Well the initial news reports about the Saturday earthquake were fairly accurate, it measured 6.2 on the Richter scale and although a few houses were destroyed along with a couple of bridges there were no serious injuries. Sunday evening we had another quake, this time measuring only 5.3 on the Richter scale, so it hardly counts!
Friday 10th July, I went with the local agent to Colon which is the port where Bridget was delivered. We presented various documents together with a dozen copies of each to the authorities late yesterday and they confidently said that I would be able to collect the car today. We duly reported to the main port customs office just after 8:00am and were greeted by a gentleman that seemed to know my agent. We then waited for the statutory minimum three and a half hours before being told the chief honcho was not coming after all and so the man we first met signed our papers and stamped them with considerable official flair.
From there we went to the container port where they would bring the container to us to be opened in the presence of a customs officer.
Forty-five minutes later the container arrived, I checked the numbers on the seals to be sure they hadn’t been changed and the customs man watched as the doors were opened. He then went back to his office and left us to undo all the ropes, etc., that had held Bridget in place for the journey. Things were going well and all the papers were stamped and copied and signed…….. The last thing remaining was for the customs officer to check the car and contents and we could be on our way. He came out, looked around the car smiled and said “Nice car” and we trooped back into his office. He picked up all the papers and said “NO”. They’ve declared her ‘Persona non grata’! A long exchange of viewpoints then pursued between the agent and the customs officer and it became clear to me that they were discussing the right-hand drive aspect of Bridget. It transpires that Panama have introduced a new law making the driving of such vehicles in Panama illegal, just like Peru.
They brought in a translator and said I would have to transport the car out of the country; I refused. They said that I should call the British Embassy and I told them the embassy would say “That is your problem”. Then one of the officers suggested, absolutely seriously, “Just leave it here and go without it.” Yes, I refused, and informed them that we would just stay there until they found a way around the problem. After all in three days we would be in Costa Rica.
Eventually after many phone calls it was suggested that we went to the local Transit Office in the town and see if they could help. This we did and they immediately said that I could have a temporary import licence because I was a tourist and the car is a classic. It would appear that the customs are not fully aware of what is and is not allowed, but once again stonewalling paid off. Several new forms had to be completed and then a man sprayed Bridget with some sort of insecticide. We were then set free!!
Saturday 12th July and I gave Bridget her first 6,000 mile service since re-building her engine. I am glad to report she is running really smoothly and everything appears to be in good order. Her rear tyres are starting to wear and I will need to keep an eye on them, but they have been really excellent covering over 40,000 miles so far.
I was going to get on the road to David, a city in the north of the country near to the Costa Rican border, but I have been told that there is a classic car event in the city tomorrow and so I will stay for the extra day and leave on Monday.
I went along to the event in the heart of Panama City this morning with no expectation of what I was going to see. It transpired that there are two active, thriving clubs in the country, one for any classic or sports car and the other specifically for American classic cars. Both were represented and there was an interesting turnout of cars from a 1930 Chevrolet to a Packard, 1934 Chevrolet as well as Corvettes, a Cadillac and Stingray. There was also a beautiful Fiat and Alpha Spyder representing Europe along with Bridget of course. We were of course made very welcome which is the Panamanian way.
Well that’s it from Panama City as tomorrow we hit the road north towards Costa Rica to see what that holds in store for us.