(Daniel) We woke up today, knowing that this was our last day in Pakistan. Everyone was energised, ready to conquer our last few hurdles, enabling us to leave the country.
I’d arranged with Dart Asia to pick us up from the hotel at around 10am, but time ticked past and at 10.30 I started to call the office, but got no reply. It sounds silly now, but this really panicked me at the time. I thought of some crazy scenarios. Perhaps this was some elaborate scheme to con me out of the vehicle, or like the taxi driver who just couldn’t resist the temptation someone had snapped and gone AWOL with the truck. Maybe Dart were frantically searching for the container that never made it to the Dry Dock this morning. But then the Hotel phone rang, and Tariq told me that they were just waiting for some paperwork to be completed. I asked if we would be picked up soon, but he wasn’t sure.
I delayed our customs meetup until 12, so that we could get some money from town, and collect the Camera recovery disc that a shop in town was creating, after Rowan accidentally deleted his photos. I can’t put into words how frustrating it is that not only have I lost most of my photos from Lahore, but by pure coincidence, so has Rowan at the same time. Hence the lack of pictures from these last few days. You will just have to take my word, but we had some really good ones!
We hailed a rickshaw into town, stopping first at the bank, then the Camera shop, and eventually returning to the Guesthouse as the boys from Dart pulled up to collect us. The three of us travelled together to the Dry Dock on the outskirts of Lahore. As we got out of the vehicle, the guys worryingly told us to be extremely careful of our possessions, as the Dry Dock is a very dangerous place, and is filled with unsavoury characters. Where was this advice yesterday, I thought? We walked to the Offices, a shed at the end of a dingy street of buildings and warehouses, and found the ground handlers. After this we drove around to the container entry road where our unit was waiting. Rowan and Gabby went into the container and collected any items which they needed for their trip to Nepal, leaving anything which they didn’t require behind. After closing the container again, the boys from Dart explained that it would be best if I went back to the dry dock alone, and Rowan and Gabbs waited in the car. I had a feeling that some bakshish was about to be requested. I walked with the agents back to the dock and into the shed which was also the customs office.
I put the paperwork in front of who I thought must be the lead man, and he looked through it with an unrecognising eye. The other men with me seemed to be very forcefully pointing out the pages and information, and although he didn’t seem to know what he was looking at, he eventually made some notes and handed back the Carnet documents to my representatives. We would apparently require an inspection, before the documents could be completed. The next step would be to have the vehicle brought in the container to the customs office for weighing and then dropped into the customs yard for a comprehensive inspection. This last bit worried me, as if there was going to be a sting in the tail this is where it would happen.
We waited a long while for the container to arrive, meanwhile the Dart Asia guys and the Captain, who had now arrived on scene, kept me entertained with a tour of the container yard. It surprised me how easily I could gain access to the yard that had so many items within it for shipping. After an hour or so, a tractor arrived pulling our container behind it, this was duly driven onto a huge weigh station, and recorded. The trailer then drove off and unloaded, returning a while later to be weighed again without the container. The weight of the tractor, trailer and container was then deducted from the total. Before the sheet was handed over, the Captain asked me what I thought the vehicle and trailer weighed, 4 tonnes was my guess, and to my mild surprise, I was spot on. The weigh in completed, we walked back to the customs office, and presented the officials with the printout, they then authorised an inspection, which would take place in the container yard. We sat around waiting for someone to tell us to go to the vehicle, and as the time dragged on I felt more and more for Rowan and Gabby who were still sitting in the car park outside. Eventually, I walked out to them, and tried to make them feel better by bringing them up to speed. They seemed pretty cool about the wait, so I walked back to the others. As I approached, an inspector came and ushered me back towards the container yard.
Back at the yard, the customs inspectors were already sitting around drinking tea, and no work seemed to be going on. After another half an hour, I was asked to open the container, which I did. When the doors were open, I opened the bonnet, and doors of the vehicle and trailer. Four men came in and started to inspect the vehicle, checking everything very thoroughly. They inspected the chassis and engine numbers, although I cross checked them with the carnet, which defeated the purpose of the inspection somewhat. Then they started with the inside of the vehicle, and trailer. This was a really comprehensive inspection, to the level where they took stock cubes out of the kitchen and crumbled them to check for drugs, then used their fingers to mould them back into shape. I threw these away, and started to ask about the necessity of this detail that they were going to. My feeling at the time, was that they were doing this for payment, in other words they would keep digging until I paid them to go away. My answer was to point out that this was not a normal case, but I am a tourist, and much less likely to pay. Later on I realised that a country like Pakistan has to take security very seriously, and this might have been a consideration also.
Frustrated with not being able to access the vehicle in the box, they ordered me to drive the vehicle out of the container. I told them that it had been emptied of fuel, which in fact it hadn’t, I had simply switched the fuel tanks over. The search escalated as sniffer dogs were brought in, and were allowed free roam of the vehicle. I waited while the dogs did their job, and quietly worried that perhaps one of these men had planted something, after all you never know what is coming next when a potential bribe is involved. Eventually however, the men seemed satisfied. We returned with their report to the customs office and sat down with the officials again.
The men sat around talking about the paperwork, and slowly filled out the carnet. Once I had this in my hand I was happy that I needed nothing else, and went to leave. At which the customs officials told me that I would have to pay them 5000 rupees for their services. I had not expected this, and tried to refuse, but one of the Dart Asia guys stepped in and paid them off. Thinking about it now, our rush job was probably only successful because someone was paying under the table bakshish to make it happen. However, at the end of all of this effort, we had achieved what we set out to do. The vehicle was sealed and on it’s way to Karachi, I had my completed Carnet and we would even have time for dinner this evening. I walked back to the car elated, and feeling lighter. Together with Rowan and Gabby, we drove back to the Dart Asia office to make payment for the shipping. Whilst paying, I asked if there would be any more costs to come, at which Desmond told me, that there would be a charge at Port Klang for unloading and clearance, but that should only be around $50. I made a note of this, and thanked him for his help. He then took us back to the hotel, where we had a beer with him, and said goodbye.
After another long day, we walked across the street to a buffet restaurant called Zaifat, where we ate our fill of Pakistani cuisine. I was in a strange mood, and had no patience for the usual people coming to ask who we were and where we were going, dismissing them with a word or a cruel joke which they didn’t understand. It was obvious now, that I needed to leave this country and get a change of scene. Gabby commented that this was not like me at all, and she was pretty angry at my bad attitude. Although we have all displayed the same thing at one time or another recently, she was right, and over dinner, I calmed down. I have lost a lot of weight, hadn’t eaten yet today, and this has the effect of making me somewhat Hypoglycemic. This is when I can become a little cranky. After dinner we returned to the room, and watched some of the kites fighting in the sky for the Bazant festival, which had been going on around us relatively unnoticed. Then retired to bed, looking forward to my 11.50 flight tomorrow.