Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Camera and customs

We’re able to take pictures again! This is no thanks to the evil customs office in Lima or the ineptitude and just plain unhelpfulness of DHL. But with plenty of thanks to my (Emily’s) father, Dave, Chris, Narda, and Alexis, whose valiant efforts to help reunite us with our/a camera are greatly appreciated.

As it turned out, when DHL sent the camera to Lima, it got flagged as an item for inspection, and they delayed it for nearly a week, then promised it would be ready for delivery to Chris on the day before we left Peru. That day, they then told him it would not be ready, and with numerous phone calls to DHL (Lima and US) and attempts to call the customs office, we learned that they wanted almost $400 in taxes for our camera before they’d release it (!) and that even if we marched in with the money (which wasn’t really an option), they still refused to release it for days more—by which point we’d already be in San Jose; our airfare did not allow changes. They also claimed they hadn’t received paperwork for the camera which Chris had already sent them twice, by fax and email. So then, we would have had to send it on to Costa Rica for another…hmmm…at least $50 if not $100, and gotten re-taxed in Costa Rican customs (where they would not even send it until we’d paid the Lima customs)! We probably wouldn’t have gotten it for another month at that rate, and would probably be close to $1,000 more in the hole—aside from the outrageous original cost of shipping. Sadly, we ended up having to refuse delivery of the camera, so it is hopefully on its way home by now.

We decided to get a backup camera, and Narda and Alexis devoted a substantial part of their evening to going to an electronics store with us. We’d found one that was marginally compatible with our lenses (would need to manual focus with our big lens and our wide-angle), but the bank had apparently decided the transaction was too big and sketchy-looking and declined the card—and their fraud-protection office was having technical issues. When we left for San Jose, we figured we’d just have to end up with a point-and-shoot.

One of our first pictures with D90
and Tokina 11-16mm lens
Panama City’s international airport is one of our new favorite places. It is a mecca of duty-free electronics, and on our layover we found a Nikon D90 that’s far more compatible with our gear, though sadly not great in the low-light conditions of the rainforest. We bought it, holding our breath while the credit card transaction came through, and tested it in the airport. It’s been doing pretty well so far, though we haven’t yet had great photo opportunities.

You might ask: why would we go to the trouble of buying a new camera body that’s somewhat similar to ours? Why not just have ours sent onward? Well, there’s that $1,000ish in taxes/shipping that we’d never see again, the month we’d be without the camera, bringing us to half our trip without it, and there’s another thing: there’s a definite camera shortage here in Costa Rica, and lots of ex-pats who like photography, so we should be able to sell this one for about what we paid for it before we leave the country. And if worse comes to worse, there’s eBay.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us along the way! Moral of the story: we highly recommend never shipping electronics internationally to yourself unless prepared to pay through the nose and deal with extremely difficult people.

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