Diary/Photo Journal

Week of February 01, 2004

Still waiting to ship Cindy but at least we had a place to enjoy the Superbowl.  XS Memories guested us and many Peace Corp. volunteers and we had a fun evening watching the game.  Just a quick note about the Peace Corp. personnel.  We have now met many, many volunteers and what they gave up to follow their humane hearts is incredible.  For two years at $300 a month, the volunteers in Panama are dropped into a local village wherein they are to build their own shelter, provide for their own "facilities", gather their own food, etc. - basically live like the people they are there to help.

Then, they are either given or create needed projects and/or programs to help their village.  Whether it be digging more latrines/sewer systems, building fresh water aqueducts, creating new bus access, repairing/building roads, etc., each volunteer is committed (more intrinsically than contractually) to complete their task and hopefully better the lives of their village.  Some of the volunteers have to take an hour-plus boat ride to their island and then walk an hour or more to their village.  Others, have to take a bus to the nearest highway drop off, then hike their way into their village. 

We met young people that were just out of high school, just graduated college, just left their jobs (teacher, therapist, engineer, etc.) and even a retiree - all just wanting to "give something back" as we heard many times.  What an experience these people will have for the rest of their lives and each one can say they truly helped, not only an individual or only for a short time, but entire villages for generations to come.  How many of us can honor that distinction?

Since we were waiting, we just piddled around, got Cindy ready for her big adventure and stole some time around the pool.  It was nice just to relax for a few days and ready ourselves for our withdrawal from Cindy.

Examples of
churches and
the statue of
Smiles come easy
to the Panamanian

We again visited Panama City and prepared to release Cindy to her destiny across the ocean.  What had been a described nightmare process of paperwork and police and customs inspections, turned out to be an easy, albeit "propina" (spanish for "tip") ridden, experience. 

Kuna Indians selling in
their markets and
making their crafts.
Their dress tells much
about each of them and the village they are from

Traditional dances
and Panama is
famous for its
Pollera dress

On Saturday, February 7th, we extracted ourselves from our little girl and had to leave her with the port authority, where on Sunday, the 8th, she will be driven onto a platform, strapped in place and then hoisted* onto her penthouse position.  For those of you interested, this is what it took to get Cindy this far:

* Locate an agent or a shipping line to arrange for the ship to carry the vehicle (whether you are
*, roll-on/roll-off or fitted into a container, will depend on which ship you can hire
   and date of departure). Finding an agent can take hours or days, it just depends on where and how
   you start (we had a head start and after briefly checking two other sources, found Walter at
   Euroline to be the more attentive and for the same cost).

* Get instructions for the paperwork and go to the Policia Tecnica Judicial (PTJ) for vehicle
   clearance (to verify the vehicle is the same one that entered the country and documents its intent
   to leave - inspection results are good for eight days). (Waiting for the inspector and the paperwork
   - max 1 hour and no charge)

* Meet with the agent to get mucho copies of the paperwork needed and pay for the shipping
   (passport photo and signature pages, vehicle title, police check certificate, vehicle
   entry-into-the-country certificate and shipping order document). (15 minutes to1 hour,
   depending on your questions - pay only the shipping cost).

Go to the port 1-2 days ahead of the shipping date to meet with the port authority and customs.  Make
   sure that all of your personal effects are cabled together and locked and stacked inside your vehicle
   in such a way that any of the smaller, loose items are hidden or "buried" underneath.  It is best to tie
   the locked items together from front-to-back or side-to-side so that no one can pull an item out easily.

   (from Panama City, Colon/Cristobal is approximately 1 hour (80km), depending on traffic -
   about $4 in tolls).

* Meet with the shipping company and get copies of the shipping order stamped - this stamp allows
   you entry into the port itself.  Get the shipping company's phone number to call on the day of shipping
   to verify that the ship left and what time it left (max 15 minutes - no charge).

* Go to port entrance, pay a propina ($1) to the police officer that, without your asking,
   guides you to the correct window (as with the windows at the borders, these are all unmarked,
   making the use of a guide almost a necessity if you want to avoid being told "you have to go
   wait in that line, not this one").

* Customs or "Aduana" keeps a copy of the stamped shipping order and you are directed
   around the corner to an office that clears and stamps the passport of the "designated" driver of the
   vehicle.  Another copy of the documents is relinquished here. (max 15 minutes if no line - no charge).

Passport clearance office: Is this a scary filing system, or what?!!!!

* After the passport is stamped, back to the customs window to receive instructions and a checklist
   document for your meeting with the port authority inspector. (max 5 minutes if no line - no charge).

* Drive your vehicle through the police guard gates and pay another propina ($1) to the guard
   for no other reason than he will be nice and let you in (even though he is 20' away from the
   customs office and saw you get all the clearance you need - ahhhh, and ex-patriots of the U.S.
   say they don't mind this "bribe" system, yeah right!!)

* Drive along the massive stacks of intimidating containers and equipment and look for a pleasant
   guy in a bright orange shirt and pants.  Drive into the huge warehouse and present the check list
   document for his completion.

Rows of stacks
of waiting
shipping containers
Cool loading

* Walk around the vehicle with the inspector and verify all that is checked is correct and sign off
   on the document when it's complete (I took pictures of Cindy, inside and out, with the inspector
   in a pic or two, just to document the condition in which we released Cindy to the port 
   authority (IE: shipping company)). 

Our inspection
and inspector

* Pay the nice inspector a few bucks to "be nice to Cindy" and to "try not to scratch her"
   (which of course, elicited some chuckles due to Cindy's rather worn and rusty condition)
   (and remember, this person watches your vehicle until it is driven onto the platform
   and skip-loaded away, and a good tip might keep his eyes more keen and hopefully, his fingers
   less sticky).

* Give the key to open the vehicle's door and for the ignition (Cindy has only one key for both)
   and make sure the key(s) is/are indicated on the checklist. (entire process - max 15 minutes
   - no charge but for the propina)

* Drag yourself away from your home you have known for several months and tearfully
   wish her a safe journey, all to the confusement and amusement of the inspector.

Til we meet again, fair Cinderella (sniff, sniff)

* Walk the 100 yards back through the gate (we slipped through another pedestrian gate to
   avoid the police "demand" for another propina to get out) and walk to the bus terminal.
(max 5 minutes)
* Hop on an air-conditioned, movie-showing bus back to Panama City (max 2 hours - $2 each)
* Go to your hotel and wish you could just reach into the refrigerator for a cold drink.

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