Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Free Barry

Stressful. Not entirely unexpected, but stressful none the less. The colonial town of Cartagena is, as our blonde (and ginger) bombshell described, both incredibly pretty and predictably infested by parasitic street hawkers. It is also so spectacularly humid that you are probably at your dryest when standing under the shower. These conditions are not particular conducive to handling the Colombian unitards responsible for stealing our money and wantingly withholding any and all information related to freight shipping. South America, for all it´s scenic beauty and overwhelming friendliness, can be characterised by the unimaginable stupidity and complacency of it´s customs agents and officials. However, fast forward to the land of Tequila and tacos if you want to experience Latin America in all it´s glorious ineptitude. As the World Cup is approaching, the football one for those of you who think it´s upper middle class to pretend to not know, like all self-respecting footie fans I´ve been scouring the net for snippets of information I can impressively regurgitate in the pub. And I couldn´t help noticing a long standing contradiction that the international community needs to address. Mexico has qualifed for the World Cup, which is perfectly fair. They are a decent side with a good footballing history and a passionate fan base. However they qualified as one of the "North American, Central American and Carribean" teams, and worse still they are classified as North American. This is untrue. Doubleuntrue. The geography is irrelevant, they are clearly South American. Like all of Central America and in all likelihood the majority of the States too. In fact I strongly suspect we will not actually cross into North America until we reach Canada. And maybe then not until the French part. Merde.

Anyway as you have probably summised we are now in the latter stages of negotiating Barry´s release from Mexican customs. We had been told by our Colombian customs agent we could pay the shipping agent (Seaboard Marine) when our car arrived in Veracruz, and that on arrival we would have 5 days to clear our car before we would start incurring fees for the non-returnance of the ships container. Unfortunately customs agents only operate in their own country, so we had to find a Mexican agent to custom clear our car. The agency we spoke with informed us that we had to pay a deposit, in addition to the shipping agents fee, for them to to release the Bill of Lading to us. The Bill of Lading lists the contents of the container, ie 1 * Barry, white. It also appears to represent to the customs officals what the sun represented to the Pre-Spanish civilisations, the beginning of life on earth. So, reluctantly we rocked up to the shipping agents on Monday with a proverbial shed load of Mexican mula, only to be told that they didn´t take cash but that we could deposit the money at a bank. A little frustrating but, like a good doctor, we knew we would need patience. Unfortunately their fee needed to be paid in dollars, paying them the peso equivalent would be "impossible". A term we´ve grown accustomed to. Now although the shipping agent is confidant in it´s ability to withhold the Bill of Lading and subsequently my favourite member of Team Pan-Americana, they are not responsible for helping us with the custom clearing. They did happily remind us though of our 5 day deadline to release the car, and then gleefully informed us that even though we had been told nothing could be done over the weekend, this counted against the 5 days. Oh and also that Monday, the third day, was a bank holiday in America so they wouldn´t accept our payment, which we currently couldn´t make anyway, until Tuesday. Super.

So we decided to meet with the customs agents we had spoken with to start petitioning for Barry´s release (or whatever it is they actually do) with the hopelessly optimistic view that they might be able to help with our payment issue as well. It is here we learnt of the holy reverence in which the Bill of Lading is held. Nothing can be done without it our agent passionately decried. Worse still Barry´s release would take at least 5 days and the process, predictably "very difficult", would cost rougly the GDP of China. Obviously in addition to this we would incur the daily costs for the non-returned container. Hmm. We returned to Seafraud Marine to have another crack at their payment, hoping they could come with us to a bank where we could make a cash deposit. Instead they helpfully phoned a money exchange house, explained to them what we needed to do, wrote the address down for us and gestured to the door. At this point I broke ranks, more on that later. Tom and Phil dutifully took a cab to the address indicated, and then spent the next hour trying to find the actual address, only to be told that the Money Exchange House could not take any money from us. The boys left the House, with the Money, they had wanted to Exchange, a little perplexed.

This morning we went directly to a bank, a big bank, probably the biggest bank in Veracruz, a bank that our shipping agent had an account with, to try again. They happily accepted our deposit (which could be paid in pesos) but not the agent fee. "Que differenza?" you might reasonably ask. Well, the deposit is simply to cover any damage they may have caused to their container while mishandling our car, however the fee needs to be paid directly to Florida in northen South America, and can only be done in dollars. So be it. "Please change our pesos into dollars at the exorbitant rate advertised on your tacky sign please" we confidantly requested. Feel free to take a moment to try and guess the answer. You´ve probably got it right, but if not I admire your posiitve outlook on life and genuine belief in the goodness of humanity. The answer was in fact no, they wouldn´t change our money. "But you´re a bank, there´s a bloody sign advertising the exchange rate" we laughed. Still no. "You need to open an account". They said. "Well, how do we open an account?" we begged. "You can´t."

Eventually, we managed to procure the dollars needed to pay Seafraud. I won´t say how, but if you ever see Phil staring vacantly into the distance, please do not question him as to why. Seafraud were at least satisifed enough to reluctantly hand over our Bill of Lading, unfortunately Phil and I had had to shoot off to another appointment so did not witness the official handing over ceremony, but Tom said it was quite spectacular with a fireworks display to put Beijing to shame and the appearance of several minor celebrities. My earlier disappearance and Phil and I´s subsequent meeting were to follow up on the infamous and underused "Plan B". Prior to arriving in Veracruz we had contacted every company we had dealt with in the UK and Buenos Aires to see if they knew anyone in Mexico who didn´t make Wayne Rooney look like a dangerous intellectual. And shortly before our arrival two of them had come back with the same name. Step forward Victor Lau. Unfortunately Viktor was a busy man and hard to track down, but when we got him on the phone he was refreshingly direct, assertive and, God forbid, proactive. His proficiency in English also made us wonder whether he was not in fact Mexican but European, potentially Dutch. While Phil and I gushed over his claim he could release Barry in a day or two, Tom extracated himself from the Handing Over Ceremony After Party and joined us with the Bill of Lading. In a whirlwind of activity Viktor completed several of the steps that should have taken days, procured us our certificate to allow us to drive in Mexico and arranged for our container to be manoevered to the customs office where, with us present tomorrow morning, it will be opened, customs inspected and (as long as they don´t find Tom´s imported hair growth hormone drugs) released, all in a matter of hours. I should really say "touch wood" or something similar but I really don´t feel I need to. Why?

"Viktor, I can´t place your accent, are you originally from Europe?"
"No, I am Mexican. But my parents were German"

Forget the A-Team, the Ghostbusters or 118 118. If you need efficiency, contact ze Germans.

Uber und aus.


Mikey B said...

good work boys. Sounds kinda fustrating :-)

Katrin said...

ha, I knew it!!! the Germans.... ;-)

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