Back in the day, I used to order the odd thing online. I would come home after a hard day of doing whatever it is I used to do, only to find a small white notice from Canada Post flapping on the doorknob. I would heave a dramatic sigh, walk 500 yards to the post office, wait in line for 39 seconds, retrieve my stuff, and leave, shaking my head at what a martyr I was for picking up my own post.
Not really. Getting a package is fun, and it was rare I was so busy as to mind the “hassle”. But once we arrived on Papillon and sailed out of US waters, I learned what a mystery the postal system can be. Retrieving lost toilets in Panama, for example. We’ve dealt with secondary shippers and carriers who don’t understand that “Yacht in Transit” means “no customs fees”. Some places are easy, some not so much, but every country we visit is a little bit different.
But, let’s face it: no one does “the plans have all been changed now” like the French. We have gotten three packages from overseas since we arrived in Noumea, and they all followed a different path. Let’s review.
Package #1: Boat Parts from the USA, sent via US Postal Service
1. Buy Make your brother buy a new propeller shaft coupling.
2. Have him pop it in the mail via USPS.
3. Wait 13 days.
4. Try to pick it up.
5. Discover you have to go to the special post office with your receipts.
6. Walk to the special post office with your receipts.
7. Hand over receipts.
8. Get package, smile included.
Time spent: 1 hour
Grade: 10/10 Easy peasy.
Have I mentioned that everyone in Noumea is nice? I mean friendly, charming, helpful and generally great? Not only do people go out of their way to help us, but we get free services thrown at us on a daily basis. A guy replaced the corroded pins on our windlass controller – no charge. An engine specialist came to the boat to look at our prop shaft issue and spent an hour with Erik discussing the problem and planning a solution – we had to beg him to take money. This place is unbelievable. Unsurprisingly, the people working the customs desk at the post office were typically friendly and lovely. All in all, a painless transaction.
This gave us a false sense of security.
Package #2: Bank Cards, sent via UPS
1. Request replacement bank cards via your friend back home who is a branch manager and is literally the best person in the world.
2. Wait one week.
3. Discover the package got returned to Awesome Friend because there was a post box listed on the address in addition to the regular address.
4. Send it again, sans PO Box.
5. Wait a week or two.
6. Discover that the local marina – which acts as a postal drop for cruisers – will not accept any items that require signature. This item requires a signature.
7. Get in touch with the local UPS partner, ACT. Talk with lovely woman, Mme G, who will happily hold the package in her office when it arrives, until you get back to Noumea.
8. Return to Noumea after sailing around Bay of Prony.
9. Drive out to see Mme G. Get envelope. Smile, once again, included.
Time: 1 hour 30 min
Cost: Car rental (which we had planned for other purposes anyway.)
Grade: 10/10 Lemon squeezy.
Here is a situation where we could have been in a pickle. We were out of town with no way to get back in under two days and the marina wouldn’t accept the envelope. Once again, friendly Noumea helped us out. I would do business with UPS and ACT any time.
Buoyed by the success of items 1 and 2, we decided to take my mom up on her offer of sending our next batch of school books.
Package #3: School Books, sent via Canada Post
1. Have your mom gather and mail desired items for kindergarten and Grade Four curricula.
2. Watch the package make rapid progress towards Noumea.
3. Receive an email from FedEx Noumea, stating that they have your package and look forward to having you pay a grotesque duty on the contents. Oh, and complete the attached form. Wonder to yourself how Canada Post morphed into FedEx.
4. Complete and email said form. Take great care to explain your “Yacht In Transit” status.
5. Receive a request for your IFT.
6. Our what?
7. IFT. You know, the customs document that you filled out on arrival in the Port Captain’s office which got sent to Customs and you didn’t get to keep a copy. That one.
8. Talk to Customs. They suggest you authorize FedEx to pick up a copy from them – FedEx is in there all the time, and Customs would be happy to hand it over.
9. Grant said authorization.
10. FedEx gatekeeper says: nuh-uh. Get it your own self.
11. Try not to cry in frustration, because you are again two days away from Noumea, and it is already Wednesday.
12. Sail to Woodin Canal on Thursday.
13. Get up at 0515 on Friday.
14. Sail into Noumea at 0930.
15. Walk into the car rental place at 1030.
16. Discover there are no cars available for the next ten days, because it is school holidays.
17. Trudge over to another car rental place.
18. No cars.
19. Because this is Noumea, the lady behind the desk will haul out her yellow pages and begin phoning other, unaffiliated rental joints to secure you a vehicle. On call #3, she strikes gold: they have one teeny, tiny car left. Reserve it.
20. Hike over the hill to the next rental place. Pause briefly at the post office to buy stamp at special guichet 14, because you are in the know about that sort of thing now.
21. Get car. Notice a sign in the rental agency stating they will only rent to people between the ages of 25 and 70 years old. Feel grateful that you, in the eyes of this rental agency, are neither a baby nor decrepit, because you really really need this car.
22. Discover it is now 1140, and Customs closed for lunch ten minutes ago.
23. Go have lunch yourself. Take extra delight in the fact that parking meters in the area are free from 1130 to 1300.
24. Drive to the marina. Explain the IFT issue to the nice lady at the desk. She will offer to contact her friend at Customs. You should check back in fifteen minutes.
25. Receive a printout of your IFT within ten minutes. Smiles all around.
26. Drive to the FedEx office. Discover the root of your delivery problems. Behind the desk sits a very small, very frowny woman made of barely-contained fury in a hard blue eyeshadow shell. The Makeup Troll does not want to process your package. She tells you in no uncertain terms that, although they have the package in the back room, they require at least 24 hours to process anything through Customs. It is now 1345; Customs closes at 1530, and FedEx closes at 1600. You suggest, in your friendly way, that you fully understand that the chances are slim, but would appreciate her trying anyway. You are told – in firmer terms – that they require 24 hours to process paperwork through Customs. Her crusty blue eyeshadow glints at you in a vaguely threatening way.
27. All is lost. Go complete your other car-related errands. Decide Makeup Troll probably didn’t even wait until you left the building to set your package on fire.
28. At 1558 you get a call from a charming man at FedEx. They have processed your paperwork, and he knows you are anxious to have your package. He is happy to wait for you.
29. Scream through traffic and arrive back at FedEx seven minutes later.
30. The Makeup Troll does not look up from her Very Important Stapling when you arrive. She snaps that, contrary to what you might have been told, they haven’t had a chance to get your package ready yet. Sit down for half an hour – maybe then.
31. Husband wanders off in search of water.
32. Three minutes later, Friendly Man emerges from the back room with your package. He cheerfully explains the bogus fees you will have to pay. You open your wallet to find only half of what you need.
33. Make small talk with Friendly Man while you wait for Husband to return with water and cash. Note with interest that Friendly Man and Makeup Troll appear to exist in separate dimensions, for despite their close proximity behind the desk, they do not acknowledge each other in any way as the long minutes pass.
34. The prodigal Husband returns.
35. One signature and twenty dollars later, you have your package. Wave a cheery goodbye to Friendly Man. Makeup Troll still isn’t speaking to you. You are relieved that you and your package landed in his dimension instead of hers.
Time: 4-5 hours
Cost: Car rental + non-optional, I-could-have-cleared-it-myself “Customs processing fees”
Grade: 3/10 Saved only by the Anti-Eyeshadow League of the FedEx back room.
I love getting mail. But enough is enough. After all that, I think it will be a long time before we get another package from home.