. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#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 Customs.

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 they 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, Wednesday…

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 miss him.

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 transit.

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 sailing incident…

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.


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com