Friday, April 29, 2011

UPS to Chile? Needs work...

You may have seen references in previous posts to the infamous laptop shipment that I've been waiting for for some time.  Here is the entire saga.  It's long, so grab a glass of wine and settle in to enjoy the tale...

My office ordered a new laptop for me before we left, but for various reasons it didn't arrive in time, so they sent an older loaner with me, and promised to ship the new one when it was ready.  Which they did, over 5 weeks ago, on March 15.

UPS was very quick at getting it to Chile from Minnesota.  I tracked it online through Miami and San José, Costa Rica, and finally to Santiago, all in 3 days.  And then the UPS site reported that someone had signed for it and it had been delivered successfully.

I tried not to panic as I waited a couple days to see if I would hear anything.  Finally I looked up the UPS office here in Valparaíso and went over there.  It's a one-person office in a non-descript office building and I had to ask around a bit to find it, but once I did the nice person there looked up the package and explained that the package was in customs and would probably be delivered in a couple of days.

Relieved, I sent the good news to my co-workers in Minnesota and waited for the brown truck to show up.  Several days went by, then a week.  I was busy with other things and sure that it would show up any day, but it didn't.  Finally Lojo voluteered to track it down. 

Now, those of you who know Lojo know that navigating a bureaucracy is something she does very well.  She's spent many years in developing countries and always manages to get things done.  She's got persistence, charm, great Spanish, and the blonde hair doesn't hurt in Latin America.  She went to the customs office here in town and they knew absolutely nothing about the shipment.  So she went back to the UPS office and talked to the same woman I had talked to several weeks earlier.  She gave Lojo the number of the UPS office in Santiago.

Lojo called the Santiago number, and they said that the package had been referred to a 'broker' called the Robert Pizarro Agency, and that she should call them.  At this point even Lojo was starting to lose patience, and respectfully said that perhaps it was the UPS employee's job to make that call and track down the package.  The UPS guy said that (for unknown reasons) he couldn't call, but he would send them an email.

At this point Lojo muttered something under her breath to the tune of, "Why does Chile have to be so law-abiding?  In a proper Latin American country I could flash my blonde hair and a few dollars and we'd have the package tomorrow."

Another week went by, and I picked up the quest again.  I called UPS and talked to several people, including an English speaker, but got the same answer Lojo had gotten.  This time I got the Pizarro number and called them.  "Ah, yes, Señor Prince, we have your package.  Just give me your email address and I'll send you the paperwork that you need to fill out."

If you've ever tried to read an email address over the phone to someone, you know that it's difficult in the best of circumstances.  Me trying to do it in Spanish is not the best of circumstances.  But after several tries it seemed as though we had figured it out, and she said she would send the paperwork right away.

Another day or two went by, and I called back the nice lady at Pizarro.  "Ah, yes, Señor Prince, the email I sent to you bounced back.  I must have your address wrong."  Of course I wanted to ask why she didn't call me when this happened (she had my number), but I bit my tongue.  I asked her for her email address, and sent her an email.  She sent the email with a spreadsheet attached, and included her fax number so I could print, sign and fax the document back to her.

Of course, we're renting a house and don't have a printer or a fax machine, so I went out and bought a little USB thumb drive and put the document on it, and  Lojo hunted down a Mom and Pop version of Kinko's in which she could print the document, sign it, then fax it.

After all of this, we waited another day or so before we called back our friend at Pizarro.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I didn't get a fax.  I believe you sent it to the wrong fax number.  Please try this other number."

Lojo went back to the copy shop and tried to resend the fax, but there was no fax machine answering the new number.  It just rang and rang.

The next day I called Pizarro again.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I'm told that the fax machine was out of paper yesterday.  Please resend the fax."

Lojo was on a first-name basis by now with the copy shop.  She sent the fax and immediately called Pizarro to confirm that it had arrived, which it had.

Another day went by, and we called again.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I'm afraid the dollar values you filled in on the paperwork were incorrect."  Huh?  The document had asked me to declare the value of the package, so I had filled in the cost from the receipt that my co-workers had sent me.  By this time I knew it would be futile to ask why she hadn't provided me with the required numbers -- I just asked what they should be, and Lojo paid another visit to the copy shop.

Another couple days went by, and Lojo was planning on meeting some friends in Santiago.  She called Pizarro and said, "Please have the package ready, I'll pick it up at your office on Tuesday."  That offer had the desired effect, and there were several more phone calls asking for my RUT (the Chilean version of a social security number, which of course I don't have -- by this time it must have been abundantly clear that I'm not Chilean!), then my passport number (why didn't you ask me for that a couple of weeks ago?), then advising Lojo that it wasn't possible to have the package at the office, as it was still in customs in the airport, but that it could be released to UPS.

The package arrived 2 days later at our house, courtesy of a nice guy in the standard brown UPS uniform.  Since our house is a long stairway from the road ("Ay, cómo me costó llegar aquí!"), I didn't see whether his vehicle was the classic UPS brown truck, but the laptop had survived its 5 weeks in captivity quite well.


  1. Incredible, Dan, but I'm actually a little surprised that you got it. Maybe, just like the tight security on the bus luggage, they are actually very good at making sure all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed before they hand things over. Does that mean there isn't much mail theft nor government graft?

    It's a grey, cold rainy day here and I'm supposed to be working on something to take to my writing group, so I'm proscrastinating.

    Glad your computer finally arrived!

  2. Hearing the details of your laptop travail helps me better understand the frustrations of the people I know who have done adoptions in Latin America - similar long, bureaucratic hold-ups, run-arounds, and obscurity about what comes next. Do you think someone was waiting for you to slip them a twenty to make things move faster?

    I'm glad it worked our fine after "only" five weeks!


  3. Happy new laptop! I hope it's extra zippy after that ordeal. My trusty work Mac is about to go out of AppleCare, but needs to last another year! Yikes.

  4. It was fun to read this story. We have had several of our own similar experiences with customs in both Ecuador and Argentina. Right now we are just hoping to get our new driver's licenses before we leave for the US. Renewing from out of the country is possible in Wisconsin, as long as you have them sent to your address out of the country. They were sent on April 13th. Esperamos...

    Natalie McIntire (now in Argentina)