This past week, Mikkel and I took an overnight trip to Panama City. We had sold our home in Auburn, California and it was finally in escrow (long story, another time). Although most of the documents I had to sign could be done electronically, there were two documents that required my signature to be notarized. A Panamanian notary was not acceptable since the home and title are in the U.S. Only the U.S. Embassy notarization was allowed. A person at the title company had called and asked if we were anywhere close to the U.S. Embassy. No….but it had to be done if we wanted escrow to finally close.
So after making the earliest required appointment online the week before for Wednesday, June 11th at 9:30am, off we drove Tuesday morning to Panamá. Our friend India in Santo Domingo came with us; she needed to renew her passport at the Embassy as well and coordinated with us for an appointment on the same morning. Earlier that morning before we left, we had woke up to the usual downpour of rain. So we waited until about 10am when it let up, and by the time we stopped to pick up India, the rain had completely subsided. We were blessed with safe travel and only a little downpour for about 10 minutes just before we approached the Centennial Bridge to cross the Canal. After arriving at the Balboa Inn, we were greeted by the manager who informed us that she had upgraded us to a “triple” room so that she could meet our request for a higher bed off the floor. The last time we stayed there, we had a room with a framed bed low to the floor which made it difficult for us to get out of. She stated all the “double” rooms with higher beds were booked, but we noticed at breakfast the next morning that there were only place-settings for the three of us. I guess she remembered us from before and wanted to give us nicer rooms (another blessing).
Since we had arrived at about 3:30pm and the Embassy appointment wasn’t until the next morning, Mikkel and I took advantage of the afternoon and did a little shopping at Discovery Center (like a large Walmart), PriceSmart, and Office Depot. We had been to these stores before, so we pretty much knew our way around the El Dorado section of the city. India stayed at Balboa Room to rest. After shopping, we have discovered we are buying less and less since we now know where to find certain things locally or have learned to do without. Anyway, while we were shopping, I realized that I had left my wallet with all our money and my ID back home next to the front door. Short-term panic! Mikkel had some cash; India’s husband Lee had given us some cash to pay for lodging and gas; we could use Mikkel’s debit card at many places; get more cash out of the ATM if needed; and I have copies of my Panamanian ID in the glove compartment. Panic gone! (more blessings)
Luckily I had put our passports in the purse I took. When we arrived at the Embassy the next morning 1/2 hour early, we found the front gate closed and no one other than employees were being allowed in, although we saw many people lined up outside the security building inside the gate. There was no explanation given, only that we will need to wait maybe 15-30 minutes (all said in Spanish of course). So we waited along with many others; rumors as to the explanation ran around that there was a protest going on; a bomb scare; a lock-down; the fire alarm went off. Never did get an explanation, but at 9:30am, the guards opened the gate. Luckily the Embassy had previously changed some policies allowing for visitor parking up the hill near the security building. When we first went to the Embassy last August to get our California driver’s licenses authenticated so we could get a Panamanian driver’s license, no cars were allowed to come through the gate; you had to park outside and walk up the hill.
Next we had to get in a long line just to go into the security building first. It was sunny and hot with no shade. Took about 10-15 minutes to finally get to the entrance. Once in the security building, we showed our passports and then went through a metal detector as our belongings went through the Xray machine. Mikkel had remembered that no cell phones were allowed, so we left them in the car. But they took my cell phone charger and cord along with earbuds I had in my purse; gave me a claim ticket to pick them up when I leave. Go figure why the charger, cord and earbuds would be a threat. Not even TSA at the airport confiscates these items.
Once through security we continued to walk up the hill to the Embassy building where there was another long line outside the door. But they allowed U.S. citizens to go in immediately without standing in line (one more blessing). We were directed to go to the cashier first, although India was given a numbered ticket as well. The cashier checked off our names on the appointment list and we paid our fees along with any paperwork; ours was $50 per notarized signature and I needed two, but we knew that when we made our appointment online. Then we were told to take a seat and someone would call our name from Window 13. It was now about 10am. So we waited, and waited, and waited, watching many people who had come in after us go to Window 13 when their names were called. We also observed the man at Window 13 pick up his coffee cup and walk away for about 10-15 minutes twice while we continued to wait. India’s number was never posted and when she asked about it, the employee just said sorry, but he could not go back to her number now and she would have to wait for her name to be called. While she was at the window, she noticed that the files from the cashier were stacked on a counter behind the window; when people came in, their file was put on top. So in other words, our file continued to stay at the bottom of the pile; last person in/first person out; appointment times were ignored. When the employee came back from his 2nd coffee break, India went up to the window and demanded that he find her file in the stack and serve her. It was now about 10:45am and her appointment was for 10:15am. Reluctantly he took care of her passport renewal application, which only took 2 minutes to complete some forms and she was done. But I still waited for my name to be called. Finally around 11am I was called, went up to the window, signed the two already stamped documents in front of the notary who then signed them as well. (Later we would email the Embassy about our experiences that day. We did receive a response explaining that the supervisor was not in that day and possibly some re-training and changes needed to be made, thanking us for sharing our concerns.) We did get what we came for even if it took a little longer than necessary. The Embassy closes at noon on Wednesdays, so at least we weren’t sent away due to whatever the delay was in the first place (I choose this to be another blessing).
Afterwards, we found the nearby MailBoxes, Etc. office so I could mail the notarized documents to the title company in California. The WAZE app on my phone showed us a better shortcut to this office. Although somewhat costly, DHL was less expensive than FedEx. I started speaking Spanish, but the clerk spoke back to me in English, and was very polite as he assisted me in filling out the DHL forms. All went very smoothly and I received a copy of the forms with the tracking number. (Later I tracked the package online. It was delivered and signed for at the title company just two days later-Wow! How many blessings is that now?)
On our way back to Pedasí, we stopped in Coronado for lunch. A man was standing in line next to me and started talking in Spanish, asking me where I was from, etc. His name was Gabriel and he started showing me pictures of his daughter and son. When we ordered our food, Gabriel insisted on paying for our meals. “I want you to enjoy living in Panama and like the people”, he said in broken English. Then he sat with us and talked a little about his family while waiting for our food. His food was take-out; so when the food came, he said good-bye and wished us blessings. Off he went and we will probably never see him again. Maybe he was an angel in disguise, but he was definitely a blessing to talk to.
The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful. It started raining somewhere before Rio Hato, but only for 5 minutes. We dropped off India who was grateful for the ride and proceeded home, being excitedly greeted by Bella as we arrived around 5PM, plenty of time before dinner. Neli had cleaned the house that day, so Bella was placed in the gated carport area by our housesitters, Dania (my Spanish teacher) & her husband Alaberto. As we opened the front driveway gate with the remote, Bella ran out, down the street, but eventually came back when I called her.
All in all it was a successful, and definitely a blessed trip. Not everything went exactly as planned, but all goals were accomplished. There is always an adventure here in Panama, even if it centers around the U.S. government and their policies and actions. You could say experiences at government offices in the U.S. can be just as frustrating. But as I continue to live here in Panama, I am feeling less and less stressed out and more and more blessed. Just today, when meeting for the first time a FaceBook friend who has just moved to Pedasí and will be our neighbor, her comment was that everyone seems so “kick-back” and friendly. We agree; we definitely feel blessed – “tranquilo”- living here in Pedasí, Panama.