WorldSmuggler: Journey of the Illegal Motorcycle

Ferdy Sucre Bolivia
The Bolivian government could consider me a smuggler. At least that’s what the lawyer at the Aduana (customs) office in Sucre told Ferdy. The owner of the optical shop and proudly of a new Honda Deauville street touring motorcycle, Ferdy seems to know everyone in Sucre — and in Santa Cruz. Small framed and in his early fifties with sophisticated eye-wear, neatly trimmed dark hair and an enthusiastic demeanor, Ferdy spoke excellent English. He spent several years in the States. First as an exchange student in high school, then as an engineering student at Boise State University and ultimately trained as an optician. His optical shop, Optica Santa Lucia has been under his direction for 31 years, is small but bustled with business every time I stopped by. Three stories, two of which house laboratories, Santa Lucia Optica is the only shop of its kind in Bolivia that can apply antireflective coating to eye-wear. As such, he gets business from other optical shops in Sucre, La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. His success has afforded him the opportunity to send his children to the states for their education — a luxury few can afford in Bolivia.

Ferdy took no time to get on the phone with people of influence in Sucre and Santa Cruz. While one Aduana employee suggested that without taking care of this situation the bike could be confiscated and I held as a smuggler. This notion was silly. The reason these countries give temporary permits for motorcycles and other vehicles is to ensure they exit the country. On January 9, 2006 I entered Bolivia and was given 90 days to ride my bike in Bolivia. If the bike were to stay in the country it would be subject to import duty and tax. This is the sole reason they issue such documentation and require exiting the country by a specific date. So to be held as as smuggler and have my bike confiscated while trying to exit the country at any of a number of borders was ludicrous. Ferdy got on the phone and called another contact.

In March and by the time the Vicadin and Darvocet had worn off I wrote a letter to the Bolivian Aduana office in La Paz. I included a copies of my temporary import permit, passport with entrance and exit stamps for Bolivia, my title and registration. In my letter I explained the story of my evacuation and asked for an extension. Copies of this letter and its enclosures were sent to the Bolivian Embassy and Consulate in the United States. It’s no surprise I never heard back from the Aduana in La Paz, but the Bolivian Embassy did call. They contacted La Paz for help and info but with no avail. Changes in government and personnel challenged the Embassy to get an answer. Instead, they suggested and promised that a letter from their Embassy in the U.S explaining the situation could be an effective document when dealing with authorities in Bolivia. Unfortunately that letter never arrived.

So here I am in Bolivia with an illegal motorcycle. At least the battery cables adhere to a Bolivian standard.

Ferdy’s next call was more positive. The woman at the other end worked for the Aduana in Santa Cruz. She asked for a copy of the letter I sent in March. Still other calls suggested I provide the Bolivian Aduana proof the motorcycle was stored in Bolivia. After a quick visit to Nicky’s shop I had an invoice for storage for the dates I was in the States. Other calls revealed that there was no way government authorities could confiscate the bike — this was illegal. Ferdy gave me the phone numbers of three people in Santa Cruz, all familiar with my situation, and suggested I call them when I arrive their later this week.

The friendliness of the people in Bolivia and elsewhere in South America always smacks me in the head – hard. Ferdy spent several hours out of his day to help me. Jorge and Dhery went out of their way to retrieve my motorcycle and securely store it for nearly a year. The owners of my hotel in Sucre, (Colonia Real Hotel, Calle Aniceto Arce No. 280, phone: 64-43876) went out of their way to help me and Jeremiah. The owner, Jaime found a box and securely packed and sealed my spare parts for shipping to Chile — gratis. Their son helped me print out copies of my March letter to Aduana. And they were always quick to help find anything and everything we needed. If you happen to find yourself in Bolivia – get a room at the Hotel Colonial Real. It will cost you about $15 — high for Bolivian standards – but it’s the cleanest, most friendly and comfortable place I’ve stayed in nearly all of South America to date.

I continue to get my act together as we’re planning an early departure on Tuesday November 1st. I just hope I have no confrontation with the law before I get to Santa Cruz two days later.

Guarding Refractura

Looking for illegal motorcycles, or simply guarding the territory?

Top Photo
: Ferdy of Santa Lucia Optical, Sucre, Bolivia