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Back on the road again after UPS customs hickup

Posted by on December 5, 2012

Things were going just a little too well. Sure, we have had hiccups with the truck, and it does require a bit of TLC but at almost 30 years old, who can blame it! When the problem got compounded by a UPS customs screw-up it really did not help.

This time however, we got let down badly. The back axle sprung an oil leak, and since we had spare oil seals for the rear hubs, we were not too worried, but when we went to change the seal, it turned out the bearings were wrecked, and needed replacing. This was a bit of a pain as we had no spare bearings with us, but we tracked down an Argentinian supplier who could provide some unimog parts, and we ordered 2 sets of bearings. At this stage we were mobile, but decided not to drive any more in case we did any more harm. Turns out, the harm was already done!

This is the first time we inspected the leak, we picked a nice place for it!

When the bearings arrived from Buenos Aires, we launched into getting them fitted. A local mechanic who worked on heavy road working equipment during the day took the hub and new bearings to fit them. However when he arrived back after about 30 minutes, we knew something was wrong. The main drive gear was toast. Dead. ex-gear. deep-sixed. kaput. Think back to John Cleese and a sketch about a parrot, and you would be on the right path.


A this stage we were “the regulars”, most people who went through the camp site stayed for just a night or 2, and we were the regulars. We gave advice on the way to the supermarket, where the steam train went from, what days it ran, how much food to bring to the national park when you’re backpacking, what gifts to buy for their granny…. We did have a bit of fun with Dave who we did a before and after portrait of.

Dave – Before



So, we looked at our options for getting another gear, and options on getting the busted gear fixed. We decided to buy a complete hub assembly from Atkinson Vos in the UK, who had serviced our truck before we had headed off. They reconditioned a hub with a gear, set of bearings and set the tolerances of the bearings to the precise measurements we took from our axle. We also left our damaged gear into an engineering shop to get re-conditioned so we would have a spare part if we got in deep trouble in the future.

Atkinson Vos sent the parts using UPS. Once the parts got to Buenos Aires, Customs (Aduana) spotted the package and pounced. You see, Argentina recently passed a law, a rule, a customs edict that used parts could not be imported to Argentina. Somehow, UPS didn’t know about it until Customs hand stopped the package from being delivered. UPS have a customs Agent who deals with these things, and they got in touch with us. They quoted us over 4,000 pesos to process the package through customs, and said it would take over 3 weeks. This didn’t sound right! UPS customs experience in Argentina seems to be pretty out of touch with what can and cannot be done.

We asked for some extra opinions on this, and got some great feedback from an online forum called “the hubb”. more than just opinions, we got some offers to help, and we took up Sandra from Dakar Motor’s offer to contact a different customs agent, a private one. It turns out this was the best move we could have made.

But this meant getting to Buenos Aires from Esquel, a journey of 1800km. Each way. We had a few options: Air – there is an airport in Esquel, Road – There are car hire places, or by bus. We chose the bus as it was half the price of the flight, and it would let us see the countryside on our way. The tickets were about 800 pesos, about €120 each person, each way. Not cheap, but considering the distance it is not crazy either. Even if the mog was going, we would have spent more than that on Diesel alone. We also had to look for accommodation, and we decided to stay in the city instead of out by the airport. This was a good call, as the city is really worth seeing. So, on Sunday morning, 18th November we set off on our bus journey. The seats are really massive, just 3 people sitting across a full size bus. The seats recline back to almost flat, and have a foot/leg rest to make sleeping pretty easy. The bus carries 2 drivers, and they alternate driving and sleeping as we travel. The bus covers the 1800km in about 25 to 26 hours. Our journey was 25.5 hours on the way to Buenos Aires, and 26 on the way back.

We looked up some bed and breakfast places on the web having spotted them in our rough guide, and sent emails to them. We booked a really nice place for 3 nights, and once we got to the city, we caught a taxi to the B&B. We were pretty shattered! We arrived there about noon on the Monday. We had planned to visit the airport/customs on Tuesday 20th, and this plan got knocked on the head pretty quickly as Buenos Aires decided to go on strike for the Tuesday! There were to be no buses or trains, and more importantly no banks working on the Tuesday. This meant we would have had no way to pay the customs duty. We visited with Sandra in Dakar Motors to go over our plan of attack, and she explained how the customs thing actually works. This put our minds at ease, and we relaxed and enjoyed our Tuesday “off” due to the strike. On Wednesday it was all business. Here is how it went.

1. Whoever the shipper of the good is has an “Airways Bill”. We had to get a copy of that. It is vital that the Airways bill is in one persons name only, not even “Bugs Bunny, C/O joe blogs” on the second line as Joe Bloggs will have to turn up at the airport as well as Bug Bunny. Luckily ours was just in Merv’s name. However, we had to get this document from UPS, and in their quote to us, it would cost $74 US to produce the Airways bill. “Produce” in this case means “print”. We visited UPS’s city office on Wednesday 21st to get the airways bill, and once we could show proof of identity (Passport), they printed the Airways bill for free, and wished us good luck with customs. They clearly did not think we would get the package.

2. With this in hand, we caught a taxi to the Airport, and to get to the customs area for air-shipped goods, you get the taxi to drop you at the petrol station just as you enter the Airport (and NOT at the cargo area!). You then cross the road to go through a gate, turn right and head towards security. Once there they check the airways bill with your ID to prove you have a need to be there and let you through with a security slip in your passport.

3. We then went to the next building, it’s sort of a working area for the various Agents and Brokers. We met up with our contact there, all arranged via Sandra. Diego was a really nice guy with no English, and our spanish is still pretty basic. We knew enough to follow him around, sign what he pointed at, smile and nod when prompted.

4. We then followed him to the Aduane building (Customs hall), and we got our “application” set up on the computer by some administrative staff – At least that’s what seemed to happen. They also needed to see (and copy) our vehicle registration documents, Passport and our Temporary Import documents. These documents were to prove the parts were for a non argentinian tourist. I’m not sure what would happen if an Argentinian wanted to import them. We also provided a photo of the truck parked up on 3 wheels, which seemed to explain the situation better than anyone could have done.

5. Next, All this had to be presented to a Customs Officer. We had to with him to inspect the package, and we got to see the box sent from Atkinson Vos. They opened the box in our presence, and we got to glimpse inside before they closed it again. We did recognize the hub, so we started grinning on our way back to his office. We had to wait outside his door while he pondered the mysteries of the universe, rolled the dice and made up a number that would sound “about right”. Within a few minutes we were handed a document that required us to pay $100 (US) duty.

6. Off we went to the bank to pay this fee. The money is lodged directly to the customs bank account, so no-one gets their hands on any cash. The bank then stamp the form as paid, and we went back to the customs office. Once you hand in the form, you’ve to wait until they see the money in the account, and then you go visit the guys who have been minding your goods.

7. The warehouse manager (This is probably not his formal title, but it works for us) did a lot of head scratching, Calender reviewing and calculator button pounding, and came up with a fee of A$750 for our storage fees. This translates to about $120 (US), which is a huge amount less than the $400 (US) that UPS felt would be needed. We paid this by Credit Card, and got yet more forms stamped.

8. Then, it was back to the Administrative office with this new stamp, and we got the document that let us take the parts away with us. We took this around to the warehouse “goods out” doors, and handed it to a guy with a forklift. Then it got kind of funny as everyone else who was there had a truck or van to collect the goods, and these were reversed up to the warehouse doors. We were on foot, so they gave Diego a roll of duct tape to make a handle with. Once the handle was complete, we headed off to the security gate, passed through without a hitch and caught a taxi back to our b&b with the goods.

Since we were in BA anyway, we decided to take a good look about.

Sarah checking out a famous sign on a skyscraper

We got in touch with a fellow hubber (Def: A Person who frequents the Hubb) and arranged to meet for lunch. A grand way to pass an afternoon, and as he had completed a full lap of South America over the previous year and was now heading for home, we got a good few tips and tales from the road. Cheers Delbert! One of th highlights in BA was to go see the Polo, and on Saturday there were 2 matches from the national competition. We decided to go see that, and met with Delbert for the day and had a super time. It really got our minds off the truck, and the repair that had yet to come.

The guy in front goes slow to upset the guy with the ball

The game is started by the ref throwing in the ball



Sunday found us back on the bus, and this time enjoying a 26 hour journey, looking at exactly the same scenery as on the way to BA, but in reverse 🙂 At some stage in the middle of the night, we were woken up by the bus crew, and asked to accompany them to a border crossing office. In Argentina, each region has controlled border crossings that restricts the transport of things like fresh fruit and Veg, raw meat, and as we now assumed, 2nd hand Unimog parts!. Once they had opened the box and discovered we didn’t actually have 25kg of fruit in there, were we on our way again. Bang went that nights sleep.

We got back to Esquel and our truck on Monday 26th November, and we were glad to see it. We got the campsite owner, Luis, to contact the mechanic to see if he would press in the half shaft and bearing so we could reassemble the whole thing. And as if we needed another delay, that Monday was a bank holiday, so Tuesday afternoon would have to do. It really felt like it was 2 steps forward, 1 step back! What’s another day?


On the Tuesday, we got our hub sorted, and the mechanics proceeded to put it back on the truck for us. We didn’t intend for them to do it, but they seemed to be upset that we wanted to do it ourselves. So we let them at it 🙂 They did a pretty handy job, and we were finally back on 4 wheels.

So, On Wednesday morning (Which means that Merv’s sister owes us a big night out for beating her challenge!) we were rolling. We said goodbye to Luis and his campsite. He did not want to charge us for the week we left the truck in his campsite and disappeared to Buenos Aires so we left a tip for him, partly for the 3 patches of dead grass from under the 3 wheels that stood quietly on his grass, and the big circle of dead grass where the 4th wheel lay, and partly as he was a good sport about the whole thing and helped us a lot.

Can you tell where we were parked? and this is Luis, a great guy who helped us a lot. Muchos Gracios Luis!

We made our way to collect the re-machined damaged gear to carry it as an emergency spare, and were on the road again, or so we thought until Merv checked the hub to see how it was doing and noticed it was twice as hot as all the others. This was not good! Luckily, all that was wrong was the auto adjuster on the brakes had over tightened the brakes, and needed to be adjusted back out. This meant removing the wheel again, but we’re getting good at that now 🙂 We also got all the oils in all the hubs replaced, just to be sure.


Machining down the gear after the welding

And we’re off to see the Whales in Peninsula Valdez!

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