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21 November, 2015


All my calculations ended up becoming future plans as soon as I started going through the paperwork to get Athena out of customs at the airport.

When I decided to ship Athena to India, I knew I would face one of the most bureaucratic bureaucracies in the world. However, since coming to India in 2009 and 2010 to produce the Violence Against Women story, I knew that there were things left to see and, bringing the bike to its country of origin would allow me to perform some core maintenance at a relatively low cost.

I decided I wanted to experience the process of getting the bike out of customs by myself. I appear to be a ping pong ball bouncing around the offices looking where to start the clearance process until I arrive at the office of one of the customs’ big bosses.

There, a small man with agitated breathing and shaky hands hands me a sheet with all the requirements needed to clear the bike from customs. It’sWednesday afternoon. “Pacience”, I tell myself. They offer me a cup of tea.

To start the process, I need a letter from the Automotive Association of India. To get it, I go to the other side of Delhi where their offices are at and I am told that to make this letter I will need an email from the Spanish Automotive Club that says my Carnet du Passage (a document that allows you to temporary import a vehicle) is legitimate. Since you need to leave a Bank Guarantee to get this going, some people have faked this document before.

The letter also has a cost of 10,000 Ruppes (~140Eur) After protesting, they reduce to 4,000 Rupees (~50Eur) They assure me they’ll have the letter ready for the next day, which makes me think that all of this is just theatre to make some money off of me and there will be no email sent to Spain.

When I go to pick up the letter they say there had been no reply from Spain. My fears of having Athena trapped at customs during the weekend had cemented. A friend of mine from Vintage Rides, a company that organises motobike tours in India and the place where I took my course in bike mechanic and where they sometimes also export bikes, calls me and tells me that everything they say is legitimate as is the cost of the letter.

I correct the mistake of not having called Spain and asked for the email reply to be sped up. With the difference in times, the email reply takes a few hours. Now, I finally have the letter which will create a reversed domino effect to the course I’ve been on until now.

With the letter in hand, I go again inside the office of the big boss at customs. I give all the paperwork to his secretary. He asks for a folder where he can place all of my papers inside. Since I had no folder with me, he takes a dusty folder out of a cabinet, blows the dust off this one and replaces its contents with my paperwork. He tells me I can’t take the bike out yet, it’s Friday afternoon, but that we can commence the clearing process. To sweeten the wait, they offer me another cup of tea, this time with an apple, while my paperwork gets all the seals and signatures needed filling every space available in the multiple sheets of paper.

There is a memory torturing me since I decided to ship the bike to India. This memory is about the many offices I’ve seen in my travels, where furniture is filled up with folders and paperwork, stacking even in the most improbable of spaces, with layers of dust for months.

With another tea on the table, they ask me to come back Monday at 11am. That day I was finally able to open the cage where Athena had been trapped since it left South Korea. Around me, like from an ant colony, people come out to see me assemble the bike.

Half an hour later Athena is ready to go. I put my helmet on and I head to the custom offices for one last time. The secretary that ran with all my paperwork around looking for seals and signatures greets me with a smile. His breathing still agitated and his hands still shaking. He hands my Carnet du Passage to the big boss. The last signature with the last seal and the last cup of tea, this time with a banana on the side.

It’s night time when I leave customs. After five days of paperwork, seals and signatures, I’ve freed Athena and we can now go across India together.


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