Let’s Go To Africa.
Fortunately I arrived in Buenos Aires several days before my motorcycle, because finding my motorcycle turned out to tougher than finding the truth about Tango. You see Variglog, the company I shipped from Brazil, had no phone number listing in Buenos Aires or at the Airport, and calling the office in Brazil was a dead end. I finally contacted Delfino Air Cargo, the shipping agent for Malaysia Airlines, the airline where both Doc and i would fly to get to South Africa. Two days later we found Variglog, but my motorcycle was still in São Paulo. I would have to wait until the bike landed on Argentine soil before beginning the process to get my motorcycle to South Africa.
Typically, temporarily importing a motorcycle into Argentina is a fairly simple and straightforward process given the bureaucracy of dealing with Argentine aduana (customs). And I had plenty experience doing it having crossed borders into the country no less than eight times over the last year. But this time it was dramatically different. First, because my bike would arrive through an international airport instead of an overland border. Second, although my motorcycle will simply move from one cargo company to another, I must first temporarily import the motorcycle to this country and then I must export the bike to South Africa. When enquiring about the possibility of simply placing my motorcycle “in transit” to South Africa, the shipping agent, customs brokers and Aduana simple shook their heads. Why? Because of the bureaucracy. It’s simply easier to import and then export the bike. Hampering my relentlessness, I stopped asking.
This is where things get funny. I became a fixture at the Delfino office in downtown Buenos Aires after my fourth visit. The first visit to the airport was a waste of time too. Yet when I finally thought I was prepared: all my paperwork including multiple photocopies of titles, registration, passport, way bills and international driving license intact; and then presented them to the Aduana in the “import” area (bodega) at the airport, the customs official only wanted to see my Argentina motorcycle insurance. “Insurance,” I asked trying to make eye contact with the chubby faced official.
Trying to explain that my motorcycle was simply in a crate and would be moved to the “export” bodega at the airport and therefore never be ridden or operated on Argentina roads was futile. He didn’t care. And it was Friday 3pm in Buenos Aires. My motorcycle would have to stay in the “holding tank” at EZE, Buenos Aires International Airport through the weekend — and as such I would incur hefty storage fees for I am only given a three day grace period from which to remove my bike from the import bodega. But the bigger challenge would be finding insurance in a couple hours in Buenos Aires so that I could minimize storage fees and get the bike yanked out of there by Monday.
Other motorcyclists bringing bikes into Argentina have faced this mandatory insurance requirement. I panicked. I was 30 miles from the city center and had no idea where to get insurance. Fortunately I had saved Javier’s phone number in my cell phone, perhaps one of the other travelers staying at Dakar Motos could point me in the right direction. The phone rang, rang and rang. Then Sandra answered. I had visited Dakar Motos a couple times since returned to BsAs but hadn’t yet seen Sandra, Javier’s wife. Turns out the phone number I had was her cell phone. Even better, she was in downtown Buenos Aires. We made a plan to meet near the Diagonal Norte where she would escort me to an insurance office who could issue my the necessary insurance to satisfy the Aduana’s requirement. And all this could be done before the office closed at 5pm — provided I could get there in time.
Minutes before 5pm I exchanged 90 pesos ($30) for the proper paperwork. Sandra and I celebrated over a cafecito and then departed ways. On Monday I would spend more than 7 hours walking from one office to another and then back again and even back another time. Each time a series of pounding rubber stamps on copies of copies of paperwork. By the end of the day I had successfully imported my motorcycle and re-exported the bike with all the customs clearances, dangerous goods declarations and VIN# verifications (twice) completed.
I would need to take one more trip to the Delfino offices in downtown. This time to pay for the shipping of my motorcycle. What’s more, since learning that cargo shipments must be paid in cash late Thursday I’ve been frantically trying to round up enough cash in pesos to pay Delfino. Again, another task that turned out to be difficult. You see in Argentina with my VISA debit card I can only pull out 300 pesos with each transaction. And all ATMs in Argentina limit customers to four transactions per day. Calls to VISA in USA and locally were futile. The shipping of the motorcycle would cost almost $1,000. The cost of shipping the motorcycle to Buenos Aires was approximately $800. Because the bike was shipped freight collect, I had to pay for both cargo shipments concurrently. I needed close to $2,000 or approximately 6,000 pesos. With the ATMs only giving me up to 1,200 pesos each day and with only 4 days until my “bill was due,” I was stressed. I don’t carry cash. And while I have a back-up ATM card with a different bank, should I need this I must use the internet to transfer funds into the back up account, and this takes 3 – 5 days.
So I did my daily ritual of visiting the ATM machine every day and pulling out the maximum. In Buenos Aires Sundays are typically problematic for ATMs: they run out of cash. And finding one is like a fortune hunt. For me, I hit jackpot at the fourth ATM I visited. The ATM was on a busy street frequented by beggars, the homeless and others who I could easily profile as potential “evil doers”. So I huddle up against the ATM and make my four transactions – 300 pesos each. Except today was different. Instead of delivering me three Ar$100 peso bills, the machine spit out 300 pesos in 10 peso bills. The wad of bills I had almost required a suitcase to carry as I made my way back to the hotel with 120 individual 10 peso bills and feeling like I was going to a meeting with the late Pablo Escobar. Mind you that whenever you want small denominations from an Argentina ATM machine you never get them.
The next morning (Monday) I braved the Subte (subway) and hauled my wad of cash to the Delfino Offices, stopping along the way to make my final withdrawal from the Standard Bank ATM just of the Plaza de Mayo — shouting distance from the Casa Rosada where just this week Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was voted the first female president of Argentina, just on the heels of Michelle Bachelet who was voted Chile’s first female president in January 2006. Oddly enough, Cristina is wife of outgoing president Nestor Kirchner. Taxi cab drivers and waiters ask me if Hilary will be next. I roll my eyes and change the topic to Argentinean Malbec won if 2007 will be the vintage of the decade.
The cashier at Delfino is taken back by my wad of cash, but doesn’t quite take kindly to my joke about the cash requirement for cargo being akin to doing a drug deal. Some people can’t take a joke, and even though Delfino operates a consumer travel/tour agency that accepts credit cards and operates in the same building as the cargo division, I don’t find it funny that they wouldn’t accept a credit card – a safer and more secure transaction in my opinion. But such is life doing business here in South America.
Countdown: two more days until I fly to Cape Town, South Africa.