When we first made these plans we chose Panama as our destination. We spent spring break in Panama last year and loved it and thought it made the most sense. Panama checked a lot of boxes for us – Spanish speaking, safe, good healthcare, with spectacular beaches, quaint towns, and access to the mountains. We found a town we liked, close to the beach, where the locals are friendly and accepting of expats. The kids were going to go to public school and we’d all make friends and have an amazing time. We thought we had this so well planned out. What could go wrong?
Well, we planned all along to bring Aldo, our two-year-old golden retriever. Leaving him was just not an option (although we did get offers from two different family members to keep him for us). He loves swimming and I knew I’d be bored in paradise if I didn’t have a wet dog shaking water and sand all over me while repeatedly dropping a tennis ball for me to throw. He’s a part of the family and brings joy, laughter, mud and fluffy white hair everywhere he goes. He makes the world brighter.
I call him the love of my life (Scott understands).
So we set out making plans to fly Aldo to Panama City. Simple enough, right? First, there is a load of paperwork involved anytime you move a pet internationally. We figured getting an international health certificate, signed by a veterinarian, notarized by the USDA and delivered to the Panamanian consulate (all started and completed within 10 days of arriving in the country), would be the most difficult part of the process. Wrong. In reality, the logistics of moving him were far more complicated. After a lot of research and phone calls, we figured we had four options:
A. Fly direct to Panama City from Newark, in which case we check Aldo as cargo. COST: $540
This turned out to not be an option when we discovered that ALL airlines that fly to Panama City from the US use 737s and 737s can’t accommodate a crate big enough for Aldo. Big boy = giant crate. Literally. That’s the name of the size crate he requires.
B. Pay a professional pet shipper to move Aldo to Panama City (via a special cargo plane). We’d fly separately from Baltimore. COST: $4,800
This would be in addition to the nearly $2,000 in plane tickets for the humans to get to Panama City. Out of our budget.
C. Drive to Panama. COST: Hotels and gas for 2-3 weeks of travel through seven countries with as many border crossings, plus new pants for me every time we encountered a military official with a semi-automatic weapon.
Blech. This sounded like an adventure, but probably more adventure than we wanted from the get-go. Too many border crossings, we don’t speak Spanish yet, and because of time constraints on the international health certificate for Aldo we’d have to track down a vet somewhere near the border of Guatemala and Honduras to get another one signed. That sounded exciting/interesting/horrendous.
D. Drive to Mexico instead.
At some point when one of us was on the phone with yet another airline discussing pet policies and crate sizes (Scott), the other one said, “Why don’t we just drive to Mexico instead?” Then he/she (definitely she) stayed up very late many nights in a row to research locations and visas and safety and ask lots of questions on closed Facebook groups and it became very clear that Mexico was the best choice. Plus, I love Mexico! I haven’t been there in a lot of years, but we went several times on vacation when I was a kid (to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas). I have vivid memories of sitting on the curb eating a super sweet Mexican confection with a tiny plastic paddle/spoon, drinking ice cold coke from a glass bottle, and feeling all warm and happy. So I think that pretty much makes me an expert on Mexico.
In all seriousness, Mexico is a huge and beautiful country with an amazing variety of towns and cities, beaches and mountains, spectacular food, friendly and generous people, and culture and art. We’re starting our adventure in San Pancho (formally known as San Francisco) on the Pacific side of the country, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. We have a one-month rental to start and will explore the area and see if it’s the place we want to stay.
And Aldo gets to ride front and center (in a newly acquired dog seatbelt – safety first!) all the way there.