#19 - Clearing Brazil Customs
Jeff Willner - 10 December, 2001
(Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL) - So we get the quote to
ship the Land Rover from Bilbao, Spain to Rio de Janeiro and its only
$500. Five hundred! Way less than budget, we figured we were gonna make
out like bandits. Ok, so the shipping agency in Spain wants $138 to do
the paperwork and we have to fork over $40 for the wire transfer because
they don’t do credit cards. But still cheap.
Then we contacted the agency in Rio to get a quote
to land the truck in Brazil - $700. Seven hundred dollars? Are you kidding
me? Well, there is the shipping tax, Bill of Lading processing fee, honorarium,
agency fee, and of course ten days storage fee. Ten days storage. We
need ten days storage? Even Sudan, sand blown, run by a military strongman,
collection of mud huts on the edge of the Nile, Sudan - only took three
days to clear the truck. And we thought that was bad.
Sally emailed, maybe we could try to get the truck
through customs without using an agency. I flew into Rio on the red-eye,
arrived Dec. 3, and waded into the disaster that is known as Brazilian
Right from the beginning it was clear that I was over
my head. Gulin and I tried to find the port on the first day, a helpful
policeman walked around with us for awhile till we found some shipping
agents milling in the passenger port. They consulted a schedule and told
us our ship wouldn’t be in till next week. Next week?! (they were wrong)
To establish that misunderstanding took over an hour and two interpreters.
It became clear pretty quick that Portuguese and English do not sound
alike. An agent was sounding like a good idea.
But even a couple hundred dollars worth of fees wasn’t
raising any interest. I was blown off at the first place I tried. Sally,
Jody, and I sent out a couple dozen emails to any and all agencies listed
on the internet - and got a single decent response. The agency was great
- love to help you, come back tomorrow to meet the forwarding agent. Guess
don’t bother with the little stuff, it gets farmed out. Pedro arrived 1.5hrs
late the next morning. Over fifty with a bad back from too much standing in line
and too much pot in the belly, he was a genial guy with decent English - loved
to fill his thinking
pauses with ‘the’. “Jeff, now we go to the, the, the, the, the office to pay
the, the, the taxes.
Pedro had a way of rolling with the delays very matter
of factly. The actual amount of work to clear the truck should have taken
a day. The reality was that it took one of every day; Monday, Tuesday,
Monday: Try to find the port, try to establish that
our ship will actually dock this week, accomplish virtually nothing,
realize an agent will come in handy.
Tuesday: Found an agent that will speak to us, but
come back tomorrow.
Wednesday: Met Pedro, paid port taxes, but Customs
only processes forms in the morning - come back tomorrow.
Thursday: Customs, ‘Oops there might be a problem
with the truck, go do an inspection in the port’ - but the port guards
won’t allow us in because we don’t have papers, but we can’t get papers
because there is an issue on the file. Hours go by, we try different
entrances. Finally, we signed an affidavit accepting the truck ‘as is’ without
an inspection, waited ninety minutes to get the paper notarized. But
of course, Customs only works in the morning. Come back tomorrow.
Friday: Excellent, a customs officer processes our
forms. All we need to do now is get the truck released at the port. But
documents are only couriered from the Customs office to port once a day,
at 10:30. ‘Can we please just drive the forms there ourselves?’ Please?
Of course not. Come back Monday.
Monday: A two hour port clearance expands to entertain
us from 9 till 4. When we finally get the truck we realize that the crew
on the cargo ship got inside and stole Akbar, our little dashboard dog
with a bobbing head. That little dog never hurt anyone in his life and
now he has been kidnapped for a life on the sea - poor little mutt, I’ll
Seven days. Seven hundred dollars. Every day we (Gulin
was with me most days) would arrive promptly at 9am and then sit on our
butts in various dingy offices - with little beads of sweat dripping
off from the heat. You gotta be in a numb zone to watch first-hand as
virtually nothing gets done (its easier to just be frustrated from your
hotel room, or from beside a pool, but we had to be there in person).
I remember sitting in the dirt outside the port after being rejected
from three different entrances, Pedro ended up going in alone to do the
vehicle inspection, watching stupidly as a line of ants crawled up my
leg and inside my clothes. Just sat there and did nothing. Bureaucracy
is like being swept through whitewater, if you fight it you just make
things worse. All you can do is keep your head above water, get bashed
around for awhile, and hope that at the end there is a calm pool and
not a waterfall.
Brazil wins the new record for crappiest place to
The Old Man and the Sea
Rio wasn’t all frustration. I ate at some great restaurants, including the ‘Cais
do Oriente’ which is right up there on the top 10 places I have eaten in the
world ($30 for two people including espresso afterwards). We moved out to Copacabana
on the weekend and life can’t ever be that bad when you can scarf a Big Mac
and smoke a cigar alone on the beach after midnight. And then there was the
Bia woke us up on Sat. morning, "Come on, my uncle has
invited us all on his
boat." Nice! Jody, Gulin, and I threw our gear together and scrambled down to
the lobby. Bia Gamboa is the sister of a classmate and one of the sweetest people
I know. She picked us up in Copacabana, we drove 40min to the Naval Club in
Niterói, and hopped onto her uncle's sailboat.
Seven of us headed out, there wasn’t much wind but
it was just cool to be on the water. Plus, the ability to reply to the
question of what you did for the day with "Oh, we went sailing in Rio" -
that is just sweet. All was well till a slight headache turned into a
real pounder, and the motion of the boat crept into my stomach.
Now any guy will tell you, if asked "Are you feeling
ok?", you always answer, "Fine". Even if your arm is hanging by a thin
thread of flesh after an accidental tree pruning accident, you still
tell the ranger "Had a wee problem, but I'm good. No problem here." I
crawled below deck and curled onto a bunk when we anchored abeam (abast,
astern? something nautical) of an island where we would swim. But it
was a beautiful day and it seemed very ungracious to not be on deck with
the others, so after half an hour I crept back up. Bia examined me, "Jeff
you are looking a bit green, are you ok?" "I'm good. No problem here!"
I sucked it up all the way back to the marina, but
at the all-you-can-eat pasta restaurant and I finally threw in the towel
and bolted for the loo. Stomach queasy, head splitting, I peered at the
two bathroom signs, unsure which one to pick - but in a desperate hurry.
Ele. Ela. No pictures. Freakin' great. In French elle is feminine, plus
its a woman's magazine, the evidence seemed overwhelming so I made a
quick choice and started tugging at the Ela door. A waiter walked by
and I grabbed him, "Which one is for me?" gesturing to myself. He eyed
me, and motioned at the opposite door.
I glanced back at him as I went in and caught him
staring back. Despite our language barrier, the "Moron" look translates
well. Still, I had no time for shame, I was on an urgent mission to vomit.
Inside (the Ele room) there was only one stall. I waited. A ten year
old kid came in and stood beside me. I nodded. He nodded. The stall opened,
I went in and looked hard at the bowl. More kids came in and started
talking. Great. An audience. Ah well, it's gotta be done.
I'm not going to get into details, Mom said it is impolite
to discuss such things. All I'm gonna say is, every time I made a special
donation to the porcelain charity,
the kids outside the stall would yell "OPA!" It was dinner theatre
and I was the headliner. It was
a lovely change of pace from customs.
But seriously, after the week from Hades you would
think Rio would rank right up there with a root canal. Couldn’t be further
from the truth muchachos. The fact is, despite the stomach purge and
red tape this is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Viewed from
solid land. From anywhere but the customs hall.