We had an early rise and shine on travel day in Hostel Siriri, PTY. Sent off a call to our taxi guy, Rolando, who drove me to exchange the crate two days before, to pick up us at 10 AM. Scraped together all belongings and loaded all stuff to Rolando’s Toyota minivan crate, dog, luggage, it adds up. Arrived earlier to Copa Air than expected, Corredor Sur was pretty free of traffic, which is quite unusual for Panama. Kicked off the paperwork trail and by the time it was done the early arrival proved useful. Basically they make you fill out various forms with the final idea that Copa Cargo is not responsible for any damage. They measured the crate size, then the total weight crate+dog, which turned out to be 41 kg. Then back to the front desk for more paperwork and payment. I never expected to be extremely cheap but the amount hit me in the chest: $383.50 USD. With no way around this, greenbacks were hand over, hearts were bleeding. The money tree was shaken. Then stickers for the crate were handed over with arrows pointing up, “live animal” and all original vet certificates were inserted into a pouch on top of the crate. It’s self serve action, the official will not do anything for you. Last but not least the dog had to go inside the crate too. Then the guy at receiving brought over a bunch of zip ties and tied up the crate door at about 8-10 points. Not even a polar bear would go through that. A bottle of water provided by us, was attached to the door from the outside. For this amount of fees they don’t provide even water for the dog, nada. Then a promise went off that they will transfer the crate into a cooler area designated for pets. I was definitely crossing my fingers for that. Then Rolando drove us to the Tocumen air terminal, 10 minutes away. It was 12:30. For a 20 minute drive and some 1:30 hrs waiting time the taxi fee ended up being $75.00. I paid but his number is not going to be disclosed here, I will not recommend him. But what’s new here, Panama will milk the tourists at every corner of the street, expect no mercy in this country. There are no luggage carts at Tocumen, only some guys with carts who will charge $1.00 per item to push it inside the building. No carts, no problem, will drag them inside. C’mon I paid an arm and a leg for the freakin’ tickets already.
Check-in went pretty smooth, although from hygiene point of view asking people to take off their shoes at security check and walk through the checkpoint on the not-exactly-so-clean floor seems a bit off. With all the water from the Nalgene bottles consumed up at Copa Cargo for Blaze, I set off to pick up a bottle of water from some convenience store. It turned out there are not so many of them (where is a Tim Horton’s when you need one?), but you can buy lots of other crap in ‘duty free’ shops. Finally came across one, picked up a bottle and took it to the cashier. ‘Cuatro dolares’ said the kid and I asked him to repeat. ‘Cuatro dolares’ ,there was no mistake in what I’ve heard at first. My brain stopped being rational for a fraction of a second and my mouth just acted on its own spelling ‘are you shitting me?’, yes I just said that and I don’t think I’m ashamed of this when a bottle of water is four bux. PG13 movies have heavier lines. He pointed to the cash register screen, sent off a diabolic smile repeating ‘cuatro dolares’. I paid and walked out with a ‘Panama will you just loosen up a bit?’ thought. Just FYI there are no drinking fountains in Tecumen Airport, you want to hydrate, you pay. I don’t want to know how much a hod dog will cost in the airport.
Finally boarding time came and squeezed inside the plane somehow, for half an hour it felt like zoo in the plane. It was very hard to squeeze a confirmation from the crew that Blaze has been boarded as well, but after some insistent requests the answer came back positive just 10 minutes before take-off. Every seat was taken and there were about twice as much carry ons as room for them. Somehow the next two hours went by all-right, managed to pay about 1/3 attention to a National Geographic documentary with my mind slipping off towards worries about Blaze, especially when the flight info says that it’s -51 C outside at 11,000 altitude.
Landing was OK, a bit on the harsh side and at the plane door there was a lady holding up a piece of paper for us with a phone number to call right away ‘General Aid’ to pick up Blaze. It felt good and felt organized but it all ended with that. My cellphone had no service at all, no roaming, nada, although Claro is the biggest carrier in Ecuador as well. It felt like we arrived in Nicaragua again from this point of view. Went to the information desk, they couldn’t help with a phone but they pointed down to the hallway where public phones are. The public phones turned out to be cabins with phones and an operator in another cabin. It felt like East Europe 1976. A less than 5 minute phone call ended up with the cost of $3.60 USD and the call just went to few streets from here. Catching a taxi seemed easy in the front of the building, an elderly driver agreed to drive us to pick up our dog and haul our luggage. I must mention it right here, he turned out to be an extremely patient and nice guy.
Then the shit-show started. We drove to the place the guy pointed out over the phone, General Aid which turned out to be General Air, just to find nobody who can help. Then the guy we talked on the phone showed up somehow and filled out some paperwork, fee $28.50, no invoice received for the fee. With that paperwork he said we should go back to the airport, to the Agrocalidad office and get an importation permit for the dog. So yeah, back to the airport, went to the office, very helpful people, the only problem that the lady working there had no clue what she was or she supposed to do. It took me like forever to explain that we arrived from Panama but the dog is Canadian. Then she needed addresses and phone numbers, which we have none, ended up giving her the hostel address. Then she pulled out some older paperwork to see how the forms supposed to be filled out. All ’n all in one hour somehow we managed to have a paper stating that they inspected the dog. They have not seen the dog at all btw, fee: $26.00 USD, invoice received for fee. Then she sent us back to TCE (Terminal de cargas ) which is adjacent to General Air. No problem we taxi took us back to arrive at locked gates. Security somehow opened the gate and explained where to go after all and somehow we even found it although there is no clear sign above the entrance. TCE had a security like a military base and after leaving driver license at the entry in exchange for an access permit walked down the half lit hallway and arrived to another security check point, where received another access card in exchange for the first card, a safety west, got checked standing with raised arms and it has been brought in my attention that I cannot wear my cap. Finally arrived in a large room and there was the crate in a corner in pretty hot temperature. I got directed to an office where a lady started up some paperwork, but I just couldn’t stand waiting anymore, my dog was in a crate for 8 hours already, so I ran out to check on him. Cut the zip ties and gave some water to Blaze, what he drank up hysterically. This is when I got angry, there has been 8 hours and nobody gave the dog a drop of water. To free up my hands I put my cap on for a second and a guy like a wasp touched down on me ‘take your hat off!” (No Gorra!). What’s with the hat thing anyways? In the meantime the paperwork was ready, so it was a new invoice to pay, $65.00 USD, which basically was for transportation ‘at my request’ (go figure), from the airport to the cargo building. Paid the bill and was ready to go; go with my dog. Nope, not so fast, I was told that that they will take back the crate and the dog, to the airport and I can pick it up from there, at the luggage carousel. I asked her to repeat it three times. I couldn’t believe this is actually happening. You screw me around for four hours and I can pick it up at the luggage carousel? It’s right beside me! It sounded pretty much like ‘we are screwing you buddy!’ and they were. I got basically physically laughed in face then a promise of 10 minutes transfer time, rushed out from the building, but not before got checked again by security with arms raised and switching access cards to access cards again. Soon out on fresh air a shriek went off. Yes, with four letter words included, OK mostly; although I use it rarely, this time it came out of my mouth so naturally as if I was a natural born English speaker. The only tranquilo person by this time was the taxi driver. I apologized tenth time for holding him up, a Canadian thing I picked up along the decades, then he drove back to the airport main terminal AGAIN, and ten minutes later Blaze was marking the bushes at the front entrance. All we needed to stuff the crate in the Daihatsu which was packed to the ceiling now and drive to the hostel. Upon arrival I asked the driver for the damage, expecting the Panama thing replayed, but his answer was ‘no se preocupe’. I had to push him to say a number and ended up paying $40.00, what I did gladly. He was the only person today who earned it honestly. Asked for his phone number as we still have one soap opera ahead: getting the van out from port in few days and I will need a ride to the port. Hopefully ONE ride! As almost nobody ships from Colon to Guayaquil, everybody follows the Colon-Cartagena route I have no info on bailing out a vehicle in this country, we are surveying virgin land here.