Shipping Shambles

Posted by on Sep 23, 2017 in Blog, Colombia, Shipping | No Comments
Shipping Shambles

Decision was made. We were getting out of South America. We had had it with latino promises and “Despacito” played at full volume. At first we toyed with the idea of going to Mexico or Cuba, but after thorough research, we opted for North America – Canada to be precise. We had sent off countless requests to various cargo agents, shipping companies, airlines and sought advice on numerous forums.

The majority of the information on the overland forums was a little outdated and conflicting at times.

All the requests and questions were out there, now it was merely a matter of waiting for the replies.

We heard back from AirCanada Cargo, which was the favoured option and was told that they were not able to arrange the crating and booking of the flights from Bogota and that we should deal with a local agent there.

So we contacted an agent called Cargorider and made the arrangements to negotiate a price with them. We figured that we could save a lot of money by putting both bikes in one crate, remove the front wheels and jack down the front and rear suspension to decrease the volume weight as much as possible.

We came to an agreement and picked a departure date. Based on that, we booked our flights to Vancouver.

At this time we were still in Medellin and had to ride to Bogota, get the bikes ready (thoroughly cleaned) and have them crated.

We had just left the apartment in Medellin when the heavens opened and at snail pace we rode out of the city, hoping to hit a good halfway point en-route to Bogota.

Photo op during a break in the rain

The rain persisted for hours and once there was a small break in the clouds we stopped to check out a motel, when the fox’s engine suddenly died without warning. I managed to get her going again, but only moments later, the engine cut out followed by the electronic display acting up. Electronic gremlins, every bikers nightmare! The fox’s battery was dying! It was either due to a faulty voltage regulator or just the battery. I hoped the latter, as we were about to ship the bikes out and I really didn’t need a bigger issue with the bike at this point in time. I guess the only upside was, that she had died right outside the motel.

We settled for the night and did our customary tea brewing on the bathroom floor in the room.

A lot of the motels in Colombia sport the thick, bodybag-type plastic covers on the beds and pillows…nice I guess, if you’re an extreme bed-wetter or a serial killer.

The following morning the battery was totally gone and the motel owner called a guy she knew, who could transport the bike to Bogota on a trailer. ” $100, is what he wants…make sure you pay him AFTERWARDS” she said.

Axel rode ahead to check into the Airbnb we had booked in Bogota and I waited for the trailer-guy to show up. An hour passed and he finally appeared. “You got the money?” he said ” No” I replied. He ¬†started arguing and saying that he was a South American business man and this is how you do business in South America. In other words – pay me now or else. I told him the motel owner had advised me to pay him when the job was done and his head exploded. He was not prepared to take me to Bogota unless I paid him upfront. I didn’t have the cash on me, so I said we could get it on the way. We drove 45 min to his hometown and he took me to the bank so I could withdraw the moolah. I paid him and hoped that he wouldn’t drop the fox and I somewhere in the middle of nowhere and drive off.

Thankfully he didn’t, instead he pocketed the money and called some other guy to drive us the rest of the way. My new driver didn’t speak a single word of English, so I had to make sure that he understood that I had already paid this “South American business man”, who had dumped me on him.

What normally would have taken a couple of hours took well over six, and I was car-sick with the twisty roads and from being stuck behind the diesel-fuming busses.

En-route Bogota we passed the infamous Pablo Escobar’s hacienda, which now serves as a tourist trap…charming

Finally we made it to Bogota and I was greeted by Axel who had had his share of drama on the way to the capital by swallowing a wasp and getting stung in the throat. We were getting keener by the minute to get the hell out Colombia.

In Bogota I bought a cheap Chinese battery which I could fit on its side inside the small compartment on the bike. Having attached extra long wiring from the battery terminals to make things fit, the battery looked like a bomb. I hoped the airline and dangerous goods people had a sense of humor. It did the trick however. Foxy started up and kept running, which hopefully meant that the voltage regulator was ok.

Finally the day came and we rode the bikes to the Cargorider office.

Axel in the Cargorider office…the beginning of a long frustrating day

Very quickly the optimism turned to suspicion to down right despair! The girl behind the desk didn’t speak a word of English and rather than finding someone who did, she was phoning other people to complain about us not speaking a word of Spanish. We were asked to follow a colleague to a warehouse where the crating would take place and that’s when things got really interesting.

They had built a flimsy pallet and we rolled the bikes onto it, removed side mirrors, windscreens and handle bars. We disconnected the batteries, secured the terminals and removed the front wheels. Now the time had come to secure the bikes to the pallet. Two guys frantically hammered wooden blocks around the back wheel of Axel’s bike and attempted to tie it down with thin plastic straps. I sensed the frustration building in Axel. We were being extremely patient with them, trying to explain that the bikes would need bigger straps – unless the agent was willing to take full liability for them. They certainly didn’t want to do that. A “manager” showed up with some nylon straps and started talking about the dangerous goods regulations. He wanted us to empty the engines of oil. That was the final straw for both of us. These guys clearly didn’t know what they were doing. We had been there the best part of six hours already and it was getting late. We decided to get out of there and began to re-assemble the bikes. We needed a new solution. Quick!

Back at the bat cave we managed to get in touch with another agent who could see us the following morning and get the bikes crated. This time we had finally got hold of the right people, a company called Cargo Logistic Systems, who accommodated our every need. We managed to to get the final volume weight right down and made quite a saving. Phew…walking out on the previous outfit had paid off.

Luis at Cargo Logistic Systems recommended a fantastic place to go for lunch – serving up traditional Colombian cuisine

Signing the final shipping contract with a fingerprint – Colombian style

The following evening we went to the airport to catch our flights to Vancouver. At the self service kiosk we were denied our boarding passes, because we hadn’t applied for an eTA – a canadian tourist visa. How could we have missed such a crucial thing? Another race against the clock began as we applied for our visas. Thankfully – it all came trough in time for us to catch our flights.

It was with equal parts relief and sadness to see the South American continent slip away beneath us as we departed Bogota. We left with a lot of beautiful memories and experiences.

More about canadian bears and american cowboys next time!

See you out there!