Bye-bye bikes…

(James) Having made it to Kathmandu, our number one job the following morning was to head to the office of our shipping agent to start the process for freighting the bikes. Once we’d met with Suraj, who runs the company Eagle Exports (see our links page for his details should you need them), we went down to measure up the bikes in the underground garage across the road where they were parked (a tape measure in the dark with no measurements  being recorded hinted at possible problems down the line but we let them get on with it!) This whole process only took about fifteen minutes and then we went back to the office to get all the paperwork sorted which wasn’t half as painful as we’d envisaged (or maybe our standards and expectations have dropped after having become accustomed to such bureaucracy in Central Asia!) Within a couple of hours (most of which was taken up with chatting to Suraj), we’d completed all the required forms, promised to come to Suraj’s house for dinner (all part of the service!) and  agreed on a price based on the expected volume of our crates – no easy matter. Airlines charge either by volume (there’s some complicated formula for this) or, once the cargo goes over a certain volumetric size, by actual weight.  It’s a lot cheaper if you can pay by the volume formula so the onus is on you to make your crate as small as possible, i.e. taking front wheels and handle bars off etc. However, that was something we’d worry about at the airport tomorrow and for now we had the rest of the day to ourselves.

We’d agreed to meet Fabian for brunch as he’d found a café that he claimed served an amazing Eggs Hollandaise – not something we’d normally think of looking out for but Fabian really had been waxing lyrical and insisted we try it. We had to admit it was really very good, especially as our taste buds hadn’t experienced anything like it for months! The rest of our first day was spent wandering around the streets of Thamel, sitting in cafes reading and catching up on our diary. It felt nice just not having anything to do or anywhere to go and the three of us enjoyed every moment. Thamel was without doubt the most tourist filled place we’d been too since Istanbul and really came alive in the evening when the shop sellers and restaurant staff went into overdrive trying to get you into their establishments. Bars  (and of course the odd Irish themed pub!)started blaring out western music and it was much more how we’d imagine Bangkok might be. Of course, given such a concentration of tourists (mostly fresh off the plane) in one small area, the night-time brought out the seedier side of the city and hustlers and the like were out in force. Despite the large police presence in the area, there was also a shockingly large number of very young local kids in the streets sniffing glue quite openly. They certainly weren’t afraid of being hassled by the police who presumably were only there to prevent crime against valuable western tourists and obviously felt that they weren’t  paid enough deal with any problems that fell outside this primary concern. All rather depressing.

The following morning, having done some laundry (of pretty much everything we own!) in the shower and rigged up a washing line that criss-crossed several times back and forth across our room (ah, the glamour of international travel!) we put on our riding gear, gathered all of our documentation and headed down to get our bikes from the garage. We’d just popped into the office to confirm our meeting time and place when I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see Juan! Small world! After agreeing to meet up with him later we got the bikes, joined Fabian and Suraj on theirs and headed off into the morning rush hour towards the airport. This didn’t exactly prove to be easy as Suraj, on his little 125cc, went shooting off into the traffic and quickly disappeared through gaps that we were never going to get through (and Fabian certainly wasn’t!) Fortunately we managed to find Suraj after a few minutes and continued on our way. Having made it out of the worst of the traffic, we arrived at the airport and turned into the cargo warehouse, parking up outside a bustling cargo dock. Within a minute or so we were ushered inside so, each in turn, we mounted the large step and rode carefully inside the warehouse, picking our way through a maze of crates, boxes and packages and over to a less busy corner where, hopefully, we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. There we waited, slightly nervously, for the carpenter to arrive with the wood for our crates. Twenty minutes later he appeared and we helped him unload two dozen wooden frames and the corresponding sheets of ply.  Having established which bits were for each bike – so tight were the margins of error when measuring the bikes up to ensure every available cubic centimetre of space was used, that even Em’s and my bike (mine is a few centimetres wider at the rear due to my pannier frame) were different sizes – we laid out all the pieces in front of a gathering crowd.

With that, we began to prepare the bikes, one at a time (Em: mine first!) First we rolled the bike onto the base section and, after removing the front mudguard and the front wheel, gently lowered the forks down to a wooden block. Once in place, we strapped the bike down extra tightly (to squeeze the suspension at the rear and save us valuable centimetres) so it was free standing, and repeated the trick at the front, also removing the front screen and the handlebars (this would help to reduce the width of the crate). Now that the bike was firmly in place, the rear of the crate was shortened by the carpenter to fit the bike exactly, leaving perhaps a centimetre to spare, and the end walls were fitted. Meanwhile, we set about strapping down all those parts that had been removed, plus the panniers and other luggage that we wouldn’t be needing for the flight, pushing them flush up against the bike or into any remaining gaps. Then, with everything secured (the bottom of the crate is just a wooden trellis  so anything loose could easily fall down and out through the gaps), we set about fitting the sides. Finally, with all four sides now attached it only remained for us to stuff our riding gear in on top so Em popped off to the toilets to change whilst I finished packing her gear, and at last, with everything snugly fitted, the top was nailed down and a relieved Emily watched her crate being pushed to the side by some of the two dozen spectators we’d had since our arrival in the morning (three large motorcycles being ridden into the warehouse before being broken down obviously not an everyday occurrence).  We repeated the process with my bike and had a little scare when, despite our warnings to take the pannier widths into account when they were measuring up the previous day, once all four sides of my crate had been fixed in place, it appeared that the carpenter hadn’t actually allowed sufficient space to fit the panniers in. (Em: It was very stressful! I was panicking that they’d have to make a whole new crate but James didn’t seem too worried and sure enough the carpenter set about making some adaptations and soon all was well again!) I started to take my riding boots off, and then my trousers, next to the crate, reasoning that the workers wouldn’t be too bothered about me and, of course, they weren’t. But I had forgotten that I was wearing a pair of Em’s turquoise pants (plain lycra-type shorts not frilly girly ones!)  and although they were fairly unisex to glance at, the girly colour left little doubt  to anyone watching! (Em: I can’t believe James is admitting this to the world…) In my defence, I’d been forced to occasionally borrow from Em ever since some of my own had been stolen off the line in India reducing me to just two pairs (a lack of space means that anything more than 3 pairs of pants, socks or t-shirts is just self-indulgent!)  I mean, seriously, who nicks second hand underwear??!!!!….  Either way, it  caused great hilarity for Em and Fabian, and probably for anyone else who noticed – not my finest hour!…… But more importantly, all three bikes  were boxed up and all that remained, we hoped, was to weigh the crates, finalise any remaining paperwork and, of course, get our exportation documents signed and stamped.

One at a time each of the crates were slid over to a large set of scales and manhandled up on top to be weighed before being ‘gently lowered’ (dropped) off the other side. Emily’s crate weighed in at a dainty 270kg, mine was a slightly more portly 280kg while Fabian’s tipped the scales at a quite frankly lardy 380kg! (He does carry way too much crap on his bike, a source of constant piss-taking!!) We said a last goodbye as our surprisingly small ‘packages’ were pushed away (hoping it wouldn’t be the last time we saw them…) then went to pick up our now stamped papers where we were surprised to be told by Suraj that we were done. However, as we walked off across  the car park, we were called back. Upon re-entering the warehouse, we were told that another, more senior, customs official seemed to have a problem and that one crate (mine as it happened) had been selected to be re-opened  for an inspection! We could see all of the crates on the other side of a fenced off secure area which I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to enter. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t happy with that and we made it clear that if they wanted to open my crate, they’d have to let me watch (who knows what things can disappear from or find their way into your crate when you’re not looking?!) which eventually they did. Given that the crate had been not only nailed shut but also sealed with metal strapping, and given that throughout the afternoon  we’d had custom officials standing over us to ensure we crated according to their rules, such as disconnecting the bike’s battery and draining the tanks of fuel, I wasn’t exactly thrilled but, as we’ve learnt, customs officials are the one group of people that you have to keep sweet as they really can make things awkward for you if you get on the wrong side of them. I was also a tad concerned as we’d managed to make a sneaky agreement with a more junior official which had seen him turn  blind eye to us keeping our remaining fuel in our tanks (enough to make it to a petrol station in Bangkok) in return for us ‘donating’ a couple of empty water bottles filled with some of the petrol Fabian still had in his jerry can.

Eventually the man in question turned up and I asked very politely asked why customs needed to look inside my box  when they’d sat watching me dismantle the bike and then pack the crate not 10 metres away from where we were standing for the last five hours. He explained that his junior staff and the other officials hadn’t  followed the correct protocols for shipping this type of cargo, protocols that he was trying to implement as standard operating procedure within the warehouse. (Em: I, meanwhile, was on the other side of the fence getting a bit mad – it was hardly our fault they hadn’t done their job properly. It didn’t help that I was really hungry by this point which makes me moody at the best of times! Good thing James was keeping his head.) Clearly being agreeable was going to be the most productive approach here so I did all I could to say I totally understood, and that in a secure environment a rigid adherence to procedure was essential and how clearly both of us had been inconvenienced by these slackers. It seemed to do the trick as, despite my constant urging that we’d better go and open the crate, he eventually decided that inconveniencing the two of us, ‘the victims in all this’, further wouldn’t benefit anybody, and so set about giving a good old fashioned bollocking to those who’d been deemed at fault for wasting his time and that of a clearly law-abiding foreigner (ahem!). With that we were done; the bikes were packed and ready to go and we were able to head back into town, bikeless (and feeling slightly incomplete) for the first time in over 20,000 kilometres.

9 Responses to “Bye-bye bikes…”

  1. Dan says:

    You are such a fag James… As if you haven’t been borrowing from her since before the trip

  2. Jackson says:

    Well I know what to get you for chritsmas now James….I just never imagined I’d have to go shopping for them in La Senza

  3. Downunder says:

    hi Guys, this is just to wish you an advanced happy new year for 2011. All well here with the temp tomorrow schedualed to hit 40. we will miss you around the pool whilst we are eating Lobster, always the same on the 30th. Rather boring really.Look after one another and enjoy the rest of the excursion.

  4. janine says:

    hello from everyone in istanbul. i missed something – what is the reason you’re shipping your bikes?

  5. Vincent (Belgium) says:

    Hi there,
    I wish you both a happy new year and safe travels! It’s been already 6 months since I met you both in Turkey (at a gas station). I’m already looking for my next trip this summer.

  6. Uli says:

    Hello from Munich. I wish you a happy new year and a cool further trip. Reading your blog make me dream of more travelling.


  7. julian says:

    I see that my daughter has married a pyschologist with questionable dress sense!

  8. Motoventurers says:

    Hi Janine,
    Happy New Year! We had to fly the bikes from Kathmandu to Bangkok as it’s nigh on impossible to ride through Burma on your own transport. A shame, but crating up the bikes was quite an adventure in itself! xxx

  9. janine says:

    got it. enjoy burma!

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