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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

We’re legal in Panama

Woke up and headed into the port captain’s office to begin the Panama check in procedures.  Panama has strict dress code.  In public places men have to wear pants and shirts with collars, and women cannot have bare shoulders.  So we had to dress up a bit.  Though in the end it wasn’t clear how important this would have been here in Puerto Mutis – which is a tiny tiny port town.  They don’t even have any restaurants with WiFi.  So the port captain’s office was small and cramped.  One guy there spoke a bit of English.  We first checked in with him and gave him copies of our exit paperwork from Costa Rica, US Coast Guard Documentation, and passports.  He then sent us to customs.  Customs then did an inspection of the boats.  This is sort of like a US Coast Guard inspection where they come aboard and count your life jackets, look at your fire extinguishers, and see if your flares are out of date.  Apparently not many big boats like ours come up the river, so the customs guys were super impressed by both boats.  They were a bit wide eyed when the guys explained the automatic fire extinguisher systems installed in the engine compartments.  Needless to say both boats passed inspection with no problem.  Then it was back to the port captain’s office to get our 1 year cruising permits for Panama.  This means we can have the boats here for a year without paying any import taxes.  Not that we actually plan to be here a year.  But we do need at least 4 or 5 months since for three of those months we will be traveling back to the US and then to Peru while the boat stays here in Panama.  The official rule says that Panama issues your cruising permit for the shorter of: 1 year, or the expiration of your US Coast Guard documentation (kind of like your automobile registration back home).  Our US Coast Guard documentation was just renewed.  They mailed it to our Kirkland address, and a scanned copy was then sent to us via email.  We’ve been fretting over whether the Panama officials would accept a copy we printed on our printer, rather than the official copy that’s on different paper and with slightly different colored ink or not.  But much to our relief, they didn’t flinch over the copy.  This is huge, because our old documentation expires in a few days on July 31, 2014, and the renewed documentation expires May 31, 2015.  So technically they should have given us a cruising permit good till May 31, 2015.  However, they just issued it for the full year.  So we have till July 28, 2015.  This right here is why check in at this tiny port town is so much better than Panama City where bureaucracy and rules likely rain supreme.  Well, that, and the fact that they never did collect our immigration fees of $100 each person.  The whole immigration scene was hilarious.  They told us at 9am that the immigration guys were coming from the nearby town of Santiago and would be there by 10am or so.  Then later they told us that the immigration guys were delayed because they had no car to drive out to the port and would be delayed till afternoon.  The one guy at the port captain’s office who speaks English (one block down from customs and immigration) translated when the custom’s guy came down the street to deliver this message.  They told us we could wait on the boats till they came and the port captain’s office would call us on the radio and let us know that the immigration guys had arrived.  Ok, so this is just bizarre.  The customs, immigration, and port captain all working together to give us great service?  Would never happen in Panama City.  You can bet on that.  Sure enough, about 12:30 they call on the radio.  The three immigration guys showed up to stamp our passports.  Why it takes three guys isn’t clear.  But its also not obvious why Santiago – an inland city with no international airport - has customs agents at all.  So you gotta figure the three guys went for a lunchtime road trip to the port town due to lack of other things to do.  Anyway, they stamp our passports and didn’t’ charge us a dime – likely because they have no official office here and hence no real way to collect funds.  Hence we saved a pile of cash for making the trip up the river.  Gotta love that.

Then we all hopped the bus for Santiago because that’s the only place to get supplies.  We are now running low as we’ve been places without even so much as a beach restaurant for over a week.  And we need an internet fix.  Since Bahia Honda’s satellite link was hit by lightning, and Puerto Mutis has no WiFi café’s, we’ve not had any email access for over a week.  And it was good we went in because there were several minor crisis’s that needed attention.  Because internet has been so sketchy, we decided to purchase a cell phone data “stick”.  It’s a USB stick you plug into your computer that can give you internet.  Purchasing it at the Claro store was no problem - $40.  But getting the3GB data plan (another $15) loaded onto the SIM was another story.  The way it works here is that you go into any store, give them the cell phone number and they can add dollars to your account.  You then send a text message to Claro to tell them how to use the funds. So for example a text containing the code “P30” tells them you want to purchase 3GB of data.  Melissa wanted to test the text message from the computer to make sure everything worked and that we could reliably add more data to the stick.  Problem was that the people in the store didn’t realize that the stick comes loaded with an application that lets you send text messages from the computer.  They were convinced you had to put the SIM into a phone to do this.  Much to Melissa’s dismay they sent the text message from a phone in the store rather than letting Melissa test it on the computer.  Melissa was not happy.  Dave was like, “yeah, but you know they have no idea how the stick works and they don’t even know the computer application can send the message”.  Sigh.  Since the first Claro store only had one stick – we purchased it.  We found another Claro store later where Wanuskewin could purchase one.  But their clerk was smart enough to ask where they planned to use it, and refused to sell them one because Claro doesn’t have coverage on the beaches. So this means we just bought a stick that probably won’t work in any of the places we are going. AAAHHHHHGGGGG!  And sure enough, when we got back to the boat – the Clario stick didn’t work.  Ok, so not a happy moment for us to have paid $55 for internet we can’t yet use.  Sigh.

We did find a great Mexican place in Santiago with an owner that spoke English.  How we happened across this great restaurant where they make their own tortillas fresh was a fluke.  And they had WiFi.  So while everyone else headed to the store, Melissa got an internet fix and got a ton of work done.  Mike and Holly then headed back to the port with the groceries while Dave and Melissa stayed behind to finish up.  Mike picked us up at the dock in their dingy and said that we had missed all the excitement.  Apparently, they arrived back at Wanuskewin in the dark to discover they had dragged anchor and were about 6 feet from Apsaras.  They quickly pulled up anchor, but in the dark, with shallow waters, and a strong current in the river re-anchoring was a nightmare.  They ended up sideways nearly onshore with their bow sprit whacking the trees.  After two attempts they managed to get settled back down, but they are going to depart tomorrow no matter what.  Oh, and after we climbed into the dingy, Mike’s good dive light slipped out of his pocket and went overboard.  So not a happy night for them.

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