Getting the bikes out of Customs, and other things
Dear Readers: I'm super verbose in this entry. Apologies in advance.
It's "pick up the bikes day" today. I'm so nervous that instead of pleasant little butterflies in my stomach I feel like there are giant vultures scratching at my insides. I don't really know why I feel so nervous, even the worst that could happen isn't really all that bad. It's just that I've been planning this trip for months and have been feeling this way for weeks. I have this idea that after this part is over--after we have the bikes, they're put back together and we're parked at our hotel in Santiago-- then my part of getting us here is complete and I can become a follower.
I double check with Poodle and Nivs that everyone has 1) Title 2) Registration 3) Waybill 4) Proof of insurance 5) International Driver LIcense 6) The envelopes of cash I split up between the three of us before we left Seattle 7) The riding gear we'll need to ride the bikes back to Santiago 8) The tools we'll need to get the bikes back to gether....and then we wait in our hotel lobby for Juan Carlos to come pick us up.
I found Juan Carlos through the guy we will use to ship our bikes back, via slow boat, at the end of the trip. Juan Carlos is the guy who owns the warehouse where we'll drop off the bikes. I asked several weeks ago if he could assist us today by being our driver, brining us gas so we can start the bikes, letting us follow him back to the hotel, and hauling away our crates (he's agreed to store them and ship them back on the boat with the bikes.)
Juan Carlos arrived promptly at 10 a.m. as we had previously agreed. He was a professional looking man, clean cut, weraing a button up shirt, slacks and loafers and stylish sunglasses. He had all our papers in one hand and a cell phone in the other. His confidence made me relax.
I've been chatting it up in Spanish every chance I get and it's starting to flow pretty well for me again. Even though Juan Carlos spoke English, I sat in the front seat of his car so I could chat with him in Spanish as we drove. I learned that there are so many stray dogs (there truly are EVERYWHERE) that the city has just passed a lay to spay all the female dogs to try and curtail the problem. A significant number of people die every year becuase of these dogs. Oddly enough, the many dogs we've seen so far aren't aggressive and they also seem to know how to cross the street. Seriously, they will wait for a green light at intersections and look both ways before jay walking. It's incredible.
Anyway, back to the details of getting the bikes.
So we arrive at the airport and drive to the international cargo area. This was the first moment that I felt like we would have really struggled without Juan Carlos. I have no idea how we would have know where to go.
Juan Carlos tells me at he's been here 3 or 4 times and sort of knows what to do; but that it's been different each time so he's not exactly sure what we'll find today. Good to know.
The first thing we do is walk up to this little booth where we hand over our passports and waybills. This gets us little slips of paper that allow us to pass back and forth into the cargo area.
We walk into the first buidling and walk up to the first desk. Juan Carlos hands the woman behind the counter a bunch of papers and she tells him that we're at the wrong budiling. We need to go one buildng down and talk to Javier. When we get to Javier he hands us a bunch of papers and tells us that we need to pay $80 each. I'm not exactly sure what this was for but I think it was to pay for the paperwork. We could use Pesos, US Dollars or check. We used USD.
Then we go on to Customs which is outside of the gate I mentioned earlier. Luckily we all still had our slips of paper.
We waited in Customs for about 20 minutes. There wasn't much of a line but it took that long for the Customs Agent to look through our paperwork, write up some documents for us to sign and hand everything over. He called us up one at a time to sign the papers and then it was over. No money exchanged hands.
Then we went back to the first builidng and that first woman we met who told us we needed to talk to Javier. This time she told us that we were missing an important signature from Javier. Juan Carlos left us in the first building to run back to Javier for the signature. He got it, came back and told the woman that Javier said the signature wasn't important and just a formality. The woman shrugged and said "Formalitites are important."
Next up was to pay for the warehouse holding fee. This was about $75 each. However, we could only use Pesos or check and we didn't have sufficient Pesos. So....back through the little gate wtih our slips of paper we went. Fortunatley there is a bank with ATM machines right across from the customs building.
Cash in hand we went back to pay our $75. By the time we walked out on to the loading dock (a mere 20 feet from the buidling we were in) we saw the first bike (It was mine!) and within 20 minutes all three bikes were fork lifted out (and those fork lift drivers are skilled!!) to a shady part of the loading doc and we got to work. We took the crates apart, reconnected the batteries, reattached the handle bars, connected the throttle and clutch. Reattached the windscreens and mirrors and we were ready to ride off.
We followed Juan Carlos to a gas station about a mile away to fill up and got our first shock at gas prices. It cost around $70 to fill up all three bikes -- that's only, what 15 gallons? I guess that's where a lot of our money will go to this trip. Then we followed Juan Carlos back to his warehouse where we helped him unload the crates and left our spare tires with him. He agreed to hold them for us and if we end up needing them we can call him and he'll send them down to us by bus. Even if we have to wait a day or two to receive them it seemed better than carrying them around for 5000 miles.
We said goodbye to Juan Carlos, but he was kind enough to drive back to our hotel so we could follow him one last time. Juan Carlos was so worth the little bit of money we paid him. We left the hotel at 10 a.m. and were back by 4 p.m. I'm sure if we were doing this on our own it would have been many more hours to get through everything.
Ok, so then we're back at the hotel. We put the bikes in secure parking and then spend the rest of the day wandering around Santiago. We go in search of a few necessities -- soap, a sim card (which we cant' get to work), a belt for me (my pants are falling down!) some pens, a new plug adaptor and some bottled water. We find dinner at a pretty good Falafel place and are back in our room planning our first day out.
Oh! I forgot one part that still makes me feel awkward. When I was chatting with Juan Carlos early in th day -- you know, when I was all proud of my spanish skills--he tells about this odd cultural thing that we should try to experience. All over Santiago there are these coffee shops. They aren't just normal coffee shops. They do sell coffee, juice and soda (note: no alcohol) but it's served by very beautiful women wearing very skimpy bikinis. The windows are all blacked out, the lights are low inside and, obviously, there are men standing there drinking espresso and chatting with these scantily clad women. Juan Carlos suggested we find one --they are nearly as prevelant as Starbucks are in the USA. Nivs and Poodle thought it was an important cultural experience that they didn't want to miss out on. Unfortunately for me, the have a rule that they won't leave me alone by myself while we're out and about (I'll break them of this habit eventually) and so they pushed and pushed to get me to go with them. They walked up to the door and opened it. A beautiful woman in a skimpy bikini opened the door and pulled them in. Then she stuck her head out and said "you too, you can come in."
Ok so then picture this. I'm the only female in this place (wearing clothes) standing next to two very awkward men with a buxom Chilean woman standing in front of us asking us for our order. Also remeber that Nivs and Poodle don't speak Spanish and I do. I order an espresso for Nivs and two peach juices for Poodle and I. Then we spend the next 10 minutes with me carrying on a conversation with the woman while Nivs and Poodle look on awkwardly. She was very nice and explained to me that these coffee houses are very prevalent. That the men don't touch the women at all and just come in to have an afternoon cup of coffee. That wives/girlfriends don't really seem to mind if their men visit these places because nothing happens. There isn't prostitution, there isn't touching. She claimed that her boyfriend frequents one near his place of work and it's no big deal.
So then I tell the boys that they have to pay the bill -- I'm certainly not taking responsibility for that. They go off to the register to pay and when they walk away the woman leans in to me and says "What's with those two?" HAHAHAHAH!!!!!
Although she was nice and I enjoyed my conversation with her, I think I have now experienced the Chilean afternoon coffee breaks and don't need to do it again.