Panama City, Panama
Initially we weren’t looking forward to going back to Panama City. It was a kinda “been there, done that” and felt like a waste of a week to return. However, another Brazilian tourist visa was a necessity and without it, we wouldn’t be catching a flight out of the southern continent any time soon. We weren’t even absolutely sure that we could obtain the visa in Panama City considering that Panamanian citizens didn’t need one to enter the country but we figured that being such a commercial hub and kinda on the way, it was our best shot. When flying into Panama or other countries like Venezuela or Colombia, customs officials requires proof of you exiting that country. Probably something to due with high levels of illegal immigration and of course the drug trade. Considering we got caught up in this last time, we had our flight out of Panama also on Copa and the itinerary printed off and ready to show officials.
At check-in at Montego Bay the questions started. “Where are you going after Manaus?”… “Rio.” “Where are you going after Rio?”…”Dubai.” “Where are you going…<it continued>”. We had to explain our movements over the next three months to take us all the way back to Australia. She just couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that we were independently traveling for over a year. And I guess, considering the type of tourist to Jamaica, we were indeed an abnormality. So she took me out the back of the check-in desk to her office (while the lines of customers probably thought I was in for a cavity search). Here I had to log into my email, retrieve all our flight itineraries to show proof that we would be returning to Australia. Jesus, wasn’t enough to show we would be leave Panama?
Anyway, we finally jumped aboard our Copa flight (expensive at $600 a pop) to take us back to Central America. 2.5hrs later we landed in the nicely air-conditioned modern airport with all the Gucci’s, Prada’s and luxuries you could muster. It was kinda nice to be back. Knowing exactly where to go, we hailed a cab and drove into the heart of the city amongst the skyscrapers to Torres de Alba apartments. There was no penny pinching this time or squatting in a **** hostel and sleeping in dorm. We were going to live it up on level 12 in our own large scale apartment with kitchen, laundry, bathroom, bedroom, and an incredible lounge room with flat screen cable overlooking a multi million dollar view. And with a full scale gym, beautiful pool and a buffet breakfast every morning, maybe the week wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.
It was D-day the next morning and we trudged down to the Brazilian Embassy, only noticeable by a little green, gold and blue flag on the side of the building. I was nervous, trying to think of what the contingency plan would be if we couldn’t get the visa. What would we do? Buy time for another two weeks and fly directly from Panama to Rio to catch our flight out and sit in transit OR re-route our flight from Panama to Buenos Aires in Argentina, catch a 24hr bus north to the Iguzu and cross overland. Both of these options meant wasted time backtracking, more money spent on flights and missing out on seeing the Amazon. And how you could bloody well spend 10 months in South and Central America without seeing the Amazon!? It would be a tragedy. We climbed the stairs and waited in line. Called up to the front desk the Brazilian official viewed our passports and old visa. “This visa OK” she stated…”What! no it isn’t” and we showed that we had entered and exited the county already. She got it and said “Tourist visa 90 dias required?” “Yes please” we said. She looked at our filled out forms, our credit statements, our flight out of the country, our photos. Check, check, check and check. We had fulfilled all requirements and were told to “Walk to HSBC bank to pay the fee and pick your passports up in a weeks time”. Fan-bloody-tastic and thank-god for that. We were quite relieved and could now completely relax and live the highlife while waiting.
So our days were spent – washing everything that we had bar our backpacks in our personal washing machine…even our sleeping bags and shoes; enjoying a lazy long breakfast of absolutely everything in the buffet each morning; working our breakfast off at the gym and cooling off from the 37c mid afternoon heat in the pool; walking into the air-conditioned multiplex to grab a movie (for $2 bucks!), browse the shops and grab an ice coffee and enjoy happy hour from our balcony in the sky and a nice home made meal. We had plans to take day trips to the beach, into the old down and to the national parks…but the luxury of our surroundings had to be enjoyed. It was heaven.
A week past very quickly and it was soon time to pick up our passports. The nerves came back..what it there was a problem? Our flight was the following morning. But there they were, in perfect condition and we were right to enter Brazil the next day. In celebration we met Jo whom we first met in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala at the Hard Rock for dinner. She was making her way down to Peru to kick off the Inca Trail. After quite a few wines, swapping stories, downing hamburgers and cringing to some insanely loud techno karaoke, we said goodbye and walked back through the night streets to our apartment. The next morning we hailed a cab back out to the airport, checked through without any of the problems we experienced in Jamaica and after a Subway and cafe con leche we boarded our afternoon flight. After four months in Central America and the Caribbean Islands we were returning back into South America, into the heart of the Amazon to a little city deep in the jungle called Manaus.