The first steps towards acquiring my Panamanian driver’s license was accomplished yesterday.
First stop was to the New American Embassy, out in Clayton in the old Canal Zone. Unlike the old Embassy which was an attractive building in downtown Panama City Bay facing the bay, the new one reflects today’s realities of mad bombers and terrorists. To my eye it had a bunker-like appearance with more in common with a super-max prison than anything else.
What surprised me was that there were no marines on guard at the entrance where you check in but instead it was a private Panamanian security company with people of limited English fluency.
Inside the Consular Services section people waited patiently for their numbers to be called and a loudspeaker was in constant operation directing people to one of 14 windows to address whatever business they had at the Embassy. It was surprising how fast people were dealt with.
To get the affidavit I needed to get my driver’s license I was directed right to the 15th window. The girl checked my current Florida driver’s license for the expiration date and my Panamanian-issue “carnet.” While I was filling out the form an American woman took her place at the window with a stack of papers at least two inches high. Something to do with the sale of a house or property somewhere. The girl behind the bullet-proof glass went through each page and putting little Post-it tabs on each one that required a signature. I had to wait patiently while all this going on. Her fee was $300.
When I got my shot again I had to pay $51 for the affidavit to be notarized. But the girl didn’t do that, she took my money and said I would be called by name to window 13 which didn’t seem too auspicious to me. There was a man and a woman at the window when I took my seat nearby. He was an older gringo and she was a young Panamanian. They were married and there was some issue with paperwork they were having a problem with. I couldn’t follow what was going on too well, but I believe it had something to do with getting her a visa to live in the States. It went on and on and on and on with the gringo digressing into stories that seemed to have little to do with the problem that needed to be addressed.
I was next up, was given the affidavit which I signed and in less than a minute I was done. All together I was there for less than an hour.
The next stop was the Panama Foreign Ministry office (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores). I had about a 10 minute wait before my number was called. The girl at the counter (NO bullet-proof glass) glanced at the papers, gave me some kind of a form, told me to go to the Banco National directly beneath their offices and purchase two $1 stamps (timbres) and return at 4:30 to pick up my affidavit.
One of the nice thing about Panamanian banks is there’s a special line for “Jubilados” like myself. There was a man at the counter who left in less than a minute. I presented the forms I’d received upstairs which were stamped with a rubber stamp. They love those things here and the wielders bang them on the papers with as much force as they can muster. I was out of the bank in less than five minutes. It was just past 10 in the morning so I returned to the hostel.
The Foreign Ministry Office official closing time is listed as 4:45 so I showed up a little after 4. There was only one other customer there so I went directly up to the counter, presented the rubber-stamped forms to a young man who came out with the Embassy affidavit. I attached the “timbres” to the back of the form which were then whapped with another rubber stamp and I was finished. Total time at the Ministry was no more than five minutes and I was back out on the street. It took me much longer than that to catch a cab bck to the hostel.
In the cab I looked at the form that had been attached to the affidavit. Essentially it said something like “yeah, this looks like it comes from the U.S. Embassy but we aren’t going to vouch for its authenticity.”
So now I have free day in Panama City. I just returned from lunch with Omar and his wife. He took me to the nearby Popeye’s Fried Chicken place nearby (at my request) and after work hours today I’ll be meeting with my lawyer, Lizi, for drinks. Early tomorrow morning I’ll get on the bus and head back to the mountain. I should be home before it gets dark.