CHECKING IN TO OFFICIALDOM
Visiting another country is about being accepted into the country. I have been to at least a half a dozen countries. Mostly via air, and checking into the country is a walk in the park, or should I type airport? Customs, Immigration, are right there waiting for you. You are just one of many, and they want to get rid of you as soon as possible. I am sure a cup of coffee, tea, or some other snack is waiting for them. Maybe they just want to get around the cooler, and talk over the day, or a new grandchild? Just like any other job it’s about getting it done, and over with. At least for the most part. The U.S.A can be as difficult as any other country. Actually I have had more unpleasant experiences in my own country that in a foreign country.
I sailed from S.F Ca. toon good old Frolic. After several months I left her in Puerta Vallarta. The auto pilot nearly killed me twice, and caused confusion a number of times. I went back to work to buy a wind vane, but every chance I had I would fly down for some sailing. This was often enough that even during winter I had a constant tan. I worked in a car dealership, and one of the ladies that I only knew from sight. She asked me why I was tanned all the time. I told her with my devious mind working.
Have you noticed that at times I am not here? She had, because her job depended on my job, and I was very efficient at what I did. I told her I have a sailboat in Mexico, and when I can I fly down to go sailing. She looked at me long, and hard. Then she asked just how much do they pay you in the backroom? My reply was not enough. I can afford the boat, but not new shoes while pointing at a pair of very worn tennies. I could see the gears turning in her head, and as we parted she smiled, but it wasn’t a smile of happiness. It was more of confusion.
On one of these trips returning to S.F. from Mexico. Going through immigration the official did not like my answers, and he sent me through as special line of Customs. It has been 20 years, so it may have been the other way around. I just can’t remember.
The agent was a tall Chinese man. His English was worse than my Spanish, and he was impatient. He wanted to know where I’ve been. now I am thinking this whole plane just arrived from Mexico. How does he not know where I have been as he thumbs through my passport?
I‘ve been to Mexico.
What were you doing there?
What do you mean sailing?
You see I have a sailboat in Mexico, and I go down to sail when it’s cold, and raining here!
and now the fun begins!
Don’t you work?
No I SURE I DON’T!
Well what do you do for money? As he starts eyeing my belongings
What do you mean you don’t? Now he is handling my belongings
Well, you see my wife supports me.
What do you mean your wife supports you?
She has a lot of money, so I have no need to work.
Now he is feeling the seams of my clothing, and looking deeper into my sea bag.
You mean while your wife works you just go sailing in Mexico????
Now he is taking my shoes apart, and I can see frustration building. He knows for sure he’s got some kind of criminal on his hands!
How long were you there?
Now I am thinking it’s stamped on the passport stupid, but I reply with a smile.
5 days? only 5 days to go too Mexico to go sailing. I can see the gears turning in overdrive.
By now everything is dumped out on the table, and he is feeling the seams of my sea bag in desperation to find some contraband.
You can look all you want for as long as you want, but you won’t find anything there. I gave that crap up years ago, and went straight. I guess I am just lucky to be a kept man. With a very straight face, and a huge smile lurking underneath it.
I think he would’ve loved to have choked me! Instead he stuffed everything in the bag hap hazard, and told me to leave while glaring at me. I was giggling all the way out of the building.
Mel is a Filipina, and a citizen of. She is a legal immigrant here. This took a lot of money, and time to get her into the country. We had to jump through a lot of hoops too. For an example immigration wanted proof I could support her. They wanted bank statements of my business, and personal account. I asked if my tax returns would do? Oh no we want the statements. I told them it was well over 200 pages, because of my business. Well, they wanted it anyway, and with a nasty reply it was well send them!
So I spent 2 days opening, and pulling out sheets of paper to make copies. Then folding them up in order again, and placing them back in the file. They got the 200+ pages, and I am sure no one really took a look to diagnose what it all meant. Along with other requirements of her health, back ground check, and just an overall are you worthy to enter.
Now the Filipinos were some brave warriors in WWII. They fought alongside us, and in the jungles alone. They think America is just the greatest place on earth, and love Americans. They have shown loyalty to us that far surpasses most countries. They were also promised access to the. Many of many promises to them have been broken, yet they still love us. This is why I think it is a slap in our face for illegals to just be granted amnesty. That is yet another story, but an example of officialdom here in the USA.
After Mel arrived there was yet more officialdom. Some of it was pleasant while at times we dealt with tiny tyrants. I have power, and you will wilt for me! NOW I NEED YOUR PAPERWORK NOW is what was yelled at us. All because we didn’t have the paperwork in hand as we approached the counter. The woman was not 4’10”, and slamming the palms of her hand on the counter. Once again her English was barely understandable. She had Mel so flustered she couldn’t find the copies of her photos. She in a very loud voice demanded we leave, and go get copies made across the street. I asked when we return if we should get to the rear of the line, or come to the counter? Her palms slamming the counter said come here to me!
Between my clenched teeth I told her it’s only a question, and I am not able to read your mind!
On an earlier visit we met officer SO & SO. He was intrigued with our questions about what to do about our situation. He asked as many questions as we did. Our plan was to leave the USA., and board Imagine in. Then sail her home to S.F., and find work again. He was extremely helpful, and even made phone calls to find information, so we could make good decisions on what we would do in the future. It turns out officer SO
& SO was the manager also.
As we left the counter of the tiny tyrant. I told her she should talk with officer SO & SO. He knows us, and has our personal information. Whenn we returned we approached the counter, and stood to the side while the person in front of us was dismissed. Officer SO & SO was standing in the background. We waved to him, and smiled. He waved back, and gave a smile of his own. The tiny tyrant looked over her should. When she turned to us there was the prettiest smile on her face. Her voice was sweet, and kind. Maybe she was bi-polar, or maybe she was just warned about her behaviour? I don’t have the answer, but my sneaky suspicion is. Since officer SO & SO stood there the whole time there was some influence from that. Our paperwork was finished in a blur of busy hands, and we were dismissed. We smiled, and waved at officer SO & SO. He smiled back, and stepped into his office. I looked the lady in the eyes, and mumbled BITCH!
Everything changes when you enter a country via sailboat. The line is not easy as in the airport. As a matter of a fact there is no line. What there is are buildings that are usually on the other side of town waiting for you to find them. it’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt for adults. You just never know what color of personality you will find. The same as the USA. as in my examples above. Now throw in a different culture, and a possible language barrier. Not to mention finding these eggs all over town. This is why many use an agent, and an agent makes life simple. He takes the needed papers, and returns soon with stamps of clearance and approval for you to stay.
What takes them hours may take you days. AH, but there is a cost to this this simplicity. Sometimes it’s a fair price, and others you know you’ve been cheated. When do you use an agent? Mostly it’s a feeling about what to do. Other cruisers will advise you, but like all free advice sometimes you get what you pay for!
The easiest place we have been has been. I have checked in at maybe a dozen times at least. The good thing about there is that the buildings are next to each other. It’s usually a matter of 30 minutes. They relieve you of some cash, and you’re in!
While coming fromour fist stop was . We anchored off the town, and I took the dinghy into the marina. There were no other boats to be seen. Until I came into the marina. An area cut out of the reef, and rock that was nothing more than a small rectangle. Possibly it could hold a dozen boats, possibly? In there was one boat being sailed single-handed by an Englishman. He too was checking in, and had directions. If memory serves me right there was basically one road around the island, and a few offshoots in town. The direction were to follow this road until the airport, and then enter it. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful walk along with my new companion. Check in was easy too. All officials were at the airport, and it was a matter of walking from one room to the next. STAMP, STAMP, STAMP, and you’re in in a matter of 30 minutes again.
has to be the very easiest of them all. If you check into a marina. The marina will call, and all officials come down at the same time. They are friendly, and helpful. In 15 minutes they have your money, and you’ve been STAMPED, STAMPED, STAMPED. As I remember they always told us too enjoy their country, and we always have. I think the Bahamas is one of earth’s greatest pleasures for a cruiser. You can have naked benches without a footprint, but your own. You can be naked in this solitude if you wish without offending anyone. Hell the birds, and fish aren’t embarrassed. Then there are the cruising gatherings. Where boats abound with lots of social life. Many times that solitude is just minute away with a walk, or a couple of hours to sail to the next island! I’ve been cruising the Bahamas since 1981, and I sorely miss them already. I doubt I will ever return. I have great memories, and lots of pictures to remind me of their BEAUTY!
All of this leading up to my current situation. During my cancer treatment my brain was cooked, and poisoned to kill the cancer cells. Unfortunately the chemo touched every cell of your body. Some of the good ones wither & die as well as the bad ones, hopefully. The radiation I can imagine is like crawling into a microwave. Once again there is collateral damage. They can narrow it down, but my experience is that they don’t. They’re taking on areas not affected yet to stop it from spreading. I feel in a lot of ways I have had to relearn some things. My hearing was not all that good from my work. The treatment made it worse now I have hearing aids. These can make matters worse at times by picking up background noises, and drowning out what you need to hear. The reason being is the microphone is behind the ear, and pointed behind you. Everything behind you is magnified many times over. While what is in front of you, and what you need to hear is only magnified a wee bit. You’re left hearing unneeded information. Such as people walking, fans, tires on the road, and the list goes on. It was suggested by the doctor too me to get this kind. The reason being is they are more water resistant, and I am a sailor that needs to be in the rain at times.
Tagalog is a mixture of Spanish, and it allows Mel to think in Spanish. While I have to think in English, and then translate. By this time a new sentence has already been spoken, and I am lost. With the loss of my hearing, and the hearing aids added it has become very difficult for me to converse. For these reasons since we returned to Imagine in May. Mel has pretty much taken over the check in requirements. I sit off to the side like I am being baby sat. I have no problem with this, because what ever it takes to accomplish our goal I will do. Besides Mel is as cute as a button nose on a teddy bear. I know I would prefer to exchange thoughts with her over me if I was the official.
The problem being is she’s not here anymore. Deep inside my chest she is always with me, but in reality it’s me alone here. As I typed above I have no problem with this. This is what it’s going to take to accomplish our goals. I do feel for the officials that have to deal with me. Usually I don’t have my ears in although I carry them with me all the time. I am trying to avoid the confusing background noise.
This is kind of how it goes in the office. I approach the counter, and say I want to check in. Of course I have asked if anyone speaks English in my best Spanish. Sometimes I get a wave of a hand like a see saw board. Meaning that their English is so so. I tell them my Spanish is so so. We smile at each other, and start to make our attempt to communicate. We pass back, and forth some information. All the while I am asking them to repeat themselves. Then I remember I have got to put in my ears. I explain my ears are no good anymore, and I get another smile.
So my ears are in, and I can hear the fans of air conditioners. A woman walks by on the hardwood floor wearing high heels. It sounds to me like the floor goes from ear to ear, and she is walking inside my brain, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK! Some one walks into the office, and I hear every step. The door sounds like it has been slammed shut with my ear being the keyhole, OUCH! You can go ahead, and laugh, because I do all the time. As I typed I feel bad for the officials that have to deal with me. Now that I have set up the situation. Let me get to my point of checking in here in. We used an agent to transit the canal. When we left, and had to return we used the agent again. On our third time Mel did the paperwork with the officials when we moved the boat. When we arrived from the states we came via plane, so there was the easy, and convenient line at the airport where everything is done at once. Now I have returned to Panama alone, and will face officialdom alone with bad ears, and bad Spanish.
I took 74 hours to sail from, Golfito to get here, and now we begin. I arrive Sunday evening, so I will, and appropriately so, start on a Monday morning…..AHHH the beginning of the week! My first problem is Mel’s system of filing. Running my own business for over a decade. I have a very efficient system. Mel’s is a wee bit more complicated. She doesn’t throw away, or sort anything. She does well with this, but for me. I have to now sort through 3 other check in, and 2 check outs. I spend my morning with papers spread all over the table. My brain not being what it use to be. I struggle with what is what. I set something aside to only pick it up again, and then I don’t know why I picked it up. I am looking for the cruising permit. In hopes I am still covered, so I can avoid the $193 fee. While we moved around in June having work done on the boat. We were double charged, so I am trying to avoid that.
Papers in order, and the Captains office a 2 block walk once ashore. I decide to start there. The good thing is when I walk in they remember me, and he speaks ENGLISH! He does have an accent, and a soft voice. I ask him to repeat himself, and then remember my ears. I stuff them into my ears, and they always feel like an elbow going in. The secretaries keyboard sounds like an old fashioned typewriter, and the damned a/c unit is whirring like mad. I tell him I want to check in, and he tells me to go to immigration first. I ask him which one? He doesn’t know which one, but then come back here with a crew list, boat registration, and passport that’s stamped. I ask if I am going to need a crew list. I have no crew, because it is me alone. He looks at me with a surprised look. He ask is I had sailed here alone? Last time he saw me in July I was a bit pale, looking rather anemic, and had crew for help. I told yes, it’s only me. He told me I looked great, and that’s a big boat to single-hand. I walk out of his office about an inch taller.
The day is already coming to an end, so I wait for the next morning to go to the Balboa Yacht Club for immigration. I am told I will need to go to another office, but I know where this one is, and immigration is immigration isn’t it……wrong! As always my first question is do you speak English, and the answer is a flat NO! OK, but my Spanish is very small, and it begins.
I have hand written a crew list, and have an old copy of the boat’s registration. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of my passport, or my Zarpe. A Zarpe is the paperwork you get leaving one country with the destination of your next port. He wants my original Zarpe. They don’t have a copy machine, so he tells me to come back tomorrow with a copy of my passport, and stamps my passport. I know there is a copy place between the 2 offices, because we have used them before. Unfortunately the copy machine isn’t working, and now the end of the day is coming again.
Next morning I am at the Captain’s office again. I know they have a working copy machine. He makes me a copy of my passport, and reminds me to bring my Zarpe. I tell him that immigration took my Zarpe. He says no he has no need for the Zarpe that he needs it. So off I go back to immigration with my passport copy, and in search of my Zarpe.
Immigration is all smiles when he sees me, and I hand over my copy of my passport. I tell him I need my Zarpe for the Captain. He’s not getting it, so I word it differently. I word it several times differently, and finally he realizes what I want. Oh no he needs it. I tell him the Captain says he doesn’t, the Captain needs it, and he wants the original. I point out his name on paperwork, and ask him to call. He says no, and hands me the Zarpe RELUCTANTLY! I can see there is doubt in his mind. I ask if he would like a copy, and he’s all smiles again. I am thinking does anyone know what is needed here? Where in the hell is Mel? Oh yeah she’s in the states working to support Imagine, and my deaf butt!
The Captain is all smiles. I have his Zarpe, but not his $180 US Dollars. I tell him I will have to send for the money. He tell me it’s okay, and I inform him it may take 3-4 days. He’s okay with that, and tells me if it doesn’t come this week. Then next week will be ok too, we’re closed on the weekend.
Back too the boat to get the laptop, and return to the dock where the little shopette has free wifi. I am lucky Mel is online, and has some money. She transfers it to our account. She wants me to go to the ATM now, and get it. This way she will know I have the money. I pack up the laptop, and get over to the ATM a couple of shops away. I have the money in my hot hand, and head back to the shopette. Now she can be at ease. She knows I am in Panama, and within the day I will be legal.
I see her webcam, and it’s good to see her. It’s been over a month we have been apart. It’s not out of sight out of mind for me. It’s absence makes the heart grow fonder. We get in some chat time, and share our cams. It’s getting dark, and I am getting hungry & tired. I make my way back to the boat, fill my tummy, get in some reading, and go to sleep land.
With a copy of my Zarpe in hand. I once again greet Immigration. I ask if I will have to go to immigration on the other side of town. Why he ask, I am immigration, and you’re stamped. Off to the Captain’s office once again with money this time. As usual, he is all smiles, and friendly as he finishes my paperwork. I hand out the money, and the secretary looks at me with a questioning look. I just know something is wrong as she talks to the Captain. He tells me I need $13 more. I repeat what he told me earlier it is $180. He says, but there are taxes! I am good with that, so I put down another $20. They look at each other again. We have no change he says, and she repeats it in Spanish. I tell him you trusted me, and now I will trust you. Keep the $200, and I will bring back the proper change tomorrow.
He walks me outside, and points to a small shop to get change. I know this is not good as I walk in. There are no customers. I pick up a package of cookies to get change. The lady tells me she has no change I can’t have the cookies. I am thinking I don’t want the damned cookies I want change. I walk outside into the lobby. Down the hallway is a store with a hundred customers. It’s a no duty store, and a bus has just unloaded. II act as if I am with the bus, and greet the armed guards as the open the doors. The cash registers are ching chinging like mad as wealthy people are spending money quickly. A new register open, and with a smile I walkup, and ask for change. She sees I have nothing in my hand to purchase, but with a shrug of her shoulders exchanges my twenty for 2 fives, and a ten, YES!
I walk back into the Captains office all proud of my latest move for change. I lay down the 2 fives, and the ten. They look at each other. I look at them. We look at each other, and I hear we have no change as looks pass back, and forth! They exchange a couple of sentences in Spanish. I am ready to surrender the $2.00 to them. The Captain opens a drawer, looks through an envelope. There is the Holy Grail of CHANGE! I get my change, and with fear in my voice I ask, am I finished. Oh no he says you have to go to immigration on the other side of town. I ask for the address, and he shrugs his shoulders.
I have been told the where abouts, but I don’t know how to get there, and a taxi is too much to spend. I do know how to get ¾ of the way there by bus, and that is a total of 50 cents. Then a very short taxi ride. It’s only mid day, and I want to get this over with. I take the 25 cent bus ride to downtown. Then another 25 cent bus ride to the outskirts of town to the Albrook Mall. Once there I walk up to the first taxi in line. I ask if he knows where theImmigration is. He nods his head yes, so I get in.
I tell him what I am told. You go to Reys Market, go across the tracks, up the hill, and next to a new restaurant is immigration. I tell him this, because he is asking me where it is? I thought we established the fact that he knew before I got in? I really have got to work on my Spanish!
After crossing the tracks we go up the hill. I am looking around. but he is driving pretty fast for someone who is as lost as I am. I see a building of possibilities, but he goes right past, and past, and further. I tell him to ask, but like most men he doesn’t. After driving into a residential area he gives in. He ask, but this person doesn’t know so we drive on. We come to an official looking building. It is definitely government of some kind, and he ask again. This person doesn‘t know either. He drives off away from the building. I see the tracks again, so I repeat the directions. We drive back to the train crossing road, turn left up the hill. There, there is the building of possibilities. I point it out again, and he pulls into the drive way. There is a group of men outside, and the drivers ask. One man points to the steps leading upstairs. I get out, and pay. Now my Spanish is weak, but I am sure what I heard is this from the taxi driver to the group of men. These foreigner never know where they want to go. I thanked him, and went up the steps.
There was never a sign, or indication on the street, or on the building that this is immigration. On the door about the size of a small notepad was a sign though. This is a cause of relief I am finally at immigration. I ring the bell, and they buzz me in.
The lady motions me to come to her, and my question is. Habla Inglese? there is a smile from both with a definate NO! It doesn’t take long, and we realize I need copies. In my hurry to get out of the Captain’s office I forgot to ask for more copies. NO, we don’t have a copy machine here. You have to go to Reys Market, and get copies. I ask inside Reys, and she tells me yes.
I walk outside, and down the street. It’s about 3 blocks away, and it’s starting to sprinkle. I am thinking just my &%#(^%# luck! I walk a block, and the sprinkle stops. I look to the sky, and say AH my lucky day! I walk inside Reys, and ask for the copy machine. No one seems to know if there is a copy machine. Finally I am told no there isn’t. I begin to walk away, and a lady approaches the last person I spoke to. She stops me as doing so, and I wait. She looks at me, and in my poor Spanish if she speaks English. She replies NO to me, and ask what it is I want. I tell her, and I can only guess compassion came over her. In perfect English she explained there is a copy machine, and they will make me my copies.
She walks away, and disappears somewhere in the store. The girl can’t figure out how to make a copy. Finally the man who told me NO comes over, but he is of no use also. After 5minutes they surrender too the machine, and give up. The man walks towards me, and with his finger indicates to follow him. We walk to the door. He points his finger across the parking lot. THERE, YES right there in big red letters is a copy place. What joy fills my heart at this sign!
I walk in, and here comes my usual question, habla Inglese? NO, but this is easy. I already picked out every know piece4 of paper I have to be copied. Not once, not twice but several times. I am thinking should I get copies of my library card fromCa.? I mean what’s the chances they will ask for that? I decide to live on the wild side, and push the thought aside.
With many copies in hand I walk outside, and it’s starting to sprinkle. I look to the sky, and repeat. I need a *^$(&@# break, and it stops immediately For once someone is listening, and it appears to be the rain gods. AH MY lucky day is my thought again.
I am in the groove now, and making progress. I am buzzed in. The lady indicates to take a seat. I sit for 5 minute, 20 minutes, people come, and go. More time passes, and then. Then there is this familiar sound ringing in my ears. I look to my left, and there as big as a house it seems. THERE is a copy machine spitting out ten, twenty, hundreds it’s possible thousands of copies one after another. In my mind I shrug my shoulders. I can hear her supervisor telling her. THERE WILL BE NO UNOFFICAL COPIES MADE HERE. I am thinking but this is official, and I am going to give you money for that stamp, and visa. Just charge me for the &(%^@#% copies. She gets up to gather her copies. I bite my tongue, and just smile at her. After all this is the land of OFFICIALDOM, and you don’t want to make any enemies here.
She’s pleased I have everything in order. I am pleased she’s pleased, and everything will soon be in order. She pulls out a stamp half the size of the page of my passport. Carefully she takes aim, no that’s not right, so she takes aim again, the stamp is applied. I give a sigh of relief, but wait she is reaching for tape. She covers the stamp with tape. Then she reaches for another stamp. She takes aim, but NO she realigns her hand then sets the stamp down. She forgot her initials. She initials it, and picks up the second stamp again. She takes aim, and let there be mercy if she misses, but she doesn’t, and it’s applied. Then more tape, and she stand erect with a smile, and her hand out. Ten dollars please. Hell I would gladly give more if I had it to get it over with.
I hand her the ten, and with fear I ask….CUSTOMS NEXT? She replies yes. With more fear I ask…..WHERE? I get a shrug of the shoulders. A man who has come in, and sat down listens to me. He ask if I have a car. I tell him NO I walk, and bus it. He tells me he is going, and offers a ride. 3 times in one day is more luck than I might be able to take! He ask if I am here on business, or pleasure. I tell him pleasure. Then he ask for my paperwork. He looks it over, and walks to the lady at the desk. He points to something, and they have a conversation. She shrugs her shoulders. He turns to me, and advises me I have no need for customs. That I am good to go. I look at the lady, and she shrugs her shoulders once again. Come on now I am a man. I can take it, go ahead, and give me some more luck, but I have my doubts.
Back in the anchorage I stop to say hello to Donna. Now if I had followed Donna’s advice in the beginning. I would have gone straight toImmigration to begin with. I might have had problems with copies anyway. I would’ve started in the right location though. I told her my story of customs, and she agreed with the man at immigration. I have decided to press my luck for just one more time of the day, and consider myself finished with OFFICALDOM!
One last thought. It took me longer to sail the 400 some odd miles to get here. Than it took to check in to the world of OFICIALDOM!