Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Promised Land

Thursday 25th June
Cartagena, Colombia

All right! After 4 months and 14 days in Panama, we have escaped! This Spanish pilot, Pepe, saw the car on Saturday, gave us the deposit on Sunday, the rest of the dough on Monday and Tuesday we flew out of Panama (not with Pepe though!). It sure felt weird flying for the first time this trip, but I didn't fancy paying $380 for a 5-day luxury yacht trip, nor hanging out in Colón (where gringos last no more than a few minutes without being robbed) trying to skank a ride on a cargo boat, nor trekking through the Darian. Another day... but I will try the boat thing on the way back up (towards Burning Man).

I will miss as a treat going to the fish market first thing in the morning to get a big red snapper to bake for $3, as well as a pound of seabass for $1.75 to make into ceviche for lunch.

I will miss the good european style lager from the hole-in-the-wall shop directly outside the apartment front door, chilled, for 25 pence a 330ml bottle, in returnable bottles.

I will miss going to listen to Reggaeton on big systems outdoors with a coolbox full of ice, a bottle each of rum and ginger ale, and Marco, our big friendly black Panamanian ever-smiling new friend.

I will miss slinging our shit into the back of the car and driving from one place to the next without waiting for buses.

I will miss the parties on the rooftop terrace of our apartment, with daiquiri/mojito in hand and looking out over Panama Bay, especially the one that turned into the panama couchsurfing birthday party.

I will miss Baños Publicos! They used to be public toilets, and in proper squat style had been turned into a sick bar right in the heart of the oldest part of Panama City. Then they did a remodel last week, and 4 hours before opening a very large section of façade from the adjoining building fell onto the roof of Baños, collapsing the entire roof. Thankfully it didn't happen 4 hours later, or I might very well be dead. No-one was hurt. Mad shit.

I won't miss finding a safe place to park.

I won't miss the lack of street food (or any cheap food) at night (i.e. after 7pm).

I won't miss hanging out on the swimming pool terrace of the Hotel Veneto watching guys take turns to take a prostitute up to their room.

I won't miss answering the telephone to people vaguely (or not even) interested in buying the car, asking us our lowest price before even seeing the car, then arranging to meet them and them maybe showing up, maybe on time, before telling us they will definately call us tomorrow either way.

I won't miss actually wondering what it would be like to retire in Panama....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Panamanian Plates!

It's been a while. Things have been less adventurous the last few weeks, we're making plans for retirement in Panama, as we're resigned to the fate of never leaving here. Before leaving, Panama would not have been in my top 20 list of places to spend 4 months (it's still not). But, in between running around jumping through car import hoops, it's actually been nice to have some time and space to think and develop my ideas about what I want to do now and on return to the UK. I've started a film script (which is back on the back burner), and I've made a mix.

beans with holes in like this make you sick

In fact, I've made a new blog. You can download the mix there, for those that did download the first one, this is a much better version, the levels are MUCH better, it sounds much more punchy. If you're not sure which one you've got, the latest version ends has mastered in brackets. In terms of genre it's electronic dance music, and style it's all over the place but on a breakbeat/jungle tip. It sounds good on big speakers.

So right now we're housesitting Rose's apartment in Casco Viejo, the top floor end apartment with a balcony, stunning view over the sea and a breeze (pretty important here). She's been away in the States for 3 weeks and is back tonight, when we'll decamp into Room 2 - the bottom floor place with no balcony and a crappy single camp bed and no kitchen - but 'only' $7.50 a night.

We met an English couple a couple of weeks ago - who bought a car in California, went to Burning Man and then drove down here! It's funny, we're soooo similar, it's quite scary. They sold their car within a week, as it is, no import or nothing. Bastards. It's a Japanese car, which they lap up here, as everyone drives them making parts and repairs much easier. We couldn't find a decent Japanese car at the only dealer in NY state that would get our car registered on the sly...

On which note, we now have Panamanian plates! That took 2 months! It involved going to the customs broker with documents, waiting 6 weeks going to the Customs office ourselves to get the pre-declaration where they stung us for a $2300 bill in import taxes - by which stage it was too late to get it done cheaper by paying a bit under the table. Then back to the brokers, withdraw $2300 in $300 batches a day, pay it into a bank account, then back to the brokers twice. Then to the DIJ - the Police Investigators Office - to get a police check. We got there on Thursday, at 6am, which wasn't early enough. Friday we got there at 4.30am to discover they don't do checks on a Friday. Then Monday at 4.30am we got checked & told to come back Wednesday. Came back Wednesday, not ready yet. Thursday we picked it up & the friendly cop gave us his phone number (weird). Friday we went to the Council office outside the city, and got pulled over by a jumped-up little shit of a cop for trying to change lane in the wrong place (!).

He asked us for our passports. We are 4 months into a 3 month tourist visa, because of this bullshit taking so long. He didn't care, and we drove over the police hut on the junction. The 'tourist police' got called over. The little jumped-up shit then asked us for the car keys, saying he was taking the car and going to arrest us. I called our man in the Investigators Office, briefly explained that this jumped-up little shit wants to take our car, and passed the phone to the jumped-up little shit. He listened for 15 seconds and passed the phone back. I had a quick chat with him, he asked how much of a gift I might want to give him. I said 40, he said no problem, pass him over. 30 seconds later, the cop is letting us go and passes us over to the Tourist Police. They give us a jolly good telling off for not having the correct paperwork and show us the way to the Council Office!

So we get to the Council Office, queue for 20 minutes, to be told that we're missing a stamp and to go back to Customs to get it. Outside, the Investigator Cop call back, and explains that he told the jumped-up little shit that we were good friends of his and to make everything as easy as possible for us. He was relaxed about getting his 'gift', said he was glad to be of help. I then explained about the missing stamp, he said to pass him over to so-and-so, who told me to see so-and-so, the boss in the office at the back. Here I passed the phone again, and suddenly the boss brightened immensely to be talking to an old friend, they joked about a 'gift' of a dollar, and he told us not to worry about the stamp.

So, without this cop's number, we would be possibly in prison, but definately have the car impounded. I'm trying to figure out my moral position on this one. I think that the root is the facist cop demanding to see our papers for no legal reason. This is the system in place - they can demand to see your passport at any time - you have to carry it (or a copy). Sounds like Nazi-Occupied Europe - "you're pepperz plees". The friendly cop is just an aberration to disguise a shit system - kind of like George Monbiot disguising the Guardian that is otherwise a mainstream corporate funded rag.

But we're not done yet! So we 'inscribe' the car at the Council and pay $5. Then we drive back into the city, go into Banco Nacional and pay $10 into some account. Then we go to get a 'pre-revisado' - kind of like an MOT, but without the testing/checking part. They take some photos and write down some basic details about the car, and take $16 to give you a piece of paper telling you how many doors the car has. Then we need insurance. We trek to an office, and sit around for an hour while our policy is written up. Because the car is over 9 years old (10), we can't have a $30 monthly policy, we have to buy a $130 yearly policy. Great. At least they only take $43 now, then the other 2 payments in installments on my credit card - which at first they refuse to accept but after repeated assurances that this is a Visa card like any other, and 3 phone calls, we're sorted.

So, out of time on Friday, this morning (Monday) we went back to San Miguelito for 6.30am - by taxi this time - to swap our NY title (and our mountain of photocopied paperwork), for a Panamanian one (only having to wait for 1 hour). Then we take this to another office (thankfully 5 minutes walk away), past the cops that seem to be growling at us (a few skipped heartbeats - we are still techinically "illegals" in their eyes). And, hey presto, we swap some more copies of forms with $12 (50% discount today!) for a number plate!!!

I can't imagine anyone is still reading this, but there it is, the Panamanian Car Import Process. Now, all we need is a buyer...