Getting New Plates for the Car

It became apparent shortly after arriving in Panama that we would need a car sooner rather than later. Temporarily living in the Coronado area, we found a suitable vehicle in Anton del Valle, not very far away. The car was registered in Panama City, the significance of which escaped me for a few months, although I was in fact told that I would likely want to re-register the car closer to my final residential locale. The reason I would want to re-register the car is that the plates must be purchased in the area in which the car is registered. No worry, that’s not until December, six months off.

Said final locale turned out to be Boquete, and the six months was upon me before I knew it.

The main requirement, in some places the only requirement, for a new plate is a current inspection certificate, called a Revisado. As in the states, only certain facilities are authorized to conduct these inspections. AFAIK, there is no such facility in Boquete. Although inspection facilities abound in David, those in the know will stop in at Renfrio. Renfrio is basically a tire shop, located on the north side of the Pan American Hwy between the KFC and McDonalds. Very easy to find.

With my current Revisado in hand, I’m ready to get serious about the new license plate.

A round-trip bus fare from David to Panama City is around $35. Then I would need a cab. Not certain that such would be the case, I suspected there might actually be more than one stop in the process. Another cab, or cabs. (I think there were three stops when I bought the car.) There’s no way all of this could be accomplished in one day, so there’s a hotel bill to consider. Doing the math it took only a very short while to realize we would be far better off just hiring someone in PC to handle this for us. We called upon a guy named Luis Arce. He had been recommended by friends of ours and we had used him before when traveling from the bus station to PTY. We were well-satisfied with him. So my wife contacted him to see if he was up to the job. He was, and sent us a list of what he needed.

  1. A signed paper authorizing him to conduct this business for us.
  2. A copy of my passport
  3. The original Registrado Unico (car title)
  4. The original current year Revisado (proof of inspetion)
  5. Original of last year’s Revisado
  6. Last year’s receipt for the license plate renewal
  7. Proof of insurance

Well, surely thought I, he doesn’t really  need the originals of all those papers.  What a mess if he lost something!  So I sent copies.

The very next day, upon receiving the papers, he called to say that he needed the originals. Somewhat fuming, I called around to confirm the actual need for originals. It turns out that for Panama City at least, originals are in fact required.  I fume while my lady quietly smirks.

So the very next day I sent the originals, after carefully making copies of everything. A couple days after that, the license plate (singular,just one plate) along with the Revisado sticker for the windshiled, was delivered by Fletes Chavale to their Boquete office. I had heard only good things about Fletes Chavale and after several shipments back and forth with them, I must concur with the glowing reviews. Reasonably priced as well.

Having successfully procured the plates for our car, I now took on a bit more daunting project. A friend was out of the country and wouldn’t return until after the first of the year. Her plate, like mine, expired in December. The problem was no one knew where her original title was. Also like mine, her car was registered in PC. She thinks that possibly the original title is at the Dolega office, as she remembers coming here with it. The (unsuccessful) purpose of that visit was to get the title transferred from PC to Dolega. She didn’t remember all of the details except that it was “too soon”. This would make sense for me a little later.

I am one of those rare individuals that, through talent or misfortune (not sure which), can actually speak the language better than I can understand it.

I had little trouble explaining that a friend was out of the country and that she wouldn”t return until after the first of the year. Meanwhile, her license plates would expire this month (December). The car was registered in PC which requires, among other things, an original title. She (we) can’t find the original title. She was hoping that she might have somehow left the title here on a prior visit.

At the Dolega municipio I was directed to a young man (maybe 30) named David Ponce. David spoke little to no English. He enlisted the aid of one of the cashiers named Soraida Jimenez, who speaks passable English. It was soon determined that the missing title was not here. It was suggested that I get a replacement title right here, right now. And although I could not in fact get the new plate here since the car was registered in PC, they could issue a one month extension for $5.

Alternatively, I could send the new, soon to be obtained title, along with the other required documents, to a “runner” in PC and get the new plates without further ado. The economics were such that I took him up on the offer to purchase the plates for me after the first of the year. (Interesting to note that I observed at least one individual get his new plate here by presenting nothing more than a current Revisado!)

I was directed to a window just a few yards away where a new “original” title could be obtained. Sure enough, 30minutes later, and $21 lighter, I have a new title. Soraida left for lunch before I got the replacement title but she told me which window to go to in order to get the temporary extension for the license plate. But when I did that, the girl said I could NOT get a temporary extension and could not in fact buy the plates there as the car was registered in Panama City. The latter of which I was already keenly aware.

So I was forced to wait for Soraida to return from lunch, whereupon the temporary extension was issued without further incident.

David would be going to PC after the first week in January and he could then procure the plate for me in the city. I am to return here the week of Jan 5 as a reminder.

It was pointed out that had I arrived closer to the first of the month, they here in Dolega could have effected the title transfer to Dolega. As it was, I would have to wait until NEXT year, being sure to show up close to the first of the month. (I would later have this information confirmed on two more occasions. So this is how Suzi was “too early” on her prior visit.)

As instructed in mid December, I returned here Jan 5 to see David Ponce. David was not here. No one seemed to know when he would return. I wound up talking to another (very) young man named Arcinio Miranda who said he could help me. Arcinio thinks he can speak English but it’s only slightly better than my Spanish. A fortunate and fortuitous occurrence was that within earshot was a Panamanian who had lived in the states for 25 years. He spoke English almost without accent! Needless to say, all of the information exchanged during my first visit had to be repeated. Still no cigar. I’m to call back at the end of the week after he’s had a chance to talk to David Ponce.

I dutifully called Arcinio at the end of the week. He said HE would be going to PC soon and I was to stop by the office in Dolega to see him before Jan 20. I went there on Jan 16. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time given the information exchanged on previous visits, but in the end he said the new plate should be here by the end of January and to call the office at that time to confirm.  But a few days later Suzi returned to Panama and I left everything in her capable(?) hands.  

(to be continued)


Driving to the City from Chiriqui … and back.

After spending two months alone, with just three of our five animals, my sigo was finally coming to join me in Panama.  In a nutshell, I was setting up housekeeping in Panama while she was visiting her sister in Puerto Rico.  Work for me, vacation for her.  Oh well, such is life.   It would be great to have the “family” together again.  I couldn’t wait to be greeted with all the kissy-kiss from the absent animals, not to mention Sigo.

I would be driving from one end of the country to the other, almost the entire distance on the Pan American Highway.  In spite of its importance and worldwide fame, this road is in only marginal condition for half the distance.  The other half is in terrible shape.  I had long heard that this was a road to be avoided at night at almost any cost.  One trip during daylight would explain why.  There are potholes almost big enough to swallow a car.  Ordinarily, she would have taken public transportation but the presence of the pets precluded that option.

The length of my drive and the arrival time of her flight necessitated my spending the night.  Just as well.  14+ hours of driving within 24 is prudently too much.  I had reservations at a hotel/hostal that had decent reviews, was cheap and very close to the airport.   Not something I could expect my sigo to join me at but it was fine for me.  As it was described as being within walking distance of the airport, I didn’t concern myself too much with directions.  Big mistake.  I drove around for 45 minutes looking for lodging “within walking distance of the airport”.  Although I had a cell phone with me, I had no number for the place.  An airport cabbie familiar with the area ended up being my salvation.

I spent an uneventful night in a very basic but secure bed.  In the morning I couldn’t wait to get to the airport to see everybody.  The process of bringing pets into the country can be daunting.  It’s worthy of a separate post in itself.  But we hired a Panamanian named Jose Saenz to see us through the process at the Panama end.  He wasn’t cheap but he was well worth the money.  An hour or so after landing, we were all loaded in our car.  My sigo, our two animals, and me.

My insurance agent in El Valle had given me really good directions for getting to the airport (PTY).  Got there without a hitch.  Getting back was another story.  It seemed logical to simply go back the way I came.  That was the plan, but it certainly didn’t work out that way.

I left the airport thinking we were on Corredor Sur, and we may well have been.  But things soon started going south, no pun intended.  I took no turns or exits but soon realized we were in strange territory.  (Much later I found that there was an exit that put, or kept, one on Corredor Sur.) It seemed we were on a road to nowhere with no easy exit. But eventually another autopista (freeway) presented itself so we (I) took it. A toll both appeared before long but they wouldn’t accept the card I bought the day before for Corredor Sur.  Only  another card specific for that particular freeway would work. One can readily imagine my frustration in trying to back out (of what I took to be a cash lane) and trying to navigate to the one and only lane that sold these cards. But eventually we were on our way again on an unknown route that only hopefully would put us at some identifiable landmark. That didn’t happen. But we DID encounter yet another freeway that required another unique transit card and from this we DID find an exit that indicated a route to the Bridge of the Americas.  Fom there I knew my way home.  Up to now, the GPS had proved essentially worthless. It indicated roads where there were none.  And no roads where there were, in fact, roads.

Knowing full-well the definition of literally, I can say that we were literally lost in the city for over two hours. We left the airport mid-morning with the expectation of arriving home an hour or so before dark. That was now looking shaky. On top of that, we were running low on gas. I remember seeing a gas station on the opposite side of the road but was averse to taking an exit with questionable access to this station.  I would soon regret the decision to continue on.

We finally realized that the GPS database might show gas stations in our proximity.  Well, it didn’t really. It indicated fuel where we found none. But continuing to put our fate in technology still seemed better that driving blindly, just hoping to find gas.

The gauge was getting really, really low when the GPS indicated a gas station 4+ miles away. The exit we took just didn’t look right. We soon found ourselves surrounded by overhanging trees, the only sign of civilization being the road we were driving on. But the gas gauge assured me there was no logic in turning around and trying to get to our exit point and THEN look for another station. So we trudged on. We were starting to breathe again when the GPS said to turn right … where there was no road. But the gas station was only 3/10 mi away? In dense jungle? Yeah, right. I told Sigo to let me have a look at that GPS. It said “Cascada” and I almost cried. All along she thought Cascada was the name of the gas station, not realizing that cascada is Spanish for waterfall. Now I could believe that a waterfall was  3/10 mi away, but not a gas station. We still don’t know how a Points of Interest waypoint found its way to Fueling Stations.

The gas gauge was indicating below empty at this point. The GPS indicated there was yet another station “only” 3+mi away. What choice did we have? None.

Fully expecting to run out of gas at any moment, we continued on. Then the road turned to the right and miraculously, out of the jungle, appeared a small settlement, with a gas station! A real lesson was learned here. Now I fill up when the gauge gets below ½ full.

We had gas but we also has a long way to go for home. After backtracking to our autopista exit, we were soon on our way again and not that far from the Bridge of the Americas. I looked particularly grand on this occasion.

Being well into my “tercer edad”, I’m really not much into speeding these days. But given the distance from home and full knowledge of how bad the road was, I made an exception this time. My technique was to tag behind speeders. It’s always a matter of time before someone passes you. Then, if you can stay a bit behind them, the theory is that they will be the one to get stopped, not you. That generally worked but there were many drivers simply going too fast for me to keep up. I do have my limits. One other approach worked very well. Although Panamanian drivers have a well-deserved reputation for aggressive driving, they do tend to look out for each other. They aren’t the least bit bashful about flashing headlights to warn of radar ahead.

At one point I passed an 18-wheeler only to come upon 2 cops w/radar. No flashing lishts to warn of this one. Looking in my rear view mirror and expecting the worst, I saw that they were stopping HIM, not me!  Maybe his radar echo was so much larger than mine that mine was swamped.  Or maybe they just have this thing for truckers.   Whatever.  I’m still not believing my luck.

With all of that we arrived home just as it was getting dark. Bed never felt so good.