Friday, August 31, 2012

Shipping Across the Darien Gap Panama

Warning: This post is mostly logistics. If you aren't doing this trip in the future or really love reading about logistics, you can probably skip this. If you haven't already, please read the summary post before this one.

Friday (or Monday -- their office opens at 8am supposedly):

After reading a lot about the process, we decided we would arrive in Panama city on Friday (August 10th) and stop by the Barwill office. They tell us the boat is all set to leave the next Sunday and gave us all the paperwork (a draft Bill of Lading along with two sets of photo copies of necessary documents we would give to the Aduanas) we would need for Monday. The woman we worked with was named either Pamela (whose email address is mysteriously missing from our contact email) or Mabel (mabel.estribi@wilhelmsen.comf cell:+507 66 74 68 57), it was really hard to tell (she sent emails from one name, but they sometimes referred to her by the other). She speaks some English, but prefers Spanish if you can understand. Everyone else recommended working with Evelyn (, but she was on maternity leave.

Barwil office: It's in an area outside the city called Panama Pacifico, it's in a very american looking suburban office park. It's on the 4th floor of the furthest north building in the plaza. They're only open from 8am-4pm M-F and don't expect anyone to answer email or their phones after those hours. They require IDs to get upstairs, but fake copies of drivers licenses were fine)

GPS: N8 55.662, W79 35.561
Turnoff from Highway: N8 57.142, W79 35.309

Monday (or Tuesday) at 9am:

On Monday the first thing you do is go and get your car "inspected." Barwill gives you a sort of crummy map of the city with the offices, but it is still difficult to find (even with  GPS coordinates). It's a parking lot behind a nondescript looking building and it's filled with a bunch of taxis and other cars. When you're turning right off the main road (you must approach from the correct side, otherwise it will be very difficult to u-turn and get there), its the second parking lot on your left (the first is tiny and on the corner with the main street). You turn off the main road right after the overpass. We did a trial run on Sunday to make sure we could get there okay, I would definitely recommend this. The paper Barwil gives you says the inspection is from 9-10am. When we get there we ask someone and he tells us the guy gets there at 9, but doesn't work til 10. In reality he came out closer to 10:30am. Back into a parking spot close to the door and open your hood. You will need to give the inspector a set of your copies, which will appear in the Secretary General office later across the street. You will not leave here with anything.

GPS: N8 57.970 W79 32.690

***If you paperwork is incorrect and you cannot do the step above, you will need to visit the Aduana office which is a few blocks away. GPS: N8 58.490 W79 32.819

After 2pm:

Go to the secretary general office across the street in PANTS and SHOES -- they will not let you in without them. When we went they were doing construction so you had to park around the back, meaning you had to drive past it then approach it from the rear. We actually got to the office at 1:30 and the woman was ready to do our paperwork. The entrance is the same side as the main road, you will need to get a badge to go in (and give them ID,  since you will need your passport, make sure to give them a drivers license, the fake copy of mine worked fine). They will give you a form that includes permission to exit the country with your vehicle.

GPS: N8 57.947 W79 32.719

Wednesday 7am (or Thursday):

Wear pants and shoes, you can't go onto the port without them. Drive to Colon, it's on a main toll road and super easy. The Barwil office (says Wilhemson on the door) is on the second floor of a business park in the Manzanillo port (there are three different ports in Colon). It is the entrance to the left of the big fountain area. We were told to ask for Mary and Alfredo. When we got there we had to wait about an hour for Alfredo to show up. Afredo is a fairly friendly guy, he understands English, but prefers Spanish. Alfredo drove his car alongside ours to the various offices to take care of the loading into the container. First we went to customs and then onto the port. At the port we had to go inside and get some paper work filled out and pay the port fees (30 dollars). After that we could bring the car to the container loading area. It took about two hours for the container to show up once we got inspected (inspected = a guy comes by, asks you to open your trunk, pushes stuff around), but it was quick to load. We took pictures of the seal or everything, but this was irrelevant in Colombia. You are required to roll your windows down a bit, the guys will try to get you to roll them down more than a crack, don't.

Once we stuffed our container, since we refused to pay until we had our car in a container, this meant carrying 1500 dollars cash on us. We ended up giving it to Alfredo in the back seat of his car, at which point he kept telling us how terrifying it was going to be driving across the city to the bank with that much money. We held our tongues (mainly because it wasn't his fault) from pointing out that it was in fact their companies policy to pay in cash... People kept saying how dangerous Colon is, but it really just looked like every other Central American city to us.

GPS for Barwil office in Manzanillo: N9 21.931 W79 52.849

We were done by 230. Since the train that goes down the canal didn't leave til 530, we decided to take the express bus. The train is supposed to be a nice ride, but it costs ~25 dollars, whereas the bus costs 3.15. Alfredo drove us to the bus station and pointed us to the correct bus. The whole process seemed eerily easy (from all the terrible things we'd heard). Bus ride back was quick and we were able to get off not too far from our hotel.

As I stated before, I would not leave Panama until you know the boat is leaving Panama city, otherwise you end up wondering whether you need to fly back to Panama when something goes wrong.

I detailed our process in Colombia in a separate post.

1 comment:

  1. Great logistics Tracy! Thanks for the info on Panama.

    -Gloria Karmanites
    Panama Shipping