Exit Strategy

I ran up the stairs to the front desk of the hostel and found Fernando there as I’d been hoping to. He asked if we’d sorted out the boat situation and I said we’re going to take a different approach and ditch the car. “Do you know anyone who wants a car?” “I want a car!” I made sure he knew about the import tax ($1500 USD flat rate that the importer has to pay) and he did. Cool, car’s yours! He was working at the moment but he reckoned things would cool down a bit later in the evening, he’d grab us some beers and introduce us to his fiancee. I’d read that the Panama import process wasn’t too tricky but we needed a notary public at least (and maybe a lawyer) so he was going to spend the next couple hours researching the process and preparing all the necessary forms with our intentions being to get it wrapped up the next day, possibly allowing us to get to Colombia.

While McBurger was talking to Fernando, I was in the lounge area gathering intel from a source we’d sent to scout out Bogota, capital of Colombia. His ‘name’ is Agent Getz. Master of non-verbal communication with a penchant for hankerings. A dangerous and mysterious man of many talents. He can blend in anywhere with his varied collection of dress shirts usually containing a repeating pattern of some nonsensical scene, like a lobster eating french fries. He had landed there the day before and was scoping the place out for any leads in our case. I described our situation and that the car was gonna be ditched. We hadn’t secured a flight out yet but I tasked Getz with looking into bus or train routes through Colombia and further on to our destination in Argentina. I knew the conversation was seconds from being traced so I quickly disconnected and grabbed McBurger for a defrag session down at Pips over some beers.

We’d already tried the food at Pips so we thought we’d walk around a bit and discover something new. Directly around the corner was a microbrewery, or cervezeria, as they call them here. It was called La Rana Dorado, and had a dapper frog logo. As soon as we walked in the bartender landed a taster flight of five beers on a wooden boat. The coffee porter was fantastic. Grab 2 and have a seat outside.

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We had a few more beers and got their namesake pizza. It was really good. While we were eating, the Raspberry Duo walked by. These were the 2 military guards we’d seen in the White Lion while hostel hunting the day before. We’d spotted them a few more times on patrol around Casco while we were in the area and dubbed them the Raspberry Duo on account of their Raspberry Berets. An interesting combination of people, guy and a girl in military fatigues and holstered glocks, both were black, and both extremely tall. The girl was the taller of the two, she was probably 6’3”. They had a very nonchalant gait as they meandered down the streets. Way less official and serious than other guards in the area. Certainly way less intimidating than the motorbike patrol that would zoom around, one guy driving, another on the back of the bike, both in bulletproof vests. The guy on the back always had a sub-machine gun at the ready, maybe an MP5. Dark uniforms, face masks under their helmets.

With our bellies full and a bit of a buzz we jumped back to Luna’s and grabbed Fernando to show him the car. We half-expected him to be disappointed for a few reasons – firstly, it’s a Wave, second, there are no back seats, and third, it smells like us. The worst parts of us. He was still totally stoked though, especially when I told him about the almost-new timing belt and some of the other work that’d been done prior to the trip. “The universe man, it just keeps giving”. He was even glad the rear seats were missing – he planned to take the car out to markets and set up a slow-cooking station out of the hatch, and missing seats meant more space to make that happen “Ya man, I can put some cupboards here, and a stove, ya this will totally work” he was so pumped. “You’ve just totally changed my life, you don’t understand. This will be my first family car”. He had to get back to work but he asked us to come by later, as his fiancee would be stopping by and he wanted us to meet her. “When you come to Panama you know you have family here.”

We’d shifted hostels when we arrived back in town – Luna’s Castle is fantastic but it’s definitely got a party vibe and after not sleeping terribly well the previous evening and the stress of dealing with Colón we decided to splurge and get a private room at the Magnolia Hostel, a “luxury” hostel a couple blocks away. We’d checked it out when we arrived in town and it had a pretty lame common room scene, a dozen people sitting quietly on their smartphones, looking up occasionally to watch Seinfeld, but for decompressing it would be fine. What it lacked in a common room scene it more than made up for in swank, with the bedrooms being nicer than most hotels (and certainly nicer than any we’d stayed on during this trip). We headed back there to sip a couple more beers, hose ourselves down and get ready for going back out.

Over to Luna’s Castle again to catch up with Fernando as his work calmed down in the evening. He grabbed us some beers from the fridge, bottles raised and cheers were made, we met his fiancee. She didn’t speak English, but Fernando translated that she wanted to know if there was a name for the car. El Burro Pelligrosso! “Oh man, that’s perfect. You’ve just branded the kitchen. I’m totally going to use that. Ohh she wants to know if you named it that because you have big dicks.” Hahaha. MacKay explained that it was “pequeño y gris” like a burro, and that we are “conductores muy rapidos”, hence the peligroso descriptor. And because we have big dicks.

Fernando tooks us down to the Relic bar downstairs and we got some more beers. The West Point engineers we’d met the other night came by and hung out for a while and we all slammed back some beers. A lot of people are coming in from the Red Lion – they’re saying the place has been shutdown by the authorities because of the foreign visa-less workers they’d been using, much like the girl from Montreal we were speaking to. We run into her and she wasn’t working at the time, fortunately. After the West Point guys take off we lose Fernando and his fiancee for a while and the place gets pretty jammed up.

Another guy staying at the hostel, possibly an employee, came to sit with us. His name is Alex, he’s from the next province over in Panama. He wanted to know where we’d been in Panama and we told him basically David and Casco. Alex began describing other areas of the country like the islands, and some places up in the mountains. He was very proud to talk about his Country and we were happy to hear it. We’d spent so much time here in the run around that I think the negativity was rubbing off on our perspective of Panama. Listening to Alex we realized that the country had much more to offer and we weren’t really doing it justice by ‘visiting’ this way. Now that we’d met some great people here a return visit may be in order.

It starts to rain a bit so we split and head back to the room to get ready for the next day, when we’d have to get up early to meet Fernando, get all of the paperwork for the car sorted and hopefully make it out on a 1:30 flight to Bogotá.

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