In Puerto Cabello

Yesterday afternoon we flew from Mérida to Puerto Cabello aboard Santa Barbara airlines. When the plane landed, we all got off and hiked across the tarmac to the terminal. When we got inside, Shay and Jeanne made a beeline for the bathrooms, leaving Shay and I to guard our small pile of bags. While we were sitting there, a gentleman in a porters uniform came up and asked for our baggage tickets.

“Tiene los boletos for sus equipajes?”

Unfortunately, they were in the lady’s bathroom with Jeanne.

“No, mi amiga tiene.”

“¿Y adónde va?” [And where are you going?]

“A Valencia.” [To Valencia.]

His eyes widened.

“Aquí no esta Valencia. ¡Esta Barquisimeto!” [This isn’t Valencia. It’s Barquisimeto!]

Whoops. The plane was still on the tarmac, it’s nosecone pointed away from us and the engines idling. I told Shay to get on the plane, went to the door of each of the bathrooms and shouted “This isn’t Valencia!” “Oh, crap!” responded Jeanne’s voice from back in the stalls.

We all raced out to the plane, where the stewardess was waiting for us and looking bemused. Before taking off, the pilot made a special trip back to tell us that if we had not gotten back onto the plane, it would be 4 hours by car to Valencia. I thanked him for waiting for us. “De nada” he replied, nobly.

We finally landed in Valencia, and a sign on the airport terminal confirmed it. While standing on the tarmac, I pointed back at the nose cone, and then we all went in to claim our bags. We were assigned a cab, given a price (20,000 Bs.) and off we went to Puerto Cabello.

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Valencia to Puerto Cabello, and our taxi driver talked the whole way. He told us that we should always be careful where we park, because there are thieves everywhere. He told us he’d been beat up outside a bar just a week ago. He turned on the light turned towards me, and spent an alarming amount of time pointing out bruises on his face. We passed a barefoot boy flying a kite on the highway, and he told us the different names for kites.

A ‘zamura’ is an arched kite, with a stick running straight down the middle. A second stick provides the leading edge of the arch. A ‘cometa’ is a kite with a cruciform frame consisting of a vertical and horizontal stick of equal lengths. A ‘papagayo’, popular in the Mérida area, is like a ‘cometa’ but is turned 45° so that the sticks form an ‘X’ instead of a ‘+’.

His glove box popped open, and he leaned over and started searching the floor at my feet for something. I didn’t understand what he was looking for, but he spent a lot of time down there. The taxi kept going generally forward as he rummaged under the seat. Finally he emerged with a small piece of plastic. He explained that since thieves had broken into his glovebox recently, he needed the wedge to keep it closed.

Then he pulled alongside the highway and asked us all to get out. We did, standing alongside the highway while traffic roared by and cars swerved around us. I wondered if this was a test. Were the thieves he’d warned us of waiting to pounce? But no, he just wanted to show us a a hot spring resort just off the highway. Las Trincheras resort includes the second-hottest springs in the world, at 98°C, or 208.4°F. You can boil an egg in the springs in 4 minutes. (The hottest springs in the world, incidentally, are in Urijimo, Japan.)

Finally we arrived at the Suit Caribe hotel in Puerto Cabello. Our contact in Caracas told us that it wasn’t a great hotel, but it was the best in town. Our taxi driver told us it was very expensive (~US$50 per night), and that the one just down the street was much less expensive.

I’m fairly pleased with the hotel. It has all of the ambiance of a non-refurbished Motel 6, but the common areas border on classy.

Once we all checked in, we went down to the bar, where I offered to buy everyone a drink. I really wanted a martini, even after learning that the bar only stocked Gordons and Tanqueray gin. This expedition requires sacrifices, however, so I ordered a Tanqueray martini. Tyler got a gin & tonic, and Shay ordered a coke.

The martini came, and it was yellow. This didn’t register until I took a sip. It was at least half vermouth. Meanwhile Jeanne arrived and ordered one as well, despite my warning that it was sweet. We sipped and made faces.

Finally I couldn’t stand it any more. I ordered another, ‘¡Muy seco!’ It came yellow, and tasted the same. I ordered a third, ‘¡Muy muy muy muy muy seco!’ It was arrived a bright urine yellow. I was going to reject it out-of-hand, but my amigos chided me for judging a book by its cover. I took a sip, my toes curled, and my short hairs straightened. Bleah!

I wanted a good martini, damn it, so I went to the bar and demanded that the bartender bring me a shaker filled with ice, vermouth, and gin. I poured a small amount of vermouth on the ice, shook it, and strained out the vermouth. Then I poured in some gin and shook again. Meanwhile the bartender had filled a martini glass with ice. (So he knew something.) I emptied the glass of ice and poured out the resulting fluid, which was clear as rainwater. The bartenders eyes widened, and he quietly said “Ahhhh!”

It wasn’t a great martini (it was, after all, Tanqueray), but it was passable. I only drank the one, but with the sips from the other three, I was pretty toasted. It was a good night.

The next morning I had barely staggered from bed when my phone rang. “Hello, Ron! It’s Jesus!” This person was way too perky to be divine, so it had to be Jesus Delgado, who is APL’s agent assigned to help us obtain our vehicles. I asked for 15 minutes and told him I would meet him in the lobby.

When I got downstairs, Jeanne and Tyler were already there. We ate breakfast, and then drove off to downtown Puerto Cabello.

Our first stop was Transcarveca, where Laura Valbuena was supposed to act as our customs agent. Unfortunately, Laura told us, our shipment was much smaller than she dealt with. If we were shipping 1000 vehicles, we should keep her in mind. But 3, well, no.

No problem. Jesus knew another customs agent, P.R.G. We went off to their offices. Unfortunately, they were not able to help either, but they knew another customs agent who may have recently done something like this.

I have to stop for a moment to say that Pto. Cabello is lousy with customs agents. You see their offices everywhere with signs saying ‘Aduanera’ or ‘Agente de Aduana’. You can’t throw a cobblestone without knocking over two or three customs agents. The problem seemed to be that they preferred bigger jobs than two containers for three customers who were only passing through and didn’t want to pay import taxes.

But luckily, ‘Aduanera Mareka, C.A.’ agreed to help us. Franklin R. Quero is the Head of Operations and a huge guy shaped roughly like a 50-gallon oil drum. He’s almost always on the phone, yelling something at someone. When he talks he speaks quickly and then stares at you until you agree. He agreed to talk to customs to find out what was necessary and then give us a rough cost estimate. He told us to come back after 2:30pm. He stared at us. We agreed.

Then we went off to Jesus’s office, where we found out that payment had still not been received by APL for the shipment. Jeanne called Alicia at DMY and asked her what was going on. Alicia told Jeanne that she was sorry, but the streets of Miami (and Alicia’s home) were under several feet of water. Apparently a tornado was also in the vicinity. Oh, and Alicia needed a ‘negotiable bill of lading’ before she could sent the check.

About this time, an earthquake struck Puerto Cabello. A small earthquake, but we all were feeling that though Jesus was on our side, God definitely was not.

While Jesus faxed a negotiable bill of lading to Alicia, I tried to relax by watching the office aquarium. The aquarium was small, approximately 10 gallons, and contained roughly a half-dozen trout-sized goldfish. The space was made more confined by the addition of several aquarium decor items. A life-sized Disney’s Little Mermaid crab gestured excitedly with two huge, pointy claws, which the fish kept bumping into. On the other side of the tank, a miniature garbage can contained the bubbling remains of a drowned Goofy. In the middle of the tank, a plastic plant floated upside down from the surface.

I didn’t find the aquarium relaxing.

I returned to Jesus’s office, where Jeanne is examining the Bills of Lading. There are some errors. My van is listed as an ‘1191 Volkswagen Van’, possibly drawn by oxen. The VIN numbers of my van and Tyler’s are incorrect. Lastly, Jeanne’s van is missing from the B.L. entirely.

We send an email about these problems and go to lunch. At my urging, we eat at a Very Fancy restaurant called ‘Mar y Sol’ (Calle El Mercado 6-110). It’s fantastic, and they even have Perrier, and I down three small bottles, which together probably cost as much as a good bottle of Chilean wine. Jeanne and Shay both are delighted to find crayfish on the menu. I order a seafood casserole. Everything’s excellent, but heavy by California standards.

When we return from lunch, the typos have been fixed, Jeanne’s car has been found, and Andy Dodge calls from APL to say that the requirement that the check be present has been waved in our case. But the records weren’t yet updated, so we sat around the office waiting. After 2:30 we tried called Sr. Quero, but his number was busy constantly.

Finally we left Jeanne to staff the office while Jesus, Tyler, and I went over to the offices of AM to get a status update. We found Sr. Quero yelling into his cell phone. After a suitable length of yelling, he hung up and told us what he’d learned.

The news was good. We simply need the following items. In each case, we need both the original and a photocopy:

  1. Our visa or (in Tyler’s case) Entry Card. Jeanne and I got visas in San Francisco. Tyler got a Tarjeta de Ingreso at customs when he flew into Caracas.
  2. Our passports.
  3. Our original vehicle title.
  4. The Bills of Lading.

Sr. Quero would charge us $500 for all three vehicles to perform the customs footwork, which includes all government fees. This is a lot less than we were expecting. (We had heard that a customs agent would charge $300 per vehicle.)

Tonight we’re going for drinks with Jesus. (I can’t help but giggle writing that last sentence. Immature, I know.)

Tomorrow we’re going to get the required documents to Sr. Quero, and tomorrow evening at approximately 7pm our ship should arrive. The container should be unloaded sometime Friday afternoon, and if we’re lucky, we may be on the road Friday. Otherwise, we’ll depart from Puerto Cabello on October 9th, approximately 9 days behind our original schedule.


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