After a 14 hour flight to Taipei and another five hour flight to Jakarta I was greeted with the news that my Polaris RZR-S, which was suppose to have arrived November 21 was now 8 days late and still stuck in the port customs yard. Maybe stuck is too strong, but certainly snarled in paperwork.
Whenever you give two governments the opportunity to play together, well they don’t. So after having jumped through all of the US export hurdles we still need to jump through all of the Indonesian import hurdles which I am sorry to say are a bit more manual. One of the little details that everyone involved apparently did not know is that Indonesia has some very strict vehicle import laws. A typical automobile will have a 300% import tariff so they frown on the idea of someone sneaking a vehicle in the back door. Of course we shipped the RZR not knowing this and our agent in Indonesia either failed to let us know or simply decided to wait to tell us that, even if you plan to simply ship your rig here and drive it around and send it home, the Indonesian customs people are not exactly inclined to trust that you have good intentions.
So as I arrive in Jakarta it was looking like my RZR-S, which I shipped from the US on Oct 21st was not going to make it to the starting line in Pontinak on the island of Borneo. By the way, in Indonesia they refer to Borneo as Kalamantan and I have to admit, I have no real idea why we insist on calling it something different but its seems to be a territorial vs. geographic issue. Indonesia vs Malaysia vs The Sultanate of Brunei, all of which share ownership of Borneo.
Oh, back to the port of Jakarta and customs. As I mentioned, they don’t simply take you word for things. As it turns out my good friends and hosts, the Indonesian Offroad Federation had to go to great lengths to assure the customs people that I was a good guy. In fact they initially had to put up a 20 dollar letter of credit just in case I decide to sell it to a farmer on Borneo. Forfeit if I don’t ship the RZR-S home. A considerable risk if you think that there is a chance that a severe failure might mean we have to abandon her in the jungle. The Minister of Tourism jumped in and wrote the customs folks a note telling them to chill out. Despite customs laws Indonesia is eager to have us come here and do some offroading.
Okay now we have most of the t’s crossed but timing is not on our side. The caravan leaves Pontinak on Dec 6 and today is Dec 2 and its a two day ferry ride from Jakarta. My new found friend Hendrik of Cheeta Offroad and one of the main organizers loads me up and we head to the port of Jakarta. Now the port of Jakarta is simply something that you have to experience to truly understand. Imagine the absolute worst traffic mess you have ever seen and substitute huge cargo container laden trucks for the cars in your vision and then fill in every small gap with thousands of scooters of every sort all slipping through intersections with little regard for the poor traffic cop attempting to coordinate this chaos and then realize that nothing in Indonesia is centralized. You don’t just go down to a single place and get things taken care of, oh no grasshoppa. You will make plenty of stops. Our first was the customs office at the International import dock. If you go there looking for a sign, you won’t find it. In fact there is no indication whatsoever which building or door you need to enter and there are plenty of both. After parking in a spot at the end of a curb that would certainly get you towed in the US and walking around the back of a building that is under expansion and listening to Hendrik jabber into his phone for about ten minutes near the back door we enter a building that is utterly and completely jammed with guys all holding blue folders, which is apparently the standard for the huge stack of customs paperwork each shipment requires, we press our way past a mass of humanity down a long hall way to a back room full of easily identified customs agents all wearing the same dark blue semi-official looking “customs” shirts, sitting at tiny desks. This appears to be the place where blue folders originate. But as I stand in the corner trying to look like a gargoyle I realize that of the twentyish blue shirts in the room, only one is doing anything. This blue shirt is rapidly scanning a large pile of blue folders and checking and cross checking and stamping with a small pile of stamps and never looking up. While all around him other blue shirts are watching a soccer game on the TV in the corner or jabbering with each other, lazily smoking a cigarette or simply sleeping in their chairs. At least two of these guys must have had a late night.
Hendrik makes a beeline for one of the blue shirts and spends a few minutes clearly pleading our case, which quickly is repeated for another blue shirt and then the blue shirts decide they need to take the case to the little woman in the big office. It’s quite large and she has a big desk and speaks quickly and sharply with authority. I don’t speak a word of Indonesian but I am certain that the one sided conversation is this. “You got to be kidding, get out of my office and take the gargoyle with you. You will never get that stupid RZR out of here, I’m giving it to my kids for Christmas, now go away before I taunt you some more”. She has really bad teeth so I know were screwed. After at least 30 minutes of back and forth and pointing of fingers, paper shuffling etc. we leave. I really have no clue what just happened. I doubt it was positive because Hendrik simply says “We need to go down the street”. I am beginning to like Hendrik, he is a real offroad enthusiast and shows me photos of his Ford Everest all tricked out for offroading. We don’t have these in the US, but they are about the size of a Toyota 4Runner. You can tell this is going to be a long story can’t you?
Okay I’ll cut to the chase. We visit a total of four different customs offices that day and the scene is pretty much a repeat. We (Hendrik) plead our case to one, then two then more than a big boss and we are sent down the street. Curiously our entourage grows at each stop. Apparently Hendrik has enlisted his own shipping agent to help plead the case and a stop later, an agent from my shipping company Ritra cargo joins us and we are hammering these poor customs guys big time now. Hendrik is swaggering around like John Wayne wielding his Indonesian Offroad Credentials and a letter from the Minister of Tourism like a pair of colt 45s. Frankly I still have no clue what is happening but Hendrik Wayne has the Indonesian wild west well in hand and when we hit the final stop, the Customs tax office, its apparent this guy was warned not to mess with us and he quickly signs everything and we leave in under two minutes. Everyone in these offices is keenly interested in the Expedition. By the time we leave each office, a literal crowd had gathered to hear the story about the crazy American who was planning to drive across Kalamantan. A few speak English and quiz me endlessly about the RZR. They have never seen one here and it’s hard to explain. A few just want to practice their English and one asks me to critique his Texas accent. He’s never spoken to an American but he learned fluent English watching movies. Smart guy I’d say.
Alas it’s after 5pm and the Port is closed. No RZR today but we hatch a plan to exercise her from her iron cage at 7am and get her on the ferry headed to Pontinak. Of course we figure out that I will need to be headed to the Airport at that time and Hendrik Wayne is on his own to face down what will certainly be more bad Hombres. I have confidence in Hendrik but in the back of my mind I keep hearing Plan B. Plan B was that the RZR would not ship on time and it would need to be loaded on a truck at a southern port on Borneo and travel 500 miles to meet us in the middle. About five days into the trip after I have ridden passenger in someone else’s rig. It’s not a pretty picture and I am keeping the faith.
As my flight landed in Pontianak and a large tour bus worked its way in to town from the airport, we got a call form Hendrik saying she was on the Ferry. SWEETNESS.
Jungle Here I come.