Picking up the Parasailor
After Isla Canas everything got a bit frenetic.
We spent the Saturday night (4th Feb) in Las Perlas, anchored off Isla Mogo Mogo, an island which was owned by a drug baron until he was arrested a few years ago and his assets confiscated by the state. It has since been used for filming some episodes of the US TV game "Survivors".
Early Sunday morning we set off back to Panama City to pick up the new Parasailor, which had arrived at the airport and was waiting for customs clearance.
On Monday morning Bertie and I took a taxi to the airport to clear the sail through customs. I could have hired a customs agent, but the problem with agents is they don't always understand that manana is too late and in this case we had a deadline to be back in Las Perlas at 4pm the next day, for the briefing on the leg down to Galapagos.
At the airport I let the taxi go because I expected the red tape to take a while. This was mistake number 1. We found the DHL office OK and the cashier gave us a document on which we needed to get three stamps, customs, quarantine and something else. The customs offices were a five minute walk across the car park, where the official explained to us that we needed an airport entry stamp before we could get stamp number 1. It would be a fifteen minute walk each way to the airport entrance, in blazing Panamanian sunshine, so we went back to DHL and explained that without a car we could not get the four stamps we needed to pick up our package.
At that point DHL decided to employ an agent on our behalf. Great, I thought, now he can translate for us and we can use his car. Unfortunately he did not speak English and he did not have a car. So, back across the car park to the customs offices where they explained to our agent that the document needed to leave the airport and come back in with an entry stamp. Now we introduce the agents brother, the man with a van. Agent and brother disappeared in the van to get the stamp. Fifteen minutes later, the agent was back, with entry stamp and rapidly got all the other stamps we needed.
Great, we are nearly through, I thought as we walked back across the car park to the DHL office. After half an hour, and $28, DHL had released the package to us and we were ready to clear it through customs. Back across the car park to the customs offices with Bertie and I carrying the 37 kilo box. At which point the customs people decide we need a guardian to ensure the sail is delivered to the boat. This will cost $12.50. Fine, I pay the $12.50 and they write out an additional form and Bertie and I are ready to leave with the package, the customs guardian, the van man and his son. (At this point we say goodbye to the agent who wants $25 for his mornings work. Clearly he does not run his office and secretary on $50 a day, so he will doubtless be charging DHL as well, but who am I to argue.)
The van has only three seats but that is a trivial problem to solve. We stop at van mans house, where he picks up an arm chair, and Bertie spends the rest of trip in this throne in the bck of the van.
Great, we are nearly through, I think as we approach the marina. At which point the customs guardian says we are going the wrong way. No, we say, this is definitely this way to La Playita marina. But we need to go to the yacht club he says. So we turn off to the yacht club.
At the yacht club a little weasel faced official in a shed explains to me that the form is incorrect. It says Yat Club instead of La Playita. I need to pay another $12.50 to get a new form. I am getting annoyed at this point so, while $12.50 might seem like a trifling amount to solve the problem, I am not inclined to take the simple solution. I hate being taken for a sucker. La Playita is only a couple of miles away so how about I go and get the tender and come back to the yacht club to pick up the package from the yacht club, I ask? Weasel guy then decides that this would not be OK because the form says Yat Club and not Yacht Club, so we will need a new form anyway.
At this point I lost it and shouted at the guy. He just kept waving the form and saying it was the wrong address. So I took the form from him, crossed out Yat Club, wrote in La Playita marina and handed it back to him saying problem solved. At this point the room went quiet (we had a bit of an audience by this time). In the heat of the moment perhaps I had gone too far.
Introducing weasel guys boss, a chunky Panamanian woman who enjoyed exercising her supreme authority over the shed at the yacht club. She came storming in shouting at everybody in Spanish. I didn't understand a lot of what was said, but I think some of it had to do with the fact that I was French and how that explained everything because the French are cheap (Anastasia is a French boat). I did try and say I wasn't French but she was in full flood with an appreciative audience crowding round the door, so in the end I just let the French take the blame.
When she had finally got it all off her expansive chest, one of the truck drivers at the door explained to me that I could be arrested for interfering with official documents and I had better pay the money. So I did. After that we were allowed to take the sail to La Playita, clear it with the customs guy there, pay the $30 to van man for his services and head back to Anastasia with our new Parasailor.
I had another delivery scheduled for Tuesday morning, which was promised before 10 am. Remarkably it arrived on time and we could set off back to Las Perlas at 10:30, which meant we got to Contadora island and the skippers briefing with 30 minutes to spare.
Following the briefing was the welcome drinks, where we took a few drinks to wash away the tensions of the past couple of days and, at some point in the evening, agreed to go on an ARC arranged "hash" around the island, to depart at 7:15 the next morning. We would probably have just not turned up except that we had arranged to get a lift in a tender with another couple. The hash was actually good fun, you could walk round the course rather than run it, it only took 45 minutes and it was a good way to see the island before the sun got too strong.
In the evening was the prizegiving for ARC leg 1. Unfortunately, with their being only two catamarans in the catamaran class they decided not to give us a prize for winning our class, nor was there a prize for being the second boat across the finish line but we did win the fun competition by guessing that we saved 7900 miles going through the Panama canal instead of round Cape Horn, so Bertie was happy that he got to go up on stage and collect a prize.
And then Thursday was upon us and it was time to set off for Galapagos.