to our hotel in Boquete.
When the bus pulled up to the stop in David, Chantal and I were happy to see our guesthouse waiting for us. We jumped in the truck and were happy when we arrived at Casa Pedro. I was ready to sleep off 2 days of long bus rides and boarder crossings. I knew I would feel better when I got some rest. Panama had better be good, the boarder crossing had already put it in a bad light.

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