Uncustomary Customs

It’s their country and we must play by their rules. Nine bikes were eventually flown to B.A. from Spain. They arrived Monday on Iberian Airlines and we went out at 0900 Tuesday morning to rescue them. Airline paperwork was completed quickly and we then went to Customs. GlobeBusters hired a local agent to expedite matters. Sondra went in to work her magic.

Around 10:00 forklifts started to bring crates out that looked like they might have motorcycles in them. The shipper uses old BMW boxes for this purpose, even for Suzukis! By 10:30 six boxes were lined up on one side outside the metal cage and three on the other.

We were able to sit on one loading dock in the shade and watch the activity of the forklifts bringing out cargo. They would stack it up outside the cage and go back and get more. Trucks would back up, papers would be exchanged and boxes would be loaded. Our bleacher dock soon began to get active and we had to move our gear.

Next step in the process was the clerks would look at our documents and decide that it was OK for us to uncrate the vehicles for inspection. That approval came a little before 11:00. We quickly created a pile of scrap lumber, cardboard and bubble wrap and began our own inspection. All fared well. A few abrasions here and there, but who could tell after what we’d been through already.

Terry had fallen in Morocco and damaged his left pannier. Erwin had purchased some sandpaper,  epoxy and brought his hammer. A small mall was borrowed from the cargo handlers and bodywork began. The aluminum box was pounded back into shape, sanded and sealed. After the epoxy was dry, a final sanding and black paint was applied. The bike was repaired, but still not released.

A young man soon appeared with a handful of papers. Each bike’s VIN numbers were checked. Customs had asked at the last minute for our engine numbers. We’d had to have that for our carnets du passage, which were back in the room. Fortunately, I had scanned that info into my computer and had my netbook with me. Suzuki engine numbers are clearly visible and the inspector checked our papers. BMW’s numbers are hidden on the underside and you have to use a flashlight and get down on your knees to see it. The inspector decided that he didn’t need to check their numbers. It was now noon and all we had left was to have a man sign the permit papers.

Many countries are concerned that people will bring a vehicle in and sell it to the locals, without the government getting their duty. The carnet du passage is a cash bond that the owner posts at the border. It is returned when they drive/ride out. Some countries require a percentage of the value of the bike. Egypt requires a bond of ten times the value of the vehicle. If you ride a $20,000 motorcycle, the bond is $200,000! The only country requiring a carnet on our trip is Australia.

One o’clock rolls around and still no permits. Now it’s time for lunch, but since we have to personally sign the document, we don’t dare leave. The sun now beats down on our seats and we move under the canopy and sit on our bikes. It’s over 100F and there’s no breeze. Forklifts busily stack and unstack goods. Semis, delivery vans and pickup trucks come and go.  Our agent is busy trying to cajole someone into action. We sit in the heat and noise and wait.

About 3pm our agent reappears and gets Kevin. We are told to be ready with our original bike titles, passports, international driver’s licenses and airline shipping documents and line up. We are soon ushered inside and line up in the hall outside an office. This irritates the twenty or so people who have been standing there to get their shipping papers signed. That’s  why we hired a local agent to “expedite” the process. We are called into the office individually by our agent, sign our name six times and leave without having to show anything. We now go back outside and wait.

Our agent reappears with our permits. It is our responsibility to check the permit for accuracy. If everything doesn’t match our documents when we try to leave the country, more delays and money exchanges will be required. Three permits have mistakes in spelling, number transpositions and omissions. Our agent takes the permits back inside for corrections.

A little after 4pm, we’re finally ready to leave. Our gas tanks had to be nearly empty to be put on the plane. The BMWs are being ridden to the dealer for maintenance. Cathy and I are heading to the hotel, because our shop is three blocks from it. We all stop at a station four miles down the expressway. The day before, gasoline delivery drivers went on strike and stations, who had gas, had long queues. Only the diesel pumps had any fuel.

Cathy had loaded her GPS with local maps and inquired for the location of gas stations. We got off the toll road, but the station shown was closed. Got back on the highway and paid the next toll. The next exit looked promising and we got off. First station had only diesel, as did the next. We kept searching and found only empty pumps. At one station we asked who had gas. A pedestrian directed us to a station about five blocks away. Streets were very crowded and Cathy’s bike died and was hard to restart. I rode ahead, found that the station was open and told Cathy over the headset to come on up. The man directing traffic pointed me to the end of the line down the street while Cathy waited at the station. A few more minutes and we were flush with fuel.

Next adventure was trying to find the expressway leading bck to our hotel. A couple of minor misdirections later, we were back on the road and approaching a toll booth. Turns out we’d circled back and had already paid once at this location. The same agent recognized us an only charged for one bike. Traffic slowed down and it looked like an accident. Turns out protesters were blocking the road with rocks and tree limbs and had started a fire next to the road. We managed to snake through and avoid them, although at one point it looked like they wanted to throw a huge stone at Cathy.  We made it safely back to our hotel, exhausted.

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3 Responses to “Uncustomary Customs”

  1. Pam Wickham says:

    Merry, merry, and happy, happy! There seems to be never a dull moment for you two. Was June able to make it down to see you with your extra provisions? We have had an eventful month between Atlanta and Twin Cities, but I won’t bore you with the details. I love reading about all your adventures. Have you thought about expanding and publishing your trip when you return? Take care and ride safe!


  2. Eldon Walker says:

    Happy New Year to both of you. We have a 10 degree C rainy day in London Ontario….so enjoy the heat in Argentina. I travelled to Argentina many times during my internaional mgmnt job at 3M….and have fond memories of the wine and food. I especially recall how the locals generally don’t go out for dinner until at least 9PM and it was common to see people enter the restaurant at 11PM on a week night. I often wondered what time they arrived for work the next day!!
    Ride Safely
    Eldon Walker

  3. Peggy Walker says:

    Cathy & Larry – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for sharing your adventures. WOW! Glad you got to celebrate some. A toast to many more wonderful & safe miles.

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