(Bocha Chica, Panama)
Today’s Spanish lesson: ciento. Ciento – adjective (used in compound numbers) : one hundred.
Now let’s set the scene.
We made a run into David (pronounced Dav-eed) for one last cheap Price Smart provisioning and to clear out of the country. Specifically to get our passports stamped exiting Panama. As the process so mind-boggling goes, we spent a better part of two hours moving office to office, filling out paperwork, and shuffling that paperwork between about 12 different personnel. I actually filled out three identical papers, only to have the lady in possession of those identical forms copy yet another blank one and ask me to fill out uno mas. Perhaps she deemed that my penmanship needed the practice?
Now imagine a small office room of the type you find on a temporary work site. Now fill that room with as many desks and chairs as you possibly can without actually stacking them on top of each other. Now insert a human at each of those desks and chairs. That is the room we’re sitting in waiting on paperwork when the door opens and a seemingly endless line of officials begins to file in. I felt like I was partaking in some sort of reversal of the clown car act. Regardless, we all fit in and a Spanish-speaking staff meeting commenced.
As she offered what I can only imagine was her stance on the necessity of Casual Friday’s, my paperwork counterpart continued her shuffling, stamping, and searching. Through a few advisory comments to her colleague over at another desk, we picked up words like Oceanna and Golfito, and knew they were still working to set us free.
Eventually Captain Gregory was called forward – the 6 inches that was open air – to sign some documents and was presented with our bill for the office to complete the Zarpe paperwork. Since we had already gone through this process in Panama City we knew the price for a Zarpe was in and around $5. So when I heard blah blah cuatro veinte I was satisfied it was $4.20. Then I listened again. There was a word before the $4.20 part. Wait a minute is she saying that word that I’m pretty sure means one hundred?
As we continually asked her to repeat herself, using our sweetest Gringo, another helpful official hands over a receipt. $104.20. Excuse me?! The receipt lines read, Zarpe – $4.20, Legalización de documentos – $100. Ummm clever wording, but no. We politely laughed and told the two officials that this was completely unacceptable. I dug out our previous Panama City receipt printed on identical Panama Authority letterhead backing the fabrication in their $100 fee. As this was all going down through a weird mix of charades and simple Spanish and English, the leader of the Staff Meeting stepped in.
This old, important looking man proceeded to discuss our situation with his staff in lightning-fast Spanish giving no clue as to which side he was playing for. When the impromptu meeting broke and everyone returned to their desks, another flurry of paperwork ensued leaving us unsure how our total cost lies. Following a waiting period we were presented with a new receipt totalling $6.50 with no explanation as to where the mystery $100 went. I could have kissed that man on his bald head!
All this in the books and we still didn’t have our passports stamped. Another office, another officer, and another translator later we found out they couldn’t even stamp passports there! A meeting was made and we would see them in Boca Chica at 8am the next day. Sheesh. What an operation.