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Panamanian Pandamonium

PANAMA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [172] | Scholarship Entry

Since I left Guatemala I’d had one thing on my mind: the Darien Gap. I didn’t know just how I was going to do it. And as I approached the Panamanian border I wasn’t anticipating my plans being thwarted so soon.

I lined up in the dimly lit border control area and started reading the mishmash of notices stuck to the window separating us from the Panamanian immigration officials. One caught my eye and sent fear and loathing throughout my body — Conditions of Entry: Proof of onward ticket to country of residence and possession of US$500. I had neither. The beaded sweat on my brow began to trickle.

Having heard my story the smartly dressed official looked at me with disdain. “Not good enough. Stand to one side,” he growled. With his narrowing eyes he waved forward the next in line. I stood my ground, slightly embarrassed as I saw other backpackers happily displaying proof of their onward tickets and ample cash produced from inside their sodden money belts. The sweat coursed down my spine. I didn’t want to buy a ticket home that I wasn’t going to use. I was desperate. Contingency plans loomed large. I was running by the seat of my pants. I had no where else to go.

I turned to the bus driver. He shrugged his shoulders, “I gotta go fella. Sorry!” I begged him to hold on. I went back to the window. I looked sideways at my fellow passengers looking out the window at me with bemusement and concern. My sweat soaked shirt clung to my back. I waved nervously to one of the officials. I explained my situation for the umpteenth time. All of a sudden he dropped the ticket demand entirely. In gruff tones he demanded to see the US$500 cash. I only had $140. He asked for a credit card. My eyes beamed with renewed confidence. I waved it like a lunatic in the air. But now he was demanding to see how much money I had in the bank.

Begging my driver to wait I ran to the Internet cafe dodging trucks and motorbikes, dogs and puddles. Asked the half asleep girl to print the screen dump. And with bank balance in hand rushed back to the border control. He slowly scratched it to see if it was a real. And with elation swelling in my bones he took my photo and stamped my passport. Elated I boarded to a slow eruption of applause. With euphoria descending upon me I sat and reviewed the crumpled bank statement once again. My name appeared nowhere on it! Not to worry. The Darien Gap was once again within my sights.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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