15 March, 2007

Almost Ready

In order to get the parts out of Customs, I had to go around with Señor Hernandez and his English-speaking son Mattius for five days of pretty much constant confusion. Each time they had solved a problem, another one emerged. All this I had expected, but it was all happening two weeks after it should have been.

I didn't quite understand all the problems but one was that I had written Mick McMillan c/o Elizabeth McMahon . . . at Lizzie's address. This had been changed by someone in Paris to McMillan Mick McMahon Elizabeh. The problem for Customs was that the name in my passport is not 'McMillan Mick McMahon Elizabeh'. It took the best part of a day, fueled by litres of deliciously refreshing Inca Kola, to scan and change the address sticker on the package. Then we went to the Peruvian equivalent of the RAC who at first said they'd be only too pleased to help by providing me with a letter saying I'd be leaving the country soon. We should come back in the morning. Next morning the man who was supposed to write the letter said the best thing I could do would be simply to return to London and get a Carnet for the parts. Apart from the obvious logistical difficulties involved here, you need a complete vehicle, with a registration number, frame and engine number - even a colour - for a Carnet. How do people of such a very little brain manage to get such jobs? Another day.

Then I was told by Customs that an "Honour Guarantee" from the British Embassy would also help. A Dutch couple had brought one from their Embassy last month. It should say that I'd be leaving Peru within 45 days, and so I shouldn't need to pay import taxes, since I'd almost immediately be exporting the items. Somewhat huffed that my own word of honour should be deemed insufficient, I asked. The Embassy said no problem, I should come back next day. The letter would be ready at 8am sharp.

Naturally, at 8.30 next day the Vice Consul (a young lassie - you know you're getting old when Government officials are so much younger!) had checked the rules and this wouldn't be possible at all. Neither had she any notion where I'd got such a crazy idea. From her colleague who had told me it would be easy? Another day.

Also it would take ten working days for them to get me another passport. They would keep my existing passport during this time and charge me only 90GBP for the privilege. My passport doesn't run out until 2015, it's just getting a bit full now. No, there weren't any 48 page bumper editions available. Forget it! This wasn't a good time to be surrendering my passport to anyone, even the British Embassy. Peruvian Customs might want to see it at any time. I retreated.

Eventually, after one week and a great deal of negotiating by Sr Hernandez and his team, a wee box appeared in the arms of Ernesto, Sr H's loyal, and very funny employee/pal. Each day I'd been panicking about the extra $32US 'storage fee'. (I called this 'ransom'.) It had by then risen to almost $800US. Then there were the import taxes and Sr H's fee. Maybe $1000US - 500GBP extra for a package I'd already paid 350GBP for? Somehow (they wouldn't tell me how) Sr H and his team had managed to reduce all of this to just $350US, all in. Still quite a lot of money to pay for my own property, that for which I had already paid, but at last I had the parts! Sr H was so angry about all these shenanigans that he refused his own fee, hoping this might go some way to redressing any negative thoughts I might have about his country, which he clearly loved. It really is the thought that counts, and this thought was more than enough in itself. It's never the countries, or even the people in them, but the daft laws that are created which confuse and distress others.

With new (2nd hand) speedometer, throttle cables, diode board and regulator fitted, it was the weekend so I took Lizzie for a test spin around the hills surrounding Lima. 75 miles later the wee genny light was glowing sometimes and wasn't coming on when the engine stopped. This was Square 1, where we were in Illapel, five weeks and 1750 miles ago!

This time I had sent for a 'magic box' from Motorworks. With the help of this and the manual I traced the fault to a loose connection at the regulator. Could this have been all that was ever wrong with it? I'll never know, but I'm keeping the stronger alternator unit in reserve and not fitting it yet. When out of curiosity I put the old regulator back on, having fixed the loose connection, it worked fine. The old diode board was broken, but when and by whom? The new one looks pretty snazzy - all bright colours and shiny bits.

I punctuated all these goings on by visits to Lizzie's school. Five hundred 4-7 year-olds are under her care. A fantastic facility any teacher would give their eye-teeth for. Challenging play equipment (much of which would probably be banned under H&SE directives at home) and good, compatible computers everywhere with the real opportunities and support provided to teach the technology. Smart boards have to be the only effective way, and here they had them in P2. I was amazed and impressed by the confidence and ability of the class of 6 year-olds I joined. Not one of the computers was broken, and they all matched. Proper investment from the Executive is essential in this field at home if we are ever to pull Scots children (and too many of their teachers) into the 21st century of information and communication. I was envious, and impressed. It's all down to money, and which is chosen as a greater priority, educating kids or exporting "democracy". I saw a postcard once which asked the question "Wouldn't it be great if all the hospitals and schools had all the money and resources they needed, and the army had to have jumble sales so that they could buy bullets?" Good sentiment.

Just as I thought it as safe to leave, a wee note came in the post telling me the locks had arrived early from MotoBins. I was to report to a post office on a particular street. Next day I went to the street mentioned, as I found it on the street map. After several people had assured me the post office was "two cuadros up" or "in the red building just there" I found out that of course it was the wrong street. The street I wanted had the same name but was in a different district of the city, not included on the road map. Miles away, back through the city to the other side. Right. I went to the correct district and needed fuel so I stopped at a petrol station. A helpful young attendant gave me excellent directions to the street, which was quite nearby.

A comfy pillion seat.

Arriving at the Post Office in preparation for something of a wait, I decided that in order to entertain myself I might record the experience for future reference. So here's what happened . . .

At 1235 (two hours after setting off from the flat) I entered the Post Office. Rows of chairs were laid out in a smallish room, all facing the counter, as if a small press-conference or lecture might take place. Few people were sitting in these chairs. A young girl sat at a desk by the door, a counter with four booths stretched across the width of the further end of the room. To one side was a small hatch, like a dockyard storeman's. You can see all that he has, but getting any of it will prove an exercise in diplomacy.

I was beckoned to the counter. I smiled and showed the note that had come in the post and presented my passport. On the note it said Mick McMillan c/o Elizabeth McMahon. It doesn't say this on my passport. "It is incorrect" the man said in monotone English.
"No," I giggled, "it´s fine! How many McMillans are there in Peru? Just one - me!"
"Where is Elizabeth McMahon?"
"At work." The man looked at my passport and then at the note.
"Where is 'Nick'?"
"Here I am!" I smiled.
"It is incorrect." This guy's English was more limited than he was letting on.
"No it's fine, here I am and you have a package for me." I smiled, he didn't.

He returned the note and passport and sent me to the girl at the desk by the door. She took out a form and began to fill it in for me. She had to check my passport - I smiled and emphasised the McMillan part. I had to sign. She had to stamp and then send me with the form to the storeman's window. I smiled, he didn't notice. He had to check passport, note and form. The passport and the form together by now clearly outweighed the note, which I had taken the care to crumple a little bit to encourage its lack of authority. I had to take a number and sit down. 20 minutes later I was brusquely summoned once more to the counter. My number had come up on the screen, what was wrong with me!? Nobody else had a number, and those coming in after me were just as confused by the process as I had been. I smiled -'I'm the daft gringo'. It was going well, I thought.

There was the package! I recognised the MotoBins logo - a twang of homesickness. Now it was to be opened, very carefully, by a helper man. With a red scalpel and surgical precision he made a neat incision in the fold. The plastic separated, out came two locks, they looked a bit wee to me. "¿Pode ver?" ["Can I see them?" in Spanuguese] You'd have thought I'd asked if I could use his toothbrush to clean between my toes!

"What is the value?" He demanded.
"I don't know, they are under guarantee and have been sent to me for free." This was clearly too far beyond the scope of Peruvian Post Official comprehension.
"But what is their value?" His voice rose.
"I have no idea." I smiled, he stared. An explanation was required. I took a very deep breath. "They arrive to me as combinated to the originally purchasement of motorcycling boxes, which is very grand, combined as an integrated participation of those boxes then proceed to attach themselves as one to the machine, which is outdoors, should it be useful for you, Sir, that you could see it?" my longest Spanuguese speech.
He glared back at me, expressionless. It was as if I was speaking a foreign language! The only words he had understood seemed to be those which insulted him, and I hadn't thought I'd said. Furious, he looked back down at the form and wrote that they were worth $80US. "Sit down!" he said quietly as he wrote, no longer able to look at me. My parcel disappeared. I was crestfallen, but putting on the bravest face of pleading resignation I could manage. Trying to display a confidence that, although I was quite clearly the least intelligent person they had ever dealt with, they couldn't possibly deny me access to my own property.

A wiggled finger, not too rude, beckoned me back a while later. I smiled and was handed a form and waved towards the storeman's window. I gave the form to the storeman, smiling (he didn't notice). I had to sign, he had to stamp. He gave me the package. "Go away." He said. I went away. It was 1310. Not bad. I felt a bit like a pinball but, not bad. I had my package, I hadn't paid a Solé!

Outside in the bright sunshine, I opened the pack. These locks would keep any Gobi pannier securely closed against all weathers and potential thieves. I needed those that attach the panniers to the bike. I'd have to send these back to MotoBins!

As I rode back into town I noticed this. A fine inspiring example of making the very best of a bad lot, these pillars had been originally constructed to support an elevated railway. The city ran out of money and gave up on the idea, leaving these. They are known together as the "Great White Elephant" and someone has taken to painting them with pictures of more attractive spots in Peru.


At 24/03/2007, 23:17, Anonymous Lynne said...

Mick you appear to have the patience of a saint. I guess you need to.
Maybe you could consider a career change upon your return as a diplomat.
Glad the bike is sorted again. Good luck with getting the new pannier locks. Are you stuck in Lima then until you get the new passport then?

At 26/03/2007, 23:36, Blogger Mick said...

No, I relented on the passport thing. Leaving tomorrow, heading for Cusco.


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