Day 39: Bribing our way into Panama

Crossing the bridge to Panama
Panama – final chapter of our LP guide (that is now falling apart), and the final leg of our Central American tour.

We decided to cross the border at Sixaola-Guabito for two reasons: (1) getting to Bocas del Toro and (2) a laid back border crossing where we hoped our passport wouldn’t raise much of an issue with visa requirements – our understanding was it should be visa-free, just need to pay US$5 each for a tourist card.
The road to the border winded through banana plantations and in 2 hours we were walking across a shady bridge into Panama. Getting into the country was amusing. There were no line ups. The Panamanian officials – a round lady and her male colleague – were just hanging around outside the migration office watching truckloads of bananas clear customs. She required we show proof of onward journey but of course we had none. They pointed to a bus office opposite the road and suggested we could just get tickets to Costa Rica as a solution.

Wait a minute.. We had checked with the Panama consulate and searched wide and over on the internet but nothing ever mentioned requirement for proof of onward journey!

After a little pleading, they murmured amongst themselves, opened the door to the office and pulled out a couple seats for us. I already knew what they were looking for before the conversation started.

It was all in Spanish but the gist of it went:

Officer: “do you have a boss?”

Me: “si.”

Officer: “so you can understand. i have a boss too, i have a job to do… But we can work something out if you don’t tell”

Male officer places fore finger on lips, lady officer zips up hers. They so reminded me of the two cops in The Hangover.

Me: “oh si si, of course I understand…”

I wasn’t sure how to ask what the going rate of a “bribe” was in a politically correct fashion so I just put it straight.

Me: “…. how much?”
Officer: “well, the price of a one way ticket to Costa Rica is US$12 per person.”

You corrupt bastards!

I pulled out a tenner and slipped it into the male officer’s hand. It was gladly accepted and our passports were stamped, barely being looked at. More sshhh’s and pursed lips, handshakes, some friendly small talk and we were out the office. That was easy, my efforts practising Spanish to explain that we didn’t require visas were wasted.

We were expecting to pay US$10 for tourist cards to enter Panama anyway so it all worked out the same. I didn’t think we’d encounter corrupt officers until South America though… Looks like we’re getting close!

Recognize your bananas? This is where they’re from… and
headed to Panama for exporting to all corners of the world
Leaving Costa Rica… Panama awaits on the other
end of this bridge..
and here we are in Panama!
Passport control on the left…

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  1. Michael Mo says:

    I think we really need to polish our bride skills in Spanish before heading to Latin America….
    Well done, Glenn!

  2. ace says:

    awesome!!! that was such a hilarious acct!

  3. Bernice says:

    LOL that is SO funny!! I loved how they 'qualified' the price by giving you context. Genius I tell you.

    I'm in Vancouver now – little vacation of my own visiting friends/family. Need to catch up on the past few days of your blog!

  4. Ray says:

    I wonder if I am in the same situation whether I could keep my cool!

  5. yoga Karen says:

    You are amazing….is it the spanish u learned on your own before the trip?

    Anyway, I only went on your blog today…and I have so much catching up to do! reading your blog…you guys are an amazing couple!

  6. Oliver & Anne says:

    How are you? Everything alright? We´re back to daily business, it´s a pitty :-)
    We crossed the same border, but we'had already read on th internet that u r expected to have an ongoing connection so we just showed them our eTickets and everything was fine…

    You're in Ecuador right know, aren`t you? So u definetly have to visit Puerto López! It´s a very small fishermens` village but it´s famous for whale whatching! I did it when i was there and it´s really amazing! After it, just order some "arroz con camarones" and a caipirinha. It was the best i ever had!!!

    Good luck and enjoy Ecuador!
    Greetz Oliver (& Anne)

  7. 山 him says:

    @Oliver & Anne: Hola!!! So good to hear from you guys! If only you told us earlier… we didn't have much time to spend in Ecuador and decided to get to Peru sooner so here we are now at Lima! When's your next holiday? Hopefully our paths will cross again in Europe!

  8. Enis Y says:

    Its been just 10 minutes I began to read this blog for the first time and I beginning to like you more and more :)

    Its really enjoying to read your stories.

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