Author Topic: Life on the Rails  (Read 31822 times)

Savonarola

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Life on the Rails
« on: June 17, 2015, 12:52:20 pm »
Colombia

As part of my job I have smuggled contraband into Colombia.  While waiting in the customs line in Bogota it occurred to me that my annual performance reviews are more exciting than most peoples’ bucket lists.

I wasn’t smuggling guns or money, just technology.  The project I was working on had an abbreviated time frame.  Legitimately importing goods into Colombia takes a minimum of four weeks; and nothing in Colombia ever occurs in the minimum amount of time. To have any hope of meeting our deadline we had to hand carry vital goods into the country.  “Hand carry” was open to interpretation; I was bringing in a workstation, half a dozen radios and three laptops.  To make it extra subtle my coworkers had put all this in a hard plastic pelican case.  The Colombian customs agent took one look at that and sent me over to the inspection line.

The gear was packed in so tightly that the latches wouldn’t open.  The inspectors didn’t have a pry bar or any sort of lever.  They found a long metal pole the sort that would hold a “Keep off the grass” sign.  With that and with a great deal of difficulty they levered open the latches. When the last latch burst the case sprung open like the Ark of the Covenant, bubble wrap bulging out everywhere.

“What’s that?” asked the inspector, pointing at the work station on top.

“It’s a desktop; my boss is too cheap to buy me a laptop.”

Fortunately he didn’t dig any deeper to find the many laptops I was carrying.  I don’t think he wanted to deal with the hassle of seizing the equipment or fining me, so he made me promise that I was taking the equipment out of the country with me; and who knows, maybe one day I will.  In order to close the case we had to get another custom officer to stand on the case so we could latch it up.  Even like that we had to pop about half the bubble wrap on top to get the case closed; how Jeremy ever got it latched up in the first place remains a mystery.  With a stern reprimand and a solemn promise I was on my way.

You’re allowed to bring in $1500 worth of goods into Colombia; I had easily ten times that amount.  Originally the office group had approached our network technician, Glen, about bringing this in.  He refused.  Glen was a contractor and thought GE would just let him rot in a Colombian jail if he got caught.  As an employee, I figured GE would at least consider paying my bail, maybe, so I agreed.  This was my first trip to Colombia, later I would always fly the national carrier, Avianca.  They have a deal with the Colombian government so that goods can be taken to their final destination in country rather than stopping for inspection in Bogota.  Our project is headquartered in Santa Marta on the north coast of the country.  There customs is almost non-existent, and so many crates, boxes and odds and ends are brought through that nothing I had would stand out.  Our program manager, Kevin, said that he had once seen a man pick up a transmission for a car off the baggage claim belt in Santa Marta.

While I never had problems with this method, it is not a foolproof scheme.  Our project manager, Bill, had notoriously bad luck with customs into Colombia.  He followed the same route that I did, and as he was getting off the plane once in Bogota he received a notice that customs would like to speak with him.  He had brought in his luggage a large number of plastic labels to be put on coaxial cable.  He tried to argue that it wasn’t worth anything, but customs wouldn’t listen and seized his suitcase.  That was the suitcase with his clothes and personal effects; so he had to wait for GE legal to pay his fine before he had anything to wear.  His other suitcase held seventy five pounds of brass fittings; customs didn’t even inspect that.

Glen, despite his initial reluctance, would later go on to do the most heroic smuggling job of all of us.  He took 100 pounds of brass fittings and put them into his carryon so that they wouldn’t incur the heavy baggage fine.  TSA could not believe what they saw on the monitor and made him open up the bag.  Even after he opened it they had a hard time believing it.  Glen is an enormous man, he had been in the Marines, but even he struggled to get that into the overhead bin. 

Despite the ease of getting through customs; many of my coworkers refused to fly Avianca.  It goes by the well-earned sobriquet “Avianunca.”  The only major delay I had an issue flying on it was my first trip home around Christmastime.  The check in girl cheerfully told me that she had put me on an earlier flight as I checked in.  That earlier flight left two hours after my original flight was supposed to.  It was good I got on that flight, though; my scheduled flight hadn’t even arrived in Santa Marta when I took off.

Our lead communications engineer, Gary, had much worse luck.  He had scheduled a flight out of Orlando.  It was a rainy day with the heavy thunderstorms common to peninsular Florida.  He had installed an app on his phone to listen in on the communication between the control tower and flights.  So, at boarding, he knew full well that there was no chance of an on-time departure; they were only loading passengers on the plane to make their gate time statistics look better.  As they sat on the tarmac there was a ray of hope, in fifteen minutes there would be enough clearing to take off; did they have enough fuel?  The pilot assured the control tower he did; and then five minutes later said that they had to return to the gate for fuel.  They had missed their chance, an hour passed, and then another and then the flight was cancelled.  The passengers on the plane were mostly Brazilian and Colombian.  They took the news of the cancellation with the sort of sangfroid that Latin Americans are well known for and the Orlando police had to be called in.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2018, 04:13:32 pm by Savonarola »
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

The Brain

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2015, 01:04:41 pm »
I see. :)
You are gay.

Eddie Teach

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2015, 01:05:38 pm »
Glad to have you back, Sav.  :D
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Admiral Yi

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2015, 01:13:24 pm »
I thought we had some sort of free trade dealy with Colombia.
I'm up $25 on DGuller.

lustindarkness

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2015, 01:40:40 pm »
Is there flights directly to Macondo?
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Savonarola

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2015, 01:53:19 pm »
I thought we had some sort of free trade dealy with Colombia.

We do.  Tariffs have been eliminated on most goods; however you still have to go through a customs procedure when bringing goods into the country.  So it still takes time and bureaucracy to import goods.
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

Savonarola

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2015, 02:00:12 pm »
Is there flights directly to Macondo?

It depends who you ask... 

The Colombian tourist ministry has adopted the slogan "Colombia is magical realism," and claims that Cartagena seems to leap out of the pages of a Gabriel García Márquez novel.  However Márquez was actually from a little town called Aracataca both that and the neighboring town of Fundación claim to be Macondo.  Cartagena has direct flights, the other two share an airport for crop dusters.
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

Savonarola

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2015, 02:00:29 pm »
Glad to have you back, Sav.  :D

Thank you  :)
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

Caliga

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2015, 02:01:23 pm »
I want to go to that part of Colombia (rain forest on the Pacific Coast) where the build the drug subs deep in the jungle.  That's fascinating to me.
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Admiral Yi

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2015, 02:04:45 pm »
I priced some hotel and air packages in Cartagena and the place is definitely not cheap.
I'm up $25 on DGuller.

Savonarola

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2015, 02:35:41 pm »
I want to go to that part of Colombia (rain forest on the Pacific Coast) where the build the drug subs deep in the jungle.  That's fascinating to me.

Gringos  :rolleyes:

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

jimmy olsen

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2015, 05:49:23 pm »
Awesome story Sav.

Is your wife there with you?

How's your Spanish?
It is far better for the truth to tear my flesh to pieces, then for my soul to wander through darkness in eternal damnation.

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Faye: Ordinary. The kind of beautiful, dangerous ordinary that you just can't leave alone.
Jet: I see.
Faye: Like an angel from the underworld. Or a devil from Paradise.
--------------------------------------------
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katmai

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2015, 05:55:48 pm »
I want to go to that part of Colombia (rain forest on the Pacific Coast) where the build the drug subs deep in the jungle.  That's fascinating to me.

Gringos  :rolleyes:

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Savonarola

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2015, 06:00:58 pm »
Awesome story Sav.

Is your wife there with you?

How's your Spanish?

Thanks, Tim, there's a lot more to come. 

CB remained here in Florida while I was there.  I wasn't down there continuously, I made seven trips between two to three weeks apiece between December and the beginning of this month.

My Spanish is much better now than it was in December.
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock

lustindarkness

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Re: Love in the Time of Chikungunya
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2015, 06:07:06 pm »
How's your Spanish?
Better than yours.

Sorry for responding for you Sav.
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