Friday, November 25, 2011

Gettin' Our Wheels Back

our deluxe crate upon delivery
The following is Colin's ride report on clearing customs in Mumbai.  I cannot tell the tale better or shorter, so here it is.  I will add photos when we have faster internet. 

We did not want to get up when the alarm went off but had place to be and people to see, so we dragged ourselves in and out of the shower and were back in an autorickshaw by 8:30.   

The drive to the train station requires one left turn in the 3km ride.  Traffic was very heavy this morning, and our autorickshaw driver turned left early.  Maybe he's taking us on a shortcut?  Or maybe he's leading us down the garden path.  Which one do you think it was?  First we drove past the international terminal at the airport.  Then, we drove past the cargo facility, then past the domestic terminal.  Then, I started yelling at the driver.  Then, he turned right, and we eventually arrived at the train station. 

The ride to the station should cost no more than 30 rupees, but he was trying to charge us over 100 (the autorickshaws in Mumbai have meters, but they're so old, that you don't pay what's on the meter, you refer to a conversion chart.  Even by what was on the meter, it still should have been less than 70 rupees).  I offered him 50, and he refused.  At this point in time, some locals overheard the commotion and signaled for the three police officers who were standing nearby.  The young female officer initially thought that the disagreement was over the meter/chart issue.  I explained to her no, that he took us on an extra long ride.  I pulled out the Lonely Planet and showed her on the map where he had taken us.  She said something to the driver and when he responded with a weak smile, she smacked him in the head.  At this, the senior officer walked over and asked the female officer what was going on (I assume, as they were speaking in Hindi?).  The senior officer instructed our driver to turn off his vehicle, remove the keys, give them to the officer, and to produce his license.  At this point, the female officer apologized for the inconvenience and sent us on our way.  Moral of the story, just take the damn 50 rupees! 

Advertisement in the train station
The real problem with our “detour” was the time it wasted.  Instead of being at the station at 9:00 am, it was nearly 9:30.  We couldn't find an express train at this time, so once again, onto the slow train.  We made it back down to the WIAA shortly after 10:30, but found that the director had not yet signed our clearance letters.  In the meantime, we met with Abdul and arranged for liability insurance.   While we were waiting, we also met two German overland truck drivers whose vehicles were stuck at the seaport for five days and counting due to Carnet problems.  We chatted with them while we waited for our paperwork and after hearing about all of their issues, left feeling nervous about our impending Customs visit.  The other problem was that we would have to return to the WIAA tomorrow to pick up our insurance papers.  Back to the train, back on an autorickshaw, and back to cargo by 1:00 pm. 

Sure enough, we were met by Helper and Big Man (who we both noted were dressed much more nicely today) and they again assisted us with getting a gate pass, and took us to meet Agent.  We met with Agent again in the air-conditioned waiting room next to the Customs office, where he took our documents and passports and sent them off to be photocopied.  While we waited for the copies to return, he began filling out several import documents with our details.  He then mentioned that he was an agent and that if we wanted to use an agent, he charges for his services.  We asked, “how much?” and he replied, “how much do you want to pay?”  “Not much, “ we said.  He said he usually charges 80 USD per bike, which we countered with 40 USD per bike.  He misunderstood and thought we meant 40 USD total. 

All the while, Big Man sat in the corner against the wall with his arms folded across his chest.  Agent countered with 100 USD for both bikes and we then offered 80 USD for both.  The agent said he could not do it for that, but he would finish filling out the papers for us, and we could clear them ourselves.  Confused by the negotiations, Re and I stepped outside to figure out what the scam was.  Intimidated by the amount of paperwork and reports of needing 20 different signatures from the Customs office, we agreed that we would pay the 100 USD for both bikes.  We went back into the waiting room and told the agent we agreed to his price.  He just waved us off and continued filling out the paperwork.  

After the runner returned with our photocopies of our passports and other documents, the agent motioned for me to join him outside.  Once outside, he told me that I could clear customs myself that day and did not really need his assistance.  Further confused by this strange negotiation tactic, I asked him if this was true.  From his response, it became clear that he was not affiliated with Big Man and apparently didn't care for him either.  He said we should tell Big Man that we would pay 80 USD for both bikes and no more, and that if he did not agree, that we would do it ourselves.  Feeling more confused, we found Big Man, who as predicted, refused the offer, and Big Man left.  Agent handed me all the papers he'd filled out and all the photocopies he'd had made, and told me in which room the process would start.  He said he would be in the area all day working on other shipments and if I needed any other help, he would advise us for free.  

Now totally confused, I went into the indicated room, where our documents were perused for completeness and was told to wait, as the next person we needed to see was at lunch.  We returned to the air-conditioned waiting room, where we met another Customs agent named, Danesh.  It turns out Danesh is an avid motorcyclist and recently bought a 2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 (which in India costs nearly 25,000 USD).  He and his friends all ride big sport bikes and are going to take a motorcycle tour of northern Thailand in February.  Maybe we will see them there.  

The inside of our deluxe crate. I am surprised it made it at all.
Once lunchtime was over, we returned to the office, where we sat for a half hour or so while papers were collated, stamped, signed, and reviewed.  Then it was time to get our crate.  We were led to the another office, where we were presented with a bill for demurrage (storage) and then went to the next window where we paid 62 USD for the privilege.  I did note that the demurrage bill had a note at the bottom that the crate was received in a damaged condition.  Oh no.   

We waited an anxious 10 minutes for our crate to be brought to the inspection area and were relieved to find that the damage was limited to a few cracks in the 1/8 inch plywood.  A warehouse helper helped us remove the top and sides from the crate, and the Customs officials told us we could assemble our bikes in the warehouse before they inspect them.  Re and I once again got to work putting on the wheels, fenders, and handlebars.  After the bikes were put right, our engine and chassis numbers were recorded, and then we waited.  And then we waited some more. 

While we were waiting, I ran into Agent again and told him that everything was going well, and we should have our bikes by the end of the day.  I asked him what we should pay him for the work he had done, and he said nothing, that he really didn't do anything.  I reminded him that he'd gotten photocopies made and filled out the import paperwork, and he simply stated, that I should remember that there are good people in the world too.  Wow.  I thanked him profusely for all his help, and he wished us good luck on our journey. 

Since the bikes were nearly empty before they were crated, Re or I was going to walk the km or so to the nearest gas station to fill up one of our jerrycans.  Lucky for us, we mentioned it to a warehouse worker, who informed us that it is against the law in India to fill a jerrycan that is not accompanied by a vehicle.  Huh.  We may be pushing our bikes the km to the gas station.   

I was beginning to get nervous as it was nearing 5:30 pm, and that was when the Customs office closes.  When we asked in the office, they assured us we would get our bikes today and it would be just a few more minutes.  At 5:30, warehouse and office staff started to leave, and soon, it was only us and one remaining Customs official.  So far, we had not paid anything besides the demurrage fee and had not been asked for any baksheesh (bribes).  But now, the Customs official was working overtime, and I expected that we would be asked to pay for the “overtime.”  It was now after 6:00 pm, and our growing pile of paperwork needed the signature of the head of Customs at the airport.  We followed our agent to the next building, upstairs past the armed guards, and into an official looking office.  The director asked us a few questions about our trip, looked over every page of our paperwork, and finally signed on the dotted line.  Paperwork done, we returned to the Customs office, where final photocopies were made and we were directed to our bikes.  We rolled them down the ramp and out into the night.  The Customs officer wished us a good night and left.  We were never asked to pay anything and found the whole process to be confusing but easy.   

We now found ourselves standing next to our potentially fuel-less motorbikes while a crowd gathered around us.  During the last week in Tanzania, Re's battery was getting weak and we had to resort to the kickstarter a couple of times.  Now, it is completely dead.  No problem, we can kickstart it.  I cracked the drain on both carburetor float bowls and was happy to see gas dribbling out of both bikes.  In front of a crowd of 25 or so truck drivers and warehouse workers, I kickstarted Re's bike on the third try.  Her bike was idling low, so I gave the idle screw a quick turn and then started up my bike.  While we put on our gear, my bike stopped running.  I hit the starter button, and the engine spun too freely.  Out of gas.  Crap.  While the crown murmured and laughed, I sent Rebekah off in search of gas.  Hopefully, she has enough to make it to the gas station.  After she left, I started pushing my bike to the exit.  Strangely, no one stopped me to check anything, and I waited for Re outside the cargo facility.   

Once again, a small crowd formed, and people asked me what I was doing.  I was happy to see Re ride through the crowd with sweet, sweet unleaded.   As we've done a hundred times before, we unclipped the funnel and filled up the bikes.  My bike fired up right away, Re's bike took a few more kicks.  But we were off! Before we left the guesthouse that morning, I had marked its GPS position, so it was a simple matter of following the directions back to the hotel. 

Once back at the hotel, we were informed by the manager to remove everything from our bikes and to cover them since the people in the area could be “naughty” he said.  Yay.  We removed the gas cans, all bungee cords, but left the Rok-straps on the bikes.  We then locked both bikes together with our cable locks and covered them with one of our custom bike covers.  A little nervous about the naughtiness of the locals, we headed inside with our gas cans and extra tires.  

Our first ride in Mumbai was fortunately only a couple of miles from the customs facitlity to our hotel.  Traffic in Mumbai is utter chaos.  The streets are basically a lane and a half in each direction, sometimes divided, sometimes not.  There are few if any traffic signals or street signs, and they seem to be largely ignored by the drivers.  Traffic kind of alternates, or more accurately, slips through intersections when it can, wherever it can, whether that means swerving into the oncoming lane or the runoff at the side, or wherever you can fit.  Honking is encouraged (all the trucks say honk please on their tails), so the noise is deafening.  Most of the trucks are diesels, the autorickshaws are two-strokes, and they all belch gritty exhaust fumes.  Riding in Tanzania was a good warmup for this type of riding, but even that pales by comparison.  Thankfully, we made it to the hotel unscathed. 

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