“Officer, am I being detained?” I ask Gustavo, the green uniformed man with the DPFA badge of Panama. “Not detained, exactly”, he says in Spanish. “You just can’t leave. We can’t allow you to ride your motorbike.” I ponder this and finally ask, “What if I leave it here and pick it up tomorrow when the immigration office opens in David?” The beach is just 30 minutes away and I’m a sticky mess from the Panamanian heat and the long ride. I can almost hear the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. “No, you can’t leave your bike here either. What if something were to happen to it while you were gone?”
I see this is going to take a while, so I unlace my boots and prop my feet up near the fan an officer points in my direction. I take a swig of the sugary Big Roja “fruit” juice drink a tall cop silently hands me, and begin to read about the area in my guidebook. I arrange a hotel for the evening, and sit back while other men pop into the office or open the window from the outside to say hello to the gringa. I get the distinct impression girls don’t usually frequent this office building.
I’ve been in Panama for only 24 hours and I’ve already had my motorcycle impounded. When I landed at the Panama City airport yesterday, I apparently did not do the correct migration paperwork for my motorcycle at the nearby cargo airport, and have thus entered the country illegally. I remember the customs window clearly, the big bold words ADUANA DE PANAMA above, and the unhelpful ladies hidden back there. There was a frosted window with a small hole I had to crouch down to talk through. A hand came lazily out of the hole to retrieve whatever documents I had brought, but apparently I hadn’t made myself clear when I said I was bringing my motorcycle into the country and riding to Costa Rica. The police officers here tell me this happens all the time, and that the cargo airport Aduana causes them all sorts of trouble.
I sit and wait at the police checkpoint for some immigration official to come collect me and take me and my bike to the city of David, an hour away near the Costa Rica border, where I’ll spend the night waiting for the immigration office to open in the morning.
It could be much worse. I was exhausted anyway from the 350km ride from the city, it’s now pouring rain, and I have several officers bringing me food, coffee and sodas, rearranging the fan for maximum comfort…
Yup, things could definitely have been worse!