shipping (or not)

Today was to be the day we shipped to Venezuela. At this point, we’re not sure if this will be happening. Jeanne is in the next room yelling at our forwarding agent, so things aren’t looking too good.

But first some background. When we started planning this adventure, we heard from a fellow Vanagon owner at American President Lines (APL) who owned a Vanagon and wanted to help us plan the adventure. Jahan said that he could get us a good rate, and we liked the sound of that.

The rate we were quoted was $2100 for a 40-foot container, and $1190 for a 20-foot container. In addition there were paperwork fees of $100, and a fee of $85 for running the paperwork from place to place. Running the paperwork around and making things happen are done by a ‘forwarding company.’ We used the DMY Forwarding Company of Miami, which has quite a bit of experience with shipping autos and heavy equipment. They recommended we ship with Seaboard, but we decided to stay with APL. This was a mistake, unfortunately.

We drove the vehicles to Southern Star Lines, where APL was having the vehicles packed into the containers. Laura, our forwarding agent, met us there. The first glitch was that Laura needed our original titles, and mine was in California. (I brought copies.) Easily solved. A phone call to my boyfriend and the title was on its way to Miami, with FedEx morning delivery.

Next we each signed a power of attorney allowing Laura to sign papers on our behalf related to shipping our vehicles. Laura was worrying that APL had not sent her a ‘letter of intent’ needed to get the vehicles through U.S. customs. (US customs is primarily interested that the vehicle has not been stolen.)

We called, and APL insisted that they needed a container number before issuing the letter of intent. APL, however, was supposed to be providing the containers. They hadn’t. Later we also found out that the gentleman who was supposed to do the packing could not be found and wasn’t returning phone calls.

We got a rental car and came back to the hotel. We ate at ‘La Esquina de Tejas’, a Cuban restaurant (they all were, actually) which was pretty proud of a visit there by then-president Ronald Reagan in 1988. The waitresses’ aprons are proudly embroidered with the date and the motto ‘Historic Presidential Visit’, and there is a special ‘Presidential Dinner’ on the menu. (Jeanne ordered it. Half of a roasted chicken, black beans and rice, sweet fried plantains, flan, and café cubano.)

Miami is so Cuban! The majority of the people we’ve met do not speak English, and driving around it feels like we’re already in Latin America. Customs, soft drinks, and signs in groceries (entirely in Spanish) are all different from anywhere else I’ve been.

Then we came back, Jeanne called Jahan at APL, and the yelling commenced. The problem is that APL doesn’t seem to really understand what’s happening here. They’ve hired a guy to pack the container, but never delivered the container to him. Meanwhile, he’s disappeared, and APL is asking DMY Forwarding for the container number before they will issue the letter of intent. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why APL doesn’t know the numbers of the containers they’re supplying, but the entire shipping process seems incredibly obtuse.

Jahan works out of Oakland, and seems embarrassed by the problems we’re having on the East Coast. He’s going to try to expedite things for us, but our forwarding agent doesn’t have a lot of hope for our vans to ship on the 18th as planned. Most likely they’ll have to go on the next ship, which arrives in Venezuela on the 28th.

We’ve decided to continue with our plan to fly to Venezuela tomorrow. We’ve booked a room at the Savoy in Caracas. We’ll call Laura to arrange delivery of our paperwork to Venezuela, and to find out when things will arrive. While waiting, we’ll try to find out how to get a libretta (carnet), and we may visit Angel Falls.

If this were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not, and I’m feeling somewhat discouraged. Jeanne, who has done months of work on our shipping plans, is frantic and has taken up chain-smoking. This is our first test. I hope that we can learn to deal (and roll with) these sorts of stresses.


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