Showing a level of responsibility almost unprecedented on this trip we woke up at 7:30 and immediately headed over to Luna’s to try to find Fernando – although we hadn’t set a definite time to meet, we’d thrown around times like 8 or 9. He wasn’t there and the hostel staff couldn’t reach him so we fired him a message on FB and headed over to Pip’s for two more amazingly kick-ass Panamanian-style breakfasts. By the time we were done he was on his way over and he soon showed up with a handful of forms he’d printed off, the main two being one that released the car from being my responsibility and another that indicated he was taking full responsibility for the car. He pumped out some copies of the title, my passport and his ID.
In the meantime we rushed back to the car and pulled our bags upstairs to the Magnolia to try to re-sort everything. No car means backpacking mode, which means scaling down our stuff. We both ditched some clothes that were pretty beat and with most of our camping gear, cooking gear and car-related equipment remaining in El Burro, we were able to scale things back to a backpackable-level of stuff. Still a bit more cumbersome than we’d prefer but there are some things that are too valuable to ditch, the plan is to ship a package full of stuff back to California once we get to Colombia. Later on Fernando was pumped to be getting all of our camping gear and car equipment. Major score.
We’re ready and Fernando is ready so he brings his mother’s car around (it has more than two seats, more appropriate than El-BP) we load up our stuff and he floors it across town to get to the only open notary in the city on a Saturday. Typically there aren’t any notaries open on Saturday but he spoke to one that would make an exception. “This never happens in Panama, man. I can’t believe this shit. I’m going to cry.” It’s 11:30 and the flight’s at 1:30 so already we should be at the airport. The notary’s office is locked and the foyer is black but there are lights visible in the back so Fernando knocks on the glass until someone comes out and when he makes the “I spoke to you on the phone” gesture they open up and let us in. Quick signatures are blasted off and we’re both fingerprinted, rolling our index finger prints onto the documents (hopefully the only time I’m fingerprinted on this trip).
Copies are made and we book it out to the car. Fernando still can’t believe he got official business done on a Saturday (“It’s more amazing than a free car”) and he’s hellbent on getting us on the plane to Bogotá. He blasts through two construction sites where the workers tell him to stop (“NO! I don’t have time to stop!”), tires screeching around corners and he gets air in a couple of spots. Feels like we’re in a 1970s San Francisco car chase. We drive across the Bridge of the Americas looking down at the Panama Canal and quickly turn off into an old US military base from when the Canal Zone was American territory. Army barracks and hangers still remained and Fernando pointed out the 45s-50s style bus stops.
Much of the area has been converted to university and office buildings and the old airport has just recently been converted to a small airport with a single company – VivaColombia – running daily flights to Bogota on the cheap. We have some trouble finding the place, there’s no signage anywhere, but pull in with about an hour to spare. We don’t even grab the luggage, just run as fast as we can into the building to see about getting tickets.
They’ve closed ticket sales for today’s flight. Well shit. Oh well, we gave it our best shot. They don’t open tomorrow’s ticket sales for another hour so we step out to grab some grub and Fernando calls one of his co-workers and gets him to check whether another airline has any later flights to Bogota at reasonable prices. One apparently has flights leaving at 9 pm that are cheaper than VivaColombia’s so we head back to the hostel to book them.
There was a misunderstanding, it turns out the flight’s cost was per person, we thought it was for both of us. Kind of expensive, tomorrow’s cheap flight is a better option. We try to book online using VivaColombia’s website and their server crashes. Murphy and I jump in El-BP and drive back out to the airport, getting ridiculously lost in the neighbourhoods of Panama on the way there. For some reason the traffic has exploded at 2:30 on a Saturday and it’s a serious ordeal getting over there. When we walk in the door there are about thirty people just sitting around and no obvious line-up so we go up to the desk and try to explain our intentions in broken Spanish. The people at the desk just give us a number. 28. We sit for a while and nothing happens while a handful of people are at the desk filling out forms. Are they actually selling tickets yet? Nothing’s happening. Twenty minutes pass and no one is called up. Surely it can’t take this long to buy a ticket from a desk that has a single flight going to a single city You can’t even pick your seats. What’s there to discuss really? Another ten minutes and one family steps aside while another number is called. 13. No way. Another half hour passes and another group is processed. At this rate we’ll get processed in seven hours, maybe. Fuck this shit. We’re not spending our last day in Panama sitting around in an airport. We jump in the car and head back to Luna’s.
We weigh our options – dealing with VivaColombia is out, but we could still fly to Bogota in a few hours. Agent Getz has been in Bogota for a few days already, maybe we should look around at another city? There’s a cheap flight to Medellin at 7:30 the next morning. Fernando’s wife is from Medellin and he says it’s the shit. Done. Flights booked. Unfortunately to fly to Colombia you have to also book a flight out of the country, you can’t just book a one way ticket. Fernando comps us a couple of dorm beds and he offers to stay in the room as well so he can get up and drive us to the airport at 5am. Awesome. “Guys, it’s the least I could do”.
Now that everything was sorted with our departure we were looking at our first opportunity to really just relax and look around Casco Antiguo. A couple of days here and we’d only seen a few blocks. The place turns out to be really artsy, really touristy and really nice/expensive. Art shops, boutique hotels, restaurants with North American prices and street vendors selling typical tourist swag. Also a great elevated boardwalk with stellar views of the rest of the city:
When we stop for a bite at one of the few non-seafood restaurants in the neighbourhood, called Sante, we notice a weird dude in a mirror-covered dress with a reflective skeleton mask hanging around outside the roped-in seating area. Skeletor hangs around, especially over one table of twenty-something tourists, visibly creeping them out. After a while he takes off his mask and uses one of the mirrors to groom himself, then slaps the mask back on. Half an hour later he walks behind the rope and serves food to a single table, then resumes standing around. No idea what his deal his. We snapped a pic of Skeletor texting Beastman
Back at Luna’s Castle we get some blog beers and chill. Felt good to have everything sorted, to know we were getting to Colombia (well, fingers crossed with our luck), getting back on the move again. It was a weight off.
Fernando wanted to move El-BP to a more secure spot and I snapped this pic of the proud new car owner. So happy that things went down like this. Knowing he was so happy about it, that the universe was answering things he’d not even asked for, that was such a good feeling and we couldn’t be happier leaving the car in his care. We’d been through a lot with that little champ and it was nothing but a sad matter of practicality that we had to leave it. Just bad timing, that’s all. Take care of it Fernando, hope it treats you well, buddy.