Departing was such sweet sorrow. After three days and two nights without cooking or cleaning I was not ready to leave the Grandeur of the Seas. However it was for the best, gluttony is a pleasurable vice, but gluttony is too easy on a cruise ship and was adding to my waistline. I also confess to sloth like behavior, eating, drinking, dancing, drinking, eating, oh my. The unofficial computation is one pound per day of weight gain on a cruise.
We abandoned ship at about 9:30am with bursting bellies and an ache in my heart. I knew we were to face suitcases, boxes, carryon luggage and a long ride back to Boquete. Some people like this repositioning cruise for food and entertainment, others like Panamanian Customs in Colon. The only inspection was done by a dog and the K9 did earn his keep. The drug sniffing dog did discover contraband on a wheelchair riding, gray haired lady in front of us. The dog sniffed out a bran muffin and the customs agent confiscated the offending item. Remember drug sniffing dogs like bran muffins too.
Loose inspection allows people to bring in busloads of stuff and they do, we did too. We were proactive for the return to Boquete. Mayra bought space for five people, five suitcases and five boxes on a bus from Jonathan Evatt of Inspired Earth Publishing, a Bocas resident who promoted his grief saving buses on Boquete Ning. It was a risk which turned out to be an error.
Jonathan had two undersized, underpowered twenty seat coaster buses. The first bus he rented to a small group with a ton of stuff, they paid him $600 for the service and expected to have the bus to themselves, they did not. The second bus had only twenty seats and another ton of stuff. At first Jonathan gave me hard time about our boxes. He conveniently forgot Mayra had paid for five people. Between the five of us we declared to him exactly what we had, five people, five suitcases and five boxes. Jonathan told me I needed to pay an extra $8 a box beyond two, I reluctantly agreed.
They started loading half a ton of suitcases on the roof of the little bus. Mayra said the little buses were never designed for that type of load on the roof. Then they realized there was not going to be room inside for all the paying passengers and the other half ton.
I volunteered to abandon the bus before people were asked to leave or the tires burst from the overloading. Jonathan agreed and then as we sought alternate transport he decided two of our group could squeeze into the overcrowded, overweight bus. He did finally agreed to refund our money, but since Mayra paid via Paypal he said he would only refund through Paypal. In retrospect I should have demanded the money then and there.
The Port of Colon does not allow taxis to enter for passenger pickup. They did however allow a van to come in and load five people, five suitcases and five boxes. We took the van through the increasing rain to the Bus Terminal in Panama City. In our path the rain turned into flooding and one of the roads into Panama City suffered a collapse killing two Red Cross workers, we managed to escape the tragedy. I feel for all those who lost families, friends and homes in the the disaster we were lucky, their losses makes ours look trivial.
Arriving in Panama City we loaded ourselves and our stuff into a bus to David and had a comfortable seven hour ride through the rain. We met a couple from Bocas on the bus, they too had been left at the curb in Colon by Jonathan. They did demand a cash refund from him and did receive it, there maybe more people out there.
We arrived in David at 8pm. People who were on Jonathan’s bus said they suffered a blown out tire along the road, overloading will do that. Arriving in Boquete they were abandoned at Super Mercado Ivan at 8PM and left to try to find taxis from there. Jonathan demanded each of them pay another $20 to compensate for the revenue he lost from us and the other couple who could not fit on the bus in Colon.
I am waiting for a refund from Jonathan. I have emailed him, no response, I have filed a dispute with Paypal, they have emailed him, no response. I will wait another few days for him to respond and then I will file a claim and hope Paypal makes good on the $210 he took from us and promised to refund. I am not sure how many more people were left at the curb as his buses left Colon. If any other readers paid him and were cheated I urge you to also contact Paypal and demand a refund.
It was a memorable end to a lovely week and another lesson about some of the expats who live in Panama. We made a mistake and trusted Jonathan, a mistake that will not be repeated by us.