Sunday, August 28, 2005

Core business for U.S. Customs


The "Three Musketeers" drove out of Vancouver, as soon as the rush hour had subsided. Crammed into the front cab of our Series 2, we were excited and upbeat. Sardines on happy pills. A row of New Zealand apples had also hitched a ride. Like rotund red soldiers, they were lined up on what passes for a dashboard in the Land Rover.

It had been sad saying good bye to Eric and Linda. They had been such a great support and so positive about the expedition. They hoped they would visit New Zealand in about three years. At that point, three years seemed liked a million years away. But, with the email problem fixed, we would be able to keep in touch. And, we still do today. (Hey, Eric, if you’re reading this it’s now been SEVEN years since you promised to visit. Come on over!)

F2 took the bus, as there was no room in our Series 2 Land Rover. We would meet in Seattle, where F1 would collect his Series One Land Rover.

We saw some amazing signs on the entire expedition. Many were in North America as, from our point of view, they have a curious way with words. Just north of the US/Canada border we spotted a sign: "Respect slow moving agricultural vehicles". Maybe this was meant to be a warning about possible encounters with tractors crawling along the country lanes. I suppose they couldn’t say, "This is a country area. Slow down you impatient city slickers". As Land Rovers are considered to be an agricultural vehicle in New Zealand, especially older ones, we took this as a good omen for the expedition.

In fact, I thought they were giving us a special welcome at the border. As we slowed to join the queue of cars I could see a large sign. From the distance I could just make out the letters on the first word "RESPECT", but the rest was a blur. TH has very good eyesight. "Uh oh", he groaned, and then, "How fast can you eat those apples?"

The sign said: RESPECT OUR FRUIT MARKET – DO NOT IMPORT FRUIT AND VEGETABLES. I had been munching on the apples almost as soon as we left Vancouver. From the battalion that we set off with, a small squad of four remained. Food lover I might be, but scoffing this lot in a few minutes was beyond even me.

A tall, rangy looking border guard was slouched at his post, on the American side of the border. He looked bored, giving each vehicle and its number plate (licence plate) a desultory glance, before waving it through. All the cars in front of us had either Canadian or USA licence plates. In less than a minute we were at the front of the line.

Our appearance had a galvanising effect. Lazarus rising from the dead! He sprang out into the road in front of us, raising his hand into a "HALT" position. He inspected our Land Rover, walking completely around it. He stopped at my window, which was the passenger side in our right-hand-drive vehicle. I saw his look of astonishment when he realised I didn’t have a steering wheel in front of me. However, as I was sitting in what he considered was the driving seat, he addressed all of his questions to me.

Unfortunately, I could barely understand him. He had a thick, southern state American accent and spoke with what was probably his local jargon, "Y’all got a licence for this here buggy?" (He pronounced "this" as "they-is" and "here" as "hay – er").

TH has a real talent for language and accents. I gave him a frantic look. TH translated, "He wants to know if we have a road registration." I gave the border guard a wide smiling yes and pointed to our New Zealand registration sticker on the windscreen.

Like most countries, we pay a tax (registration) to our government to drive on the roads, which is linked to the number (licence) plate on the car. On payment each year, stickers are issued to show that the vehicle’s registration is current. Our stickers are rather dull. They are small, white and rectangular, with the vehicle’s identification (number (licence) plate) printed in black computer-generated ink, which includes a bar code. It all makes sense if you are familiar with how the numbers work. Understandably, Americans are not used to our system. Adding to the confusion, New Zealand records the date as dd/mm/yyyy, whereas Americans work in the format of mm/dd/yyyy.

The sticker was on the top left hand corner of the windscreen, facing outwards. From my position in the seat directly behind it, I could see the confused expression of the border guard, as he stared at our registration sticker. He could not make head or tail of it.

I started rifling through our official papers folder for our "Carnet de Passages en Douane", (a sort of passport for a vehicle). As long as a vehicle is registered in its own country, having a Carnet (pronounced car-nay) means it is exempt road tax/charges in most other countries it is driven through. We had purchased a Carnet before leaving New Zealand, as we knew it was essential for many countries, although it is not usually required for foreign vehicles passing through USA or Canada. For more information about a Carnet check out:

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tripplan/paper/#CarnetExplain
or
http://bptravel.tripod.com/vechimpt.htm

I flapped the Carnet triumphantly out of the window. However, the guard waved this aside. I think he’d decided the vehicle was all too hard. Instead, I think he probably thought we were illegal immigrants, especially as we didn’t seem understand English very well. He asked for our passports.

Although New Zealanders don’t need a visa for USA, I had visited the US Embassy in Auckland to obtain one for each of us. I knew we’d be driving across the Canadian and possibly the Mexican border a couple of times and, as we would be in "funny looking Jeeps", I knew visas would smooth our way. Thank goodness, they worked. Our guard diligently inspected our passports and visas, lifting his eyes to scrutinise each one of us in turn. This was something he really understood.

He took his time. I reached out for one of the apples, thinking I could eat my way through the wait. They looked so inviting with their polished red skins gleaming in the sunlight. And then it hit me. With all of the fuss over vehicle registration, I had forgotten to declare the apples. It was true that he hadn’t asked, either. But, that was probably not going to count in our favour. "Here comes trouble", I thought.

I sat there turning over excuses and explanations in my head. The guard seemed to be taking an absolute age. Finally, he nodded and handed the passports back. Despite all the convincing phrases I had silently practised, I blurted out "We’ve got these" and pointed to the apples.

He barely glanced at them. "They-er are ray-ed", he drawled, "grain (green) ay-ples are bay-inned". I peered desperately at TH for another translation. He’s wicked, you know. He smiled up at the guard and said, "Ma wy-ife is a bay-it de-af."

The guard returned the smile sympathetically. He turned back to me and shouted "Ray-ed ay-ples OK."

We all thanked the guard and scooted out of there. I gave TH a hard dig in the ribs for his cheekiness. He grinned back at me, "have another apple, sweet-hayart."

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Vancouver Vacation

Photo: Cleveland Dam/Lake Capilano, North Vancouver, with "lions"

We cruised into Vancouver just on dusk, catching the tail end of the rush hour. Crawling along in the traffic we had time to admire this pretty city. The lights were starting to twinkle on and, in the fading light, I could just make out some hills or mountain ranges hugging the harbour.

Before long, we pulled into the North Vancouver driveway of our Canadian friends, Eric & Linda. What a welcome they gave us – warm, happy, enthusiastic and very friendly. It was just like home and, like us, they had Rover cars in their garage, too.

I had met Eric via the Rover Car of Canada, when we were both the editors of our respective Rover Car Club magazines. In the days before email, we had exchanged our magazine. A correspondence and a friendship had grown between us.

Eric had been my guiding light for clearing American Customs at the start of the expedition. The length of this task had forced us to stay three nights at our arrival port of Seattle. Each evening, I rang Eric & Linda to advise of our progress and whether we thought we’d be joining them the next day. They were always reassuring and they inspired me to remain patient, rather than charge through, "bull at a gate" style that I am prone to. It’s probably because of their wise advice that I eventually talked my way through U.S. Customs, rather than get arrested for shouting and swearing.

And, here we were at last in their warm and comfortable home. The next few days became a pleasant hiatus after all the work/stress to date and before we would finally set off in earnest.

Vancouver is an attractive place. We toured around admiring its many charms, swayed on the Capilano swing bridge, craned our necks to admire Lions’ Bridge and also at the totem poles in Stanley Park. I particularly loved the Cleveland Dam and Capilano Lake area near Eric & Linda’s home, with its "picture postcard" Canadian beauty. Two sharp peaks in the mountain range soaring above the lake are called "The Lions". On the way there, I got all eager and excited when we passed a road sign warning of bears in the area. But, it was too early in spring and they were probably still hibernating. For now, I’d have to be content with the "lions".

One evening we ate at the fabulous "Salmon House". Now, I’m not much of a fish fan but I had never before (or since) tasted such wonderful salmon. This was wild (not farmed) sock-eye salmon, grilled over an open flame with green alderwood. Wow, sock it to me, baby! The restaurant décor is wood and slate. Very posh, yet comfy. And, as the restaurant is perched in the hills above Vancouver, the view is to die for. www.salmonhouse.com

While the days were idyllic, there was plenty to curse about at night. We were travelling with a lap top computer and wanted to use email to keep in contact. This was 1998 and early days for portable computing and emailing from "abroad". Internet cafes were not common then.

We had two different modems – one for a data capable mobile phone and the other for use with a landline. These days, of course, the modem is a combined device, and Internet Cafes abound. Back then, knowledge about using such technology when away from home was very limited. Almost up until the day of our departure from New Zealand, our mobile phone provider was not even sure how it would work, including the I-Pass numbers. They managed to find the one person in the country who knew enough to talk us through the steps. TH spent an intense hour on the phone with him to learn the ropes.

It didn’t work in Seattle and it didn’t work in Vancouver, either. TH and Eric spent long hours each night working on it, testing, re-installing programs, re-testing and talking to "experts". I have the greatest admiration that they just stuck at it, especially as Eric is a Mac user, until the numerous problems were solved. The root of all computer evils (nothing has changed today, of course) was with the program of a well-known, giant computer company, based in Seattle. Without TH and Eric’s dedication, I’m sure a laptop would have been hurled through that company’s windows, when we headed south once more.

Monday 9 March 1998 was our last rest day in Vancouver - Day 7 in my diary. I was recording each day in three-digit format and I was rather amused when I typed in 007. Round the word odyssey - licensed to thrill?

However, it proved to be a very quiet day. We had now been joined by our two travel companions - F1 and F2 (Friend 1 who owned the Series One Land Rover, and his partner, F2) TH and F1 repacked and re-arranged our two-seater Series 2 Land Rover to fit an extra person. The three of us would be driving back to Seattle together, so that F1 could collect the Series One Land Rover, which was waiting at our shipping agent. I spent the day writing my regular expedition article for a British Land Rover magazine. F2 embroidered. The rain poured down outside. Inside, spirits seemed damp and subdued. The weight of what was to come was pressing down once more.

Suddenly, the doorbell clanged into life. F2 and I started in surprise. Eric and Linda were both at work. We wondered who had splashed their way to the front door. I peered out. How bizarre - there was a delivery person holding a large box, which was emblazoned with "New Zealand Apples from ENZA". I flung open the door, so the poor wet man could "splodge" his way inside.

It turned out to be a gift from one our sponsors, ENZA, the then New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board http://www.enza.co.nz/ It’s amazing how a taste from home can lift your spirits. The day was no longer quiet. We crunched and munched happily, while the earlier depression dissipated. It began to feel like we were finally ready to go.

Some might say, "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away", but my motto is "on a full stomach, anything is possible". This was to serve me well throughout the expedition.

© Eventful Woman, 2005
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Monday, August 15, 2005

Signs of the times

One thing that really took my fancy throughout the expedition was the signs. No, not the "road to Damascus" ones! The advertising / road / and instruction signs that we encountered along the way.

Like on our very first night away from home:

After a marathon 16-hour flight from New Zealand, via LA, we staggered onto the downtown Seattle airport shuttle bus. On arrival, and as befitting an expedition on a "shoe-string", we checked into a central city back packers, and collapsed onto our bunk beds.

But, in just a few minutes my stomach started growling and gnawing with hunger. I tossed about. Sleep was impossible. I moaned to TH that we’d have to go foraging for a meal. TH can go for hours on an empty stomach, but I get rather irascible when I’m hungry (well, so I am told).

There were a few grams of energy left to heave ourselves up and off on the quest for food. It seemed a scruffy part of town and we quickly ventured into a handy "greasy spoon" - a Chinese restaurant with the unlikely name of "Tropical Deli". It was a very silent meal, while I shovelled in fork loads of food. TH looked white and exhausted. He just pecked at his meal, with his eyes closed for most of the time.

Food normally perks me up, but even I felt like I could barely make it back to the hostel.

Stumbling out of the restaurant, TH suddenly pointed across the road to a "massage parlour". There was a huge sign above it, which said:

"50 beautiful girls PLUS 3 ugly ones"

It was just the lift we needed. We laughed right out loud, holding onto each other to stay upright. We almost skipped back to our lodgings, and were still chuckling as we clambered back into out bunks.

We both fell asleep almost immediately.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Monday, August 08, 2005

The Road to Canada is Paved with Gold

(Photo: Land Rover and totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver)

The burden of leaving my home and the wearying "show down" with U.S. Customs fell off me, as we headed north from Seattle to Vancouver.

Tonight we would be sleeping in a safe haven at the home of Canadian friends. The sky was bluer and I’d like the say that the grass was greener, but we were still on motorways. For the first time in days I felt free.

On reaching open country I leaned out the Land Rover window and sucked in great gusts of crisp spring air. Hundreds of trees were bursting into blossom, a weird sight from the autumn we had just left in New Zealand. While this made me feel I was in a parallel universe (in a galaxy far, far away), I didn’t care. I was very happy.

We swung into Canadian Customs with high enthusiasm. We got a few questions about where we were going and how long it would take. Then, they asked to see our drivers’ licences and our on-going air tickets. I groaned inwardly at this. Thinking that we wouldn’t need the tickets for two months, we had packed them in a safe place in a bottom storage locker of the Land Rover. Now, we would have to unpack everything to get at them.

TH showed them his driver’s licence first, which was snuggled up next to his gold credit card in his wallet. The Customs Officer spied the gold card. These are very common in New Zealand but, as we soon learned, rather rare in Canada at that time.

"Is that a GOLD credit card, Sir?"

"Yes"

"May I see it, Sir?"

TH handed it over. It has his photo, as well as his signature on it.

Careful comparisons were made with his passport photo and signature.

I was rather nervous at this sudden focus on credit cards, and I stopped hauling our possessions out of the back of the Land Rover. I pretended to fiddle with a latch, while I covertly studied the Customs Officer’s body language. He was concentrating on the comparison job. I tried to "read" whether his actions were simply professional or something more sinister.

He suddenly beamed at TH, "That all seems to be in order, Sir. With one of these cards, I know you will be able to fund your trip. You may proceed".

Well, how about that? It was a huge and pleasant surprise. TH slung the few things I had dragged out of the Land Rover back into place. We both grinned at the Officer, and sailed out of there as fast as an old Land Rover could.

The man actually saluted us.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

American Love Affair

Photo: Land Rovers in LA, California (Click on the photo to increase its size)

Driving on the right (to us wrong) side of the road was the start of an affair. There we were in old, slow, quaint, non-American vehicles, usually motoring sedately along around 45 - 50 m.p.h ( 70 - 80 km). Before we began the expedition, I wondered what the Americans would think of the Land Rovers.

From the moment we hit the freeway north out of Seattle the people loved them. Friendly toots and waves, cameras clicking with everyone smiling and grinning. Kids were agog. They would peer out their back windows, mouths open and keep on waving until the vehicles they were in were too far out of sight in front.

When we stopped it was like being minor rock stars. During our morning "cuppas" in roadside rest areas people would cluster around. They loved our accents. They loved our matching "sweaters" and most of all they loved our "awesome trucks".

TH and I were working as a photojournalism team and so, despite the historic look of the Land Rovers, we were equipped with the latest technology. At that stage (1998) digital cameras were quite rare. They also looked quite odd compared with traditional cameras.

Many people regretted they didn’t have their cameras with them, when they met up with us. TH would whip out the digital camera and photograph them standing them in front of the Land Rover. They often didn’t recognise it was a camera and frequently they looked stunned in the photos. I called this the "I’ve been captured by aliens" look.

TH would download the image into our laptop (far less common then, too), hook it up to the portable printer, and crank out a photo right before their eyes. People would be incredulous. They couldn’t accept the incongruity of modern technology, and an "antique jeep", all at the same time. They would stare with astonishment at the photo in their hands, then up at the Land Rover, and then back down to the photo again. Sometimes they’d turn the photo over and look at the back. I wondered if they were expecting to see photo of themselves with an alien, as well.

After awhile they would recover their manners, thank us very much and wander away scratching their heads. We’d sometimes hear them muttering things to themselves like "dang" and "wait until I show honey and the kids."

Most people waited until we had stopped by the side of the road to talk to us. However, in California we were almost run off the road by a very excited driver in a huge "yank tank". He was "parping" his horn and vigorously signalling us to pull over. I thought that one of our wheels was about to fall off, or he was going to shoot us.

However, he had seen the "Lucas" logos on the side of the Land Rovers. His name was Lucas and he thought he had found some long lost cousins from "Noo Zeeeee-land".

(Note: although the expedition was sponsored by Repco New Zealand, they had chosen their global brand name of "Lucas" to name the expedition in all countries (except in NZ and Australia, where Repco was better known))

We never quite got used to all the attention on American roads, which was only matched later on by the people in India. But, it was a wonderful beginning to our expedition in USA.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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