Scientists can get men to the moon but can’t get a truck across the Darien Gap. They can build a shipping canal 77km (48 miles) linking the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean that takes oil tankers, container and cruiser ships over the continental divide lifting them 85 feet above sea level but they can’t build a road across the Darien Gap.
The Darien Gap is a large undeveloped mixture of swampland and forest linking Central and South America. It measures just over 160km (99 miles) long and 50km (31 miles) wide. There is no road across this swath of land, that joins Central and South America. The only way to cross from Central America to South America is to ship one’s vehicle. The most common route is shipping from Panama to Colombia, which is not long, it only takes a day to cross the Atlantic Ocean however, to arrange this shipping can take up to several days even weeks.
Panama Canal Engineering Marvel
There are several shipping companies and several options for shipping. Our first choice was to ship the Nissan and camper in a container. The other options are either RORO (roll on roll off) and LOLO (Lift on lift off). The cheapest and safest option is a container. Logan and Brianna who are also driving to Argentina were looking for someone to share a 40’ high cube container with, and we were ready so agreed to share a container with them.
Preparing Nissan For Shipping
Our shipping from Panama to Colombia has turned into an adventure with our trucks held hostage in the port by workers this is our story.
Step 1; Measure the trucks and campers to make sure they will fit into a container.
Step 2; Remeasure the trucks and campers to make doubly sure they will fit into a container.
Step 3; Choose an Agent. With our measurements done the next step is to get quotes from several shipping companies and agencies. Emails are flying, phone calls are made and finally a decision; we choose our agent Julio C Sanchez of PSLI – Panama Soluciones Logisticas SA. He comes to meet us and Logan and Brianna at Panama Passage and we discuss the process.
Julio Shipping Agent with Tom
Step 4; Police inspection and clearance. They only check vehicles between 10-11am, so we head there early to ensure we make it. They check all our truck permits and documents.
Step 5; We head to have the trucks washed for some reason they need to be cleaned if going into a container. We have lunch in a grimy restaurant while we wait for the vehicles to be washed. Cost US$5.00 a good deal as both trucks were dirty.
Trucks Waiting to be Washed
Getting A Must Needed Clean
Nissan and Camper Look Like New
Step 6; We head back to the Secretary General for final police clearance we have to be there at 1430. We get the all clear no traffic violations or accidents registered against the trucks.
Julio phones to say we are booked to load the trucks on Tuesday and will be heading to the Colon Port located on the Atlantic side of Panama.
Step 7; Prepare the trucks and camper to fit into a shipping container. Recently Panama Ports decided that owners cannot drive their vehicles into the container. We have to hand over the truck keys to port workers. So we move everything from the truck cab into the camper. We remove the roof rack, dismantle it to fit into the camper. It takes a day to organize this
George Helps Removing and Dismantling Roof Rack
Step 8; We all drive to Colon, following Julio. Once we arrive at the port, we learn there are actually 3 separate ports in Colon, each privately owned with their own rules and regulations. We park our trucks at the port all climb into Julio’s car and head off to do the paperwork and documentation.
Step 9; Documentation is taken care of by Julio, we get our permits to load and obtain our container seal, we get permission to go to customs , get our permits to drive the trucks in Panama cancelled in our passports.
Julio Does Paperwork
We Wait Tom Brianna and Logan
Port Customs in Colon
More Waiting Now in Customs
Step 10; Final preparation of truck we remove the fuel carrier from the Nissan truck and place it in the cab. We had to wait to do this as we could not drive far with the fuel carrier in the cab. Oops we have problem, the jacks to support the camper had been removed for shipping and we needed them back on to remove the fuel carrier. Logan and Tom make a stout effort to quickly reconnect the jacks, remove the fuel carrier and then remove the jacks. We are ready!
OH Shit Jacks Need to Go Back On
Unbolting Fuel Carrier
Logan Decreasing Height by Deflating Wheel
Step 11; We drive to customs. It is now lunch time and so we wait in the sweltering sticky heat of Colon. Finally the customs officials arrive, they clear us and now the final step before handing over the keys. The drug dog arrives to sniff for illegal substances. The best part of the day I get to pat a lovely German Shepherd dog.
Arriving at Customs at Port for Checks
Waiting Until Lunch is Over
Drug Dog Arrives
No Drugs To Be Found
Step 12; We hand over the keys and leave the port with Julio head back to Panama for a celebration supper.
NOW THE GLITCH
We go out for supper with other Overlanders from Panama Passage and while waiting for our orders to arrive we get the phone call to say the port workers are refusing to drive our trucks into the containers and no we cannot drive our trucks into the containers (port rules). The reason given is they feel it is too tight a squeeze and are afraid of damaging the vehicles. Our trucks are stuck in “no mans land” in the port and we will miss the loading onto the ship.
Step 13. We review our options with Julio. We can try to load at another port and book onto another ship, but wait a minute we no longer have permits to drive the trucks in Panama and we would have to retrieve our trucks from Manzanillo port and drive to another port. There is no guarantee the other port would allow us to try drive the trucks into the container ourselves, however Julio can hire his own team to drive the trucks into the container. Other option is to go RORO.
Shaun, Tom, Katerina in Restaurant
Peter, Espen and Vincent Celebrating
Malin, Janet and Andrea
Heading Home After News of No Go
Step 14 Decision made we will try to go to another port and get onto a ship scheduled to leave on the 16th if that does not work we will go RORO on a ship scheduled to leave on the 20th. Julio agrees to undo and redo paperwork and books us onto both ships. We will cancel the RORO if we manage to get our trucks onto the ship on the 16th.
Step 15 We wait to hear from Julio when we will be allowed to move our trucks to other port and try reload.
Step 16 Drink beers, eat, sleep, watch movies and wait: will we or will we not get onto the ship leaving on the 16th?
Panama City Are We Having Fun Yet
Overlander Friends in Pictures
Logan and Brianna USA heading south to Argentina (Toyota)
Espen and Malin Norwegian driving from Alaska to Argentina (Nissan)
George and Andrea Germans driving south to Argentina (Toyota)
Peter UK Driving south on motorbike to Argentina
Vince USA Heading back north on Motorbike, spent nearly 2 yrs in South America
Blog South on Two Wheels
Shaun Manager of Panama Passage Overlander Resource Centre in Panama