Author giving a thumbs up in front of his motorcycle

Release the hounds!

My Yamaha WR250R and I were reunited on Thursday 17 November. I’d been waiting in Valparaiso since the previous Saturday for the okay from the freight agents, and on my wanderings had even seen the ship – Seaspan Brightstar – berthed down in the Valparaiso port.

The word I’d been awaiting arrived in an email on the Tuesday, directing me to present myself at a warehouse about 15km outside of the city at 9.00 Thursday morning. You beauty! I rocked up on the dot and received a text from Marcelo – the rep from the freight agency who would assist me with the retrieval – that he was running 15 minutes late. Que sera. I hung around and he showed 20 minutes later.

Author wearing hi-visibility vest and hard hat

Marcelo was a big, friendly bear of a man. He didn’t speak much English and my Spanish is no tan bueno, but we made it work and he was a massive help all the way through. The blokes in the warehouse were super friendly too. Once the forklift brought out the crate to the holding area, they set to with gusto dismantling the crate to reveal the WR all strapped down inside. Then they undid all the tie-downs and hauled the bike off the timber subframe.

Before I could touch anything, the Chilean Customs lady gave the bike a through inspection, directing the warehouse helpers to remove stuff from my panniers. When one guy found my hip flask (empty!), he exclaimed ‘Aha!” and waved it at me with a knowing grin, which cracked everyone up. There was some consternation and a few questions over the bike’s sheepskin seat cover, but Ms Aduana eventually just shrugged and signalled it was okay.

Finally, I was able to check the bike over. Thankfully, everything was as it should be. The handlebars had been rotated backwards to enable the bike to fit inside the crate, and there was a bit of drama when I realised I didn’t have the right sized hex key for the clamp bolts in my toolkit. One of the warehouse blokes raced off and returned seconds later with a full set of hex keys. Crisis averted!

Handlebars restored to their normal position, I reconnected the battery and checked a few other things. Then Marcelo pointed out that the fuel tank was bone-dry. A requirement for shipping is that the tank be empty or near enough to it. The folk at Coastline BMW (where the bike was crated) clearly went with option A, so Marcelo offered to run me down to the nearest servo to grab some petrol. I also needed cash to pay some outstanding warehouse and customs fees.

On the way out of the warehouse complex, he stopped the car and accosted (in a nice way…) a cleaning lady, who handed over an empty five-litre detergent container. He promptly washed it out and with me holding the container out of the car window to dry the interior, he took off at breakneck speed for the local Shell.

Fuel purchased and cash withdrawn, we were back at the warehouse before too long. I refuelled the bike, flicked on the ignition and prayed it would start. Success! After a couple of cranks, the WR burst into life. You never would have known it had been stuck in a box inside another box and spent three months going halfway around the world.

A motorcycle tied to a crate is  inspected by a customs agent

Could I go yet? Not quite. First, Ms Aduana needed to return my passport and give me the temporary import permit. There was a bit of sitting around before she popped out of the office, presented me with both documents and wished me “buon viaje”. Then it was back up to the warehouse office to exchange the cash for another document. Marcelo then turned to me, shook my hand, smiled and said “Now you can go.”

Although I had another night booked at the AirBnB in Valpo, I was keen to set off that day. Aside from the fact the house was on a very steep hill, there was no way I would get the bike through the narrow gate into the parking spot that had been organised. And I was a bit doubtful about security too.

When I left the warehouse for the last time, it was after 1.00pm. I wobbled back to the Shell servo to top off the fuel tank and put some air in the tyres. After three months tied down, the front was almost flat and the rear not much better. Then it was back to Valpo and a sketchy inclined park outside the AirBnb while I loaded up to hit the road.

By 4.00pm, I was ready to roll. I got out of town okay, but the day wasn’t done with me yet. While packing I had booked accommodation for the night a few hours south-east of Valpo. About an hour into the ride, a message came through that the accommodation couldn’t accommodate me after all. I pulled into a roadside lay-by and hurriedly searched for an alternative. Thankfully, Don Hector and his wife Carmen at Alojamiento Valle Verde in Isla de Maipo came up trumps. I eventually pulled in there about 9.00pm and after a sandwich, a soft drink and a shower, I climbed into the comfy bed and slept the sleep of the truly contented.

Overall, the whole experience of shipping the bike to Chile was fairly straightforward. Admittedly, I had never done it before and my expectations were minimal. There was a minor nagging worry that the container would be lost in some foreign port, or fall off the side of the ship, or be dropped by a crane. Seeing the crate in good shape at the Valpo warehouse was a relief, but finding the bike intact inside was the best surprise of all.

Timewise, the collection took four hours (including the dash for fuel) and cost me an additional $600 in fees on top of the $5700 I had already paid for shipping. Not cheap, sure, but that’s the current state of global ocean freight. Blame it on the pandemic. Bikes Abroad in Melbourne handled the shipping and they were good to deal with. Their price was competitive with most of the other eight companies I contacted, and they kept me up to date with developments and answered my questions all the way though.

End o’ the day, I am much happier to have my own bike on this journey. I’ve spent a lot of time setting it up for this kind of travel and know most of its idiosyncrasies. Buying a bike in Chile or another South American country would likely have been cheaper, but there’s no guarantee I would have got something as capable or reliable as the WR250R. Plus there are potential hassles with registration, insurance and border crossings for an extranjero riding a bike that’s not registered in the same country as they are. I’ll trade off the cost for peace of mind – fingers crossed.


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