Let’s call Day 2 a dry run. It went badly but ended well—well, sort of, if you are the kind of person who can find a silver cloud in a hurricane. For me, difficulties turn into stories, as broken relationships turn into songs (see: soundcloud.com and search for Irvin Peckham).
I had a lovely, quiet breakfast at Little Italy, B&B run by Eric, an Italian, and his wife, Jesse, a lovely Panamanian. I was in no hurry to leave because I decided to hit the border, give myself 2 hours and drive for about 45 minutes to stay at the hotel where I stayed on my way down and spend a little time with a friend I made there. Then I would cross Costa Rica fresh on Monday.
I was in a good mood, confident even, as I headed toward the border (La Frontera); I was thinking, I can handle this—hablo sobreviento espanol y yo se de el protocolo, mas o menos. Little did I know what lay before me. One of my recent songs ends with this verse:
The night is dark and lonely
And I’m starting to lose my nerve
I don’t know if the road goes straight
Or heads around a curve.
Driving without lights (my normal condition), I hit the curve today when I thought the road went straight.
I hit the Panama exit and a tall, largely toothless man asked me for the car papers. I had them organized; the car paper was on top. He looked at it for a while and asked, “hay otras?” I let him go throught seven or eight Panama papers I had. Nothing worked. He explained in Spanish (and I understood) that my car paper had expired; it was good for a month. I explained that I had told the customs that when I was coming in that I was staying for three months, and I thought my visa and car papers were good for three months.
“Manaje a lado,” (pull off to the side).
I won’t give you the long and involved conversation. It was all in his Spanish and my broken understanding, but I quickly understood this wasn’t going easy.
I follow him across the highway into the customs office while he makes a few phone calls to find out what to do. The calls multiplied. I had left Lola in the car with the AC running on the other side of the highway. I kept going to the door to check on Lola—she was in the driver’s seat, looking out the window, wondering what had happened to me. I waved to her. I asked the toothless man if I could bring Lola over. He signaled, wait, on phone call.
I’ll skip the blow-by-blow report. The phone calls turned serial and then my toothless friend (he was really very nice) spent an hour or so writing. Writing was difficult for him: his hand shook and the pen went off the page. I retrieved Lola, with his permission, and Lola and I watched for about an hour while he tried to write (think of Dr. Strangelove strangling himself). Then a series of soldiersin fatigues and with guns came in to write, copy stuff. After about two hours, toothless tried to explain something to me—that I would have to go straight, turn around, and park by the customs and do something I didn’t understand—follow some car, stay overnight in Panama, then come back and everything would be all right. There was more to it, but I didn’t catch it all, until later. But at that point, I called Eric, the owner of Little Italy, B&B, and said I would be back.
So I went north, turned around and parked my car by the customs (a hole in the wall—I tried to get water for Lola, but the faucet didn’t work—that should tell you—and I think the toilet didn’t flush, which was why it didn’t look very good when I thought I would pee there).
Then I learned we had to wait for toothless’s jefe (chief) for something. My toothless friend put a chair outside his waterless office where Lola and I could wait for jefe. This was probably around noon. Lola and I watiing. I’m watching the various goings on while the soldiers stop cars, frisk people, sic a dog into the car to check for drugs or whatnot.
It was actually an interesting afternoon at the border. I watched many people getting stopped, a group of young men being taking inside the office outside of which I was sitting, obviously made to take their clothes off (they were buttoning up as they came out), cars being checked and sniffed, truckloads of soldiers being sirened in and out. The sky turning dark, the rain sweeping in.
I asked toothless several times que pasa, he said there were big problems at the other side where the jefe was and he couldn’t let me go without the jefe.
Lola and I got in the car. I petted Lola (she was being beautiful through all of this, earning me points) and studied Spanish for a while; then began reading Mark Harris’ The Southpaw. I took a nap. Emailed Heather; kept asking toothless about jeffe. Big problems a otra lado. Lo siento.
It was a long day that didn’t go well. Finally, at about 4:30, el jefe shows up. Nice young man, dark skin, square, short (like me), his baseball cap on backwards. The three of us get into a conversation. It takes a while (neither of them speak a word of English), but I gather that I’m supposed to follow el jefe into David and leave my car at customs overnight (I never learned why), take a taxi to where I might stay, and then a taxi in the morning back to customs to pick up my car and I would be able to drive straight through customs in the morning. Jeeze.
So I follow this guy (actually, very nice) back to David. And I’m thinking, muchas gracia, Panama. I tried to leave, and you give me a story.
We get to customs. Everyone tries to be helpful. They all love Lola. I really don’t know what’s going on, but I go with it. I pack some stuff for the night, Lola’s bed, and Lola and I pile into a taxi. He says $35 por Italia pequena; we settle on 25.
It’s 20 minutes to Ubernazacion Dona Fela. We get there and neither Eric nor Jesse are home. I try to call; no luck (I’m calling on American phone). My driver won’t leave me there with Lola and my bags outside the locked gates. He sees the advertisement sign with the telephone numbers and calls both. Jesse answers the second one. She tells him she’ll be back in three minutes.
The driver tells me this. I say bueno, muchas gracias. But he won’t leave until Jesse shows up.
While waiting. I tell the driver I need a taxi back to David in the morning. He says he’ll be here. And then Jesse shows up. The three of us have a conversation, and Jesse says she’ll take me in to David in the morning. The taxi driver is very pleased that Jesse will drive me to David in the morning,.