Robn Returns to Trinidad

(Note from Robn, written Friday, 6 Nov.)

I set a new record for being away from Heidi – only 4 months after the previous record of almost 4 months away while I was in Turkey and Germany with Dave. This time it was almost 5 months in the USA, visiting friends and family (his and mine), making purchases, making tools, sorting stuff from and for storage, getting to know new computers and smart phones, improving health, changing my address, replacing passport and driver’s license, voting, along with a bit of hiking and kayaking, and assorted activities like my going to see Bernie Sanders and later Dead and Company (the rock band). Far too much to cram into the 2 months originally guessed at.

Eventually the list got short enough that I started the job of figuring out how to get as much as possible to our boats. Quite a job! What should go to Heidi, in Trinidad, what should go to Alegría in Turkey, what should go into storage, and what to do with the rest. How to distribute the stuff, also, so that the weight came in at 49.5 lbs for each checked bag AND stuff like “cannot afford to lose” plus not allowed to check (like lithium batteries) are in carry-on AND all those things not allowed in carry on are in checked bags. I think I must have repacked stuff a dozen times or more! Luckily this was all a giant puzzle of the kind I enjoy.

As of now, there is only one item that we have lost track of the whereabouts of, and I reckon it will turn up somewhere. (Update 10 Nov. Dave just found it. It was in his backpack all along. Oops.)

Dave and I finally left Seattle together and flew to upstate NY to visit my brother, Adrian, and his wife Kate. Then Dave flew on to Turkey to check on his boat and drop off the purchases for Alegría . I stayed a couple more days and attended my first ever rock concert by Dead and Company. I had been concerned about the volume since I don’t care for high decibels, but it was manageable – not as loud as Trinidad Carnival. I really enjoyed the solo drums.

Then Adrian and Kate dropped me off in Lincoln, MA (where I grew up) to visit another friend and I had a wonderful visit with her for almost a week. Nothing (almost) to do with boats and parts shopping and errands. It is always great to just visit and I am so glad that I got to see so many of you. And sorry to not have seen everyone, but it was a VERY busy 5 months.

Finally it was time to return to Heidi. For the first time that I can remember, I checked in and dropped off my bags without anyone asking for proof of on-going transportation – normally required whenever you have a one way international ticket. I paid 80$ to get to the airport and another 300 TT to get from POS (the airport) to my boat – 47$US. The air fare cost 145$(!) only a tad more. I might have been able to reduce the ground transportation a little bit but at the cost of having to deal with 150 lbs of luggage – which could risk messing up my back and hips. They are working better than they have in years, due to a wonderful massage therapy called SRT, that Mike & Susan introduced us to.

For some reason, I find the hassles of getting through customs and immigration to be quite interesting and nearly always make for stories to add to my collection. This time was no exception. Dave likes to take supplements but is picky about the brand and not interested in just grabbing something off the shelf, so I had a year’s worth of supplement pills in my luggage for him. And that is a LOT! We also do a fair amount of epoxy work which requires precise measurements in varying quantities. Syringes (without needles) make excellent measuring and dispensing tools. They and disposable gloves are easy to come by and we wouldn’t normally be lugging them around, but there were a lot of good ones in storage and so they were packed up and brought to the boat.

When I unpacked, I found, again, a TSA notice of inspection. And a bit of a minor mess. There was a little film canister with melatonin in it that got smushed open or improperly closed and some of the pills had powdered and dusted the contents of the suitcase.

On seeing that, and taking another look at the contents from a fresh perspective, I can just imagine those TSA guys thinking they had hit the jackpot! Pill bottles galore, plus syringes galore, plus two bags of disposable gloves – maybe even the tools adding to their suspicions. I’ll bet they were very thorough with their tests and disappointed by the results. I didn’t check to see if they had broken any seals on the vitamin bottles. Sure glad there were no false positives!

On the plane I had to fill out the custom’s declaration form and despite years of travel I never know what to put down. There were 6 or so lines on the form, and I had more like 50 plus items if I were to itemize everything. I was glad that they handed the forms out early and that I had 3 seats in the last row all to myself so that I could dig out my paperwork and figure out how to summarize it all. I suspect that a lot of people just walk on through without bothering to declare stuff, but I’m just not comfortable doing that. I summarized the stuff into categories of tools, boat parts, and neoprene (wet suit and material). Wrote down an approximation of the value of each category, not knowing what the exchange rate is currently. Left it unsigned pending a conversation with the custom’s agent. Also left out the supplements, not knowing whether they were supposed to be listed – until advised.

So I went to the “something to declare” line which only had one other person already being served. Certainly cut down the time in line. The agent looked at my boat papers and asked some questions – like “how many bottles of supplements?”
“Geez, I didn’t count them. Lots.”
“What sort of boat parts?”
“Well, like the neoprene for sealing the mast base . . “
“Do you know about “Yacht in Transit” Rules?”
“Of course.”
“You’re supposed to have all the boat stuff in a separate box and leave it here until you’ve done the paperwork in Chaguaramas,” he said.

Well, no, I hadn’t come across the idea of leaving it behind before, although I didn’t say anything to that effect. That idea sure didn’t appeal since returning to the airport is very inconvenient – to say the least.

I told him it was all scattered and mixed up because the TSA requires the lithium batteries to be in the cabin and the tools to be in the checked luggage, and there are weight issues, and padding issues, and, and I really didn’t want to have to sort it all out.

He interrupted me with “How much value altogether?”
“Not counting the supplements, about 500 US dollars.”
I still didn’t know whether supplements were subject to duty or could be considered boat stuff.
He said, “Go. No charge. Consider it a Christmas present.”

So I signed the paper and was cleared. Whew!

Many boaters have a very low opinion of some of the Customs officials in any country. They accuse them of unnecessary hassling in order to get you to bribe them.

I am certainly glad that this one data point was a very nice man, just doing his job. Even without ‘unnecessary hassling,’ bringing things into a country for a boat can be a LOT worse.

They can hold your luggage, while you have to travel all over creation, getting stamps and forms and who knows what. And, I arrived at 9:10PM on Thursday, 5 Nov. Can you spell ‘Overtime’? Imagine if I had to go wake up half a dozen officials to ‘get stamps and forms and who knows what?’ Generally, going directly to Chaguaramas Customs IS the protocol regardless of the hour, but in the past it was with parts in hand (although I found the place locked up one time.) If the stuff is left at the airport, it might well have been possible to deal with it in the morning. Any protocol is fine by me, it is the inconsistency that bothers me. Despite rules of thumb, one can never be sure of what will happen.

Yes, I was quite pleased.

My taxi driver helped get everything down below into Heidi’s cabin and I started to settle in. Almost everything about Heidi looked surprisingly clean. Less damage to the varnish this time from the air conditioner. I’m pleased. Unpacked everything and put away everything that I had a place for. Lots of stuff still needs to be assigned a place, however, which is always a challenge since all the places are already in use!

Looked to see if any of my Trinidad sim cards were still active. Nope.

Finally got to bed about 2:15 AM according to my cell phone, but I’m not at all sure which time zone that was. I had flown from Boston, to Houston, to Trinidad. When did it last get reset? I had no access to the internet that night, but it might have picked up a WiFi signal somewhere on its own and updated it. My trip had started at 5AM and I had been up until midnight getting ready. But I wasn’t really tired, having been able to nap on those three seats during the flight, and I actually thought that I might have trouble sleeping. I didn’t. I fell asleep almost immediately which I rarely do and four hours later I was wide awake and refreshed. But it was barely dawn so I managed to go back to sleep.

Come morning I gathered my papers and my sim cards and devices, pumped up the flat bicycle tires, and biked over to Crew’s Inn. Immigration first. I’d already been through immigration at the airport but they only gave me 2 days which is common. No one has been able to figure out why sometimes they give you 90 days and sometimes only 2. There is that inconsistency again. So Friday I got the second stamp in my brand new passport and I’m now good till Feb 4th. I stuck my head into Customs to ask if I needed to check in with them and they said no. So that all went pretty darn smoothly. Thank you, Universe!

Getting my sim cards back up and running took a dozen trips back and forth between the bMobile store and the place 2 doors down that sells the top ups. Even the store clerks got confused about the options so that made me feel better. Maybe I could handle one set of ridiculous rules and package options but since every few months a new country means a totally different set of options and codes, I do get confused.

Tomorrow I need to go to the market and stock up my empty larder. Today I lived on almonds and raisins that I brought with me and a couple of bananas that I bought today. Yesterday it was fruit salad and yogurt for breakfast, followed by nuts and raisins. A bit redundant but plenty filling enough and simple.

Hope all is well with you and would love to hear what’s up – totally boring stuff as well as highlights. The boring stuff IS part of the stuff of life and helps join everything else together.

Cheers, Robn


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