Our container was supposed to arrive last Wednesday, but didn’t. This is not unusual. Freighters have a loose schedule. Ports or times may change as freighters make their way through their planned itinerary and possibly pick up a new load or get a stop added. We called around noon on Thursday and the ship still hadn’t docked. Later, we found out it docked late in the afternoon but our Customs Agent hadn’t been able to make contact with the port. YEAH! Our stuff is in Grenada.
We called our Customs Agent contact bright and early on Friday and they still hadn’t made contact. This is a crazy time of year at the port. Businesses are getting extra materials and ‘stuff’, lots of people are sending down barrels of food and presents for family and more food is coming in for the holiday buying spree. We hung around on Friday, watched the rain, and wished for a phone call to tell us to come to the port to claim our goods, but it never came.
The port is closed on Saturdays and Sundays so our next possible date was Monday. Now I’m getting anxious because Christmas is a BIG holiday in Grenada and many people take off at least the whole week before Christmas and often the week after as well. Our construction crew left on Friday (Dec. 18th) and wished us both a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We won’t see them again until January 4th!
We got the call around 9:30 Monday morning to come to the port. We are working with a Customs Agent whose job is to work with the port to get the container placed on the ground and in an area where it can be unpacked, provide a port contact to walk us through every part of the process, provide man power to unpack the container and load everything onto trucks, then deliver everything to our house and unload it a second time, into our house. We met the owner and he reviewed all our paperwork before we went into the port to be sure we had everything in order and told us we’d be working with his onsite contact, Kurt.
Kurt got us expedited access into the port which was great because there was a huge line waiting to get pedestrian access passes. This is similar to paying airline porters to smooth the way through check in. Once we got cleared, we met with the Customs Officer. He reviewed our paperwork and assigned a Customs Inspector to supervise the opening and unloading of the container. Meanwhile, Kurt has gone to find our container and he met us as we were coming out of the customs office.
The port is huge and BUSY. There are trucks coming into the port to drop off goods to be shipped, lots of trucks leaving the port with goods being delivered all over the island, there are huge cranes moving containers around and lots of people walking everywhere – Freight Handlers, Customs Agents, Inspectors, people receiving their goods, truckers, loaders, etc. As an outsider, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason but everything made perfect sense to Kurt who was able to locate our container quickly in a huge mass of containers that mostly looked exactly alike and confirmed that it was ‘on the ground’. This means it was the bottom container and didn’t need to be moved before we could begin unloading.
The container was secured with our personal lock, a special numbered seal and a port lock which needed to be removed, in our presence. Kurt came back with a huge pair of bolt cutters and after a few tries, got the port lock removed. Michael cut the seal and opened our lock. Michael and Kurt unlatched both doors and swung them open wide. I was holding my breath, and yipped with joy as the interior of the container filled with light.
Everything was exactly as we had packed it. This is amazing to me – the container had been craned onto a ship, traveled over a rolling sea for 8 days, then craned off and moved, probably multiple times, within the yard. Michael’s braces held perfectly, it didn’t look like ANYTHING shifted and there was no visible damage to any of the boxes. YAHOO!
Within 3 minutes, three trucks arrived with about 6 guys and they began unpacking the container and loading their trucks. Michael guided them, pointing out things that were really heavy or fragile etc.
I worked with the Customs Inspector checking off each box against my master list. It was invaluable having a really organized inventory – it made everyone think we knew what we were doing and added a lot of credibility. I had everything organized in a formal notebook with tabs for the detailed inventory, the appraisal for our owned goods and Michael’s photography equipment, plus all the invoices for all the new goods. These invoices and the appraisal were cross referenced to the master inventory. In addition to numbering the boxes, I had written the main items in each box which, of course, matched the detailed inventory. After really inspecting the first few boxes as they came off the container, reading the contents listed on the box and then marking the box on the master inventory, the Customs Inspector relaxed and actually let me do the checking off box by box and just helped by calling out numbers. After a while, he even left to oversee the unpacking of another container that was nearby.
At one point, it began raining. Tarps were quickly produced and our belongings were covered while we all took a rain break in the container. We are at the very end of the rainy season and it is still raining on and off every day. Showers are fairly short 10-20 minutes but they are fierce. This was our biggest concern – particularly for the art. We had packed most of the art at the front of the container and planned to transfer it last so it would have the shortest amount of time to be exposed to the fickle weather. By noon, all three trucks were loaded and Kurt escorted us back to the Customs Officer.
The Customs Officer relooked at all our paperwork, conferred with the Inspector who oversaw the unloading of our container, made some calculations and completed some official looking paperwork. Duty is comprised of 4 parts, the duty assigned to each new item, the weight of the shipment, the amount of insurance paid and 15% VAT. He said our detailed paperwork made his job easy and dismissed us.
Kurt now took us back to his office and his boss, Mr. George, grumbled that the Customs Officer hadn’t calced any of the duty on the individual items in our 106 boxes of new items. It took him probably another hour to calc all the duty. He has a book 3 inches thick that details each item. He rarely looked at it but when he did, he opened the book to within 2-3 pages of what he needed and quickly found the information he was looking for. It was very impressive watching him work, but it was tedious. After he was done, he had 45 categories of items that are all taxed differently. IE – candlesticks that are metal are taxed differently than if they were glass. Black tea is taxed differently than green tea. The amount of detail was dizzying. Finally, all the calculations were done and we knew our number and could head back to the port to pay the duty and get our trucks released.
It’s now 2:30 and we get a look at the line to pay duty. It’s really long so Kurt tries to see if he can work some back room magic but there are no duty cashiers on break that could help us. Kurt then takes me to another office about a block away and there is only one person at the window. Success !?! Or not …. I get to the window and this agent doesn’t have a credit card machine. We really want to pay via credit card because we get 2% cash back and this is a large charge (although much less than we feared). Since we never carry a balance, this is a no brainer discount each time we use our card. We now go to another office around the corner and get on the line there – only 5 people in front of me. The sky is darkening and I’m hoping the tarps will keep things dry if it starts raining again. Once again, Kurt is sweet talking the agents, trying to get us through, but every system is in use and the network speed is really slow with the heavy load.
Michael had called our credit card company to let them know the charge was coming through so they wouldn’t decline it because it was a large, overseas charge. (They know we are in Grenada but the system has arbitrary blocks that trigger from time to time). So when I finally get to the window at about 3:15, I confidently hand over my card. Declined. UGH! Try again, please? Declined. I ask if I can just step aside while this gets straightened out so I don’t have to go the end of the line (about 12 people deep). They agree. I call Michael who is still inside the port and ask him to call Capital One again. He does and finds out they approved his card, but mine has a different number and that is why it was declined. They do some magic and say try again. This time everything goes as planned and I get a magic piece of paper that will allow is to release the trucks …. after one more hurdle.
We go back to the main port just as it starts to pour rain and head to the Yard Office. This is where they match the duty paperwork up with the trucks and provide THE piece of paper that will allow the trucks to pass through the gate. It is 4:30. We headed out before we ate breakfast and haven’t had time for lunch. I’m starving and worried about our belongings getting drenched. Fortunately, the truck workers have placed two more layers of tarps over our goods.
I get into one of the trucks to guide them to our house. Michael heads out in advance to open the gates, unlock the house and secure Mick. I’m in a large workingman’s flatbed truck – nothing pretty about it – it’s huge, no upholstery, hole in the floor, dented up, shifts horribly, rumbles down the road and I realize I’m on the “other side” of traffic. What I mean by this is – I’m the big, rumbling truck that is hogging more than half the road, with a blaring horn, running yellow lights and making everyone else scatter. Amazing. Between honking for friends, pretty women and other cars, plus grinding gears every several hundred feet we make quite the racket as we lumber down the road.
I’m trying to figure out how we are going to get these big trucks up our skinny, winding driveway that I cautiously navigate each day and the driver just tears up the driveway – no problem. He knows the dimensions of the truck, exactly, and the only potential casualty is a branch of Frangipani that is hanging too far into the driveway and gets brushed aside by the huge mirrors. Now the unloading can begin.
It’s getting really dark again and we know the rain will be coming, fast and furious, shortly. We unload the Art and furniture truck first. All this will be stored in the garage until the living room is complete and it’s unloaded fast. The workers are efficient and moving quickly but are also really careful with anything that is remotely fragile. I’m impressed and pleased. They have been a complete joy to work with.
The second truck pulls into position and again unloading begins. I’m at the truck directing where boxes are to go – garage, kitchen, bedroom or office and Michael is everywhere else making sure things are ending up in the right place and are stacked well.
As the third truck pulls into place and we begin to unload, the rain starts. Serious rain is pouring down and the wind is howling. Luckily for us, the wind is whipping from the water and the house is protecting the garage opening from getting wet and we’ve got the truck as close to the door as possible. We are now moving everything into the garage as fast as we can and then organizing the boxes in groups to be moved to the right location. Soon everything is sorted out, moved to the correct location and the workers leave with money in their hands and smiles on their faces. A job very well done.
Michael and I collapse on the patio with sandwiches that Nadica has made for us and big glasses of water. We relax, review the day and start thinking about the huge job of unboxing everything that lies ahead. We are so thankful everything appears to have made the trip brilliantly and they are in our possession once again. Next, unpacking, unpacking, unpacking.