It was disappointing to arrive in India by plane. The airport did not seem appropriate for this adventure and being without Rhonda for the first time was strange.
I went through the usual ritual of being ripped off by the airport taxi (here comes some more fresh bait) and arrived at the hotel a few minutes and a short conversation later. I finished arguing over the price with the driver and stepped out to be greeted instantly by Alex and Vidya who had travelled the 14 hours from Goa by jeep to help me in any way they could in my first few days. My heroes for sure!
Alex is from Scotland and has lived in Goa for about 4 years now. He runs a motorbike adventure company called Nomadic Knights with his beautiful Indian wife Vidya. They make a great team! Although we had not met before, we had spoken many times via Skype and email to discuss business over the last year. Nomadic Knights is a recommended tour company on RedMoto Adventures (my business). We found out that night, that we got on just as well over a few beers and some good food as we did doing business together.
The next couple of days was spent chasing Rhonda and trying to find out what had happened to her! Flying her in was supposed to avoid the delays associated with sailing and yet Rhonda was nowhere to be seen and no one, initially seemed to have a clue! It turns out Air India had given Rhonda a complimentary tour of India without me. The generosity did not end there though! Oh no! These guys know how to treat a star like Rhonda. They flew her first to Delhi and then over to Chicago before flying in to Hyderabad and then finally, on Friday afternoon, she was delivered to Mumbai. Air India! What can I say? The worst thing was not knowing what was happening. It took a call to the head of Air India (thanks to my lovely contact Neeta) in the end to get the info.
Once we knew she had landed and had been handed over to customs we went straight in to action stations. We were told by the agent to stay at the hotel until we were called as he was processing the paperwork for us. We decided to ignore this advice and head straight over the cargo area and find a way of getting in sooner. Once at the gates I called the agent and told him we had arrived. It turns out nothing was being done! The agent had no clue as to how to handle this cargo and so had just been sitting on the paperwork. However, he was forced in to action by our arrival and we were escorted to an office where we met another agent who believed he could help us. It was now around 2pm and I was keen to get the ball rolling.
“So how long is this going to take?” I said “Can we get her out today?”
The agent laughed and shook his head. “No madam. This is going to take a few days”
“A few days? Surely you are joking. Why will this take so long?”
“This is India madam” came the reply.
I felt my temper rising. I was not in the mood for this having waited for 2 days to get this far. I was due to arrive at the MTM event on the Sunday as a guest speaker and Destinations Unlimited had arranged an itinerary from there. It was also costing me a small fortune to stay near the airport. Alex and Vidya were not budging either until they knew I had Rhonda and the job was done.
After a few minutes of arguing over the reasons behind this state of affairs and getting more and more worked up but getting the same response, I decided to change tact and go for a more subtle approach. Get him on side.
I changed my tone, explained what I was doing and suggested that I had a press conference on Sunday with all of the Indian press attending (ahem!)
“I am so glad you are here to help us. You are clearly a man who can make things happen and with your experience I’m sure we can get her out by the end of the day tomorrow”.
He looked at me and hesitated before replying. He was clearly thinking this through. He looked at his phone and then back at me before offering us some tea. We graciously accepted and did our best to drink it despite it being the worst tea I have ever had! We discussed my route and Vidya who had come in to the office with me(leaving the mad Scotsman in the car) explained how they had come all this way to help as it was such an amazing thing and they felt they wanted to be a small part of it (women are good at this stuff!) Eventually he picked up the phone and made a few calls to find out what would be required. His face had changed to a more thoughtful and less stubborn look.
|Getting the all important letter|
To seal the deal I made a call whilst in his office to Neeta from DU, who had been helping with contacts within the Airline and made a show of telling her that we had found the right man to help us and we would have her ready for the conference. All was not lost.
Unfortunately the calls revealed that customs required a letter from the Indian automobile club and their office was across town. It was now 5pm and there was no way we would make it in time before they closed. We were also told that this letter could take several days as they needed to get some kind of confirmation from the RAC who issue the carnet.
We would not be beaten though. The next morning we headed to the office and waited on the steps for them to open. Once again we left the lovely, possibly less tactful Alex, in the car and went on the gentle attack. Within one hour we were done. Letter in hand with no charge. They agreed to let us have it before the confirming email came back.
We battled our way back through town and by lunchtime, armed with 2 litres of petrol in my handbag and the required paperwork I left the Alex and Vidya outside (only one pass was allowed) and started work on the customs, along with my agent, who by now was thinking the same way and had assured me we would give it our best shot!
It was hot. Very hot! There were a lot of procedures to go through. I was told to expect charges of around £500. 2 hours in and I was then told clearance could not happen today as it was a Saturday. Eventually I got an audience with the commissioner himself who decided to grant me permission. 2 more hours and Rhonda was being taken out of her crate. Just another 20 minutes or so and I would be free!!!! Another 2 hours and I was ready to do a Steve McQueen out of there. In fact I felt my patience drain on the final hurdle that had arisen just as I was inching towards the gates. More paperwork issues. I said I was going anyway and started pushing Rhonda towards the gates. 5 guys instantly jumped in front of me and calmed me down, or at least tried!
By 7pm we were free with a final bill of just half what I had expected to pay.
|Riding in to MTM|
Now I can assure you no bribes were given and no tears were shed, although both were on hand as a last resort! I was told by customs that this was the fastest time they had ever done and they all actually seemed proud of their work! In fact they were a good bunch and once they had all started working together for the same goal, it actually worked quite well. No one seemed to be trying to stop this or be awkward. It genuinely was just a lot of work and a lot of red tape to get through. None of which could be avoided. I was given tea and water throughout and one lady in customs was even determined to feed me. I think she must have asked me 5 or 6 times if I wanted a sandwich!
All hale the Indian Customs! Thanks to them, Rhonda and I were reunited in time for our presentation and the wonderful Alex and Vidi could go home at long last after a 7 hour wait in a roasting jeep, not to mention 4 days in Mumbai! I was soaked through and I still had a presentation to prepare but it didn't matter. I was a tired but very happy bunny!
The next day I was greeted by a few guys and girls on Enfields and escorted out of Mumbai and over to the Motorcycle Travellers Meet where I would meet some fellow bikers and share my story so far.
It was a lovely day. I met some really interesting people all sharing a passion for biking and adventure and Rhonda was most definitely the star of the show! Good old Rhonda! MTM are working on a video of the day which I will share just as soon as it arrives!
I left late in the day with Khooram. An Enfield rider who has decided to join me for a while. More about him later but for now........
Onwards to Surat.