Customs regulations are some of the most complicated issues a human being can face on this planet.
Since I am traveling with my heavy tuty, my 6 PAiSTe gongs and some studio equipment, I was confronted with unimaginable obstacles created by customs regulations. This stories are already enough material to fill up a book, but the past 2 weeks were again a chapter which I want to share with the world right now.
In June 2016 I traveld with my car and a trailer, filled with my gongs and studio case, from Bavaria/Germany to Moscow. A tour of about 2500 km starting in the Bavarian Forest, than Berlin, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and at the European / Russian boder at Terehova this trip came to a halt, facing unbelievable customs problems. Before I started my trip I was trying to make sure, all will go fine and went to the local customs office in Bavaria / Passau and ordered a official Carnet ATA, which is a international standard customs document. It is like a passport for my equipment and should make life easy on the border to Russia.
Since the inspectors on the Russian border didn't speak English and I did not speak Russian, it was impossible to understand what kind of issues I was facing when they denied me to enter with the Carnet ATA.
I tried 4 times before I found out, that the Russians use this documents in a different way, than the rest of the world.
Because of their different use of this document, there were some papers missing and I didn't wanna give up and convinced the customs office in Bavaria to send me those missing papers to Latvia, were I was overall waiting to find a solution.
After 3 weeks of unsuccessful attempts on 2 borders and getting rejected on 2 air cargo services at Riga airport, I finally had those missing papers and was rejected again, because of my previous attempts the Carnet ATA was stamped and there was no more free spot to put a new stamp.
I still didn't wanna give up and organized a "undercover" border crossing by hiring 3 Latvian guys to sit with me in the car and by having this 3 extra people, we were able to divide the weight of my gongs and equipment to 50kg per person and than I was finally ably to enter Russia. The longest unsuccessful attempt took 21 hours on the border and this time I could finally pass after 4 hours and paying each of the guys 20 EURO for their service.
After 90 days being in Russia I had to leave the country, due to visa regulations of an allowed maximum stay of 90 per visit. So, I asked my manager to make sure how to do it right and sent her to customs office in Moscow, so she could ask for advice how to do this visa run in a correct way. I wasn't sure, if i could just leave the country by car for some days without bringing my trailer, the gongs and equipment. I wanted to make sure, that I have no further problems with customs.
The customs inspectors in Moscow said, all is fine and I can drive just by car to Latvia for the weekend and no need to bring the rest of my stuff.
So, I drove with my manager Maria to Riga and back on the Russian border we got rejected again, because it is not possible to enter with the car, while another vehicle (my trailer) is already in the country. Optional they offered me to pay a deposit of 8000 EURO, which I would get back when I leave the country again with car and trailer. That was clearly no option! So, we got stuck with the car in Latvia and the trailer in Moscow. We found a secure parking in the town Rezekne in Latvia and took the 14 hour night train to Moscow. One day after arrival we visited again customs office in Moscow reporting our issue and nobody wanted to be responsible for the mess they created by giving us a wrong information. The only solution seemed to be bringing the trailer somehow to Latvia, join it with my car and than the crossing of the border would be ok. Nobody cared about gongs and equipment.
This law was just 1 year old and the customs inspector in Moscow just said: "It is clear, that the car and trailer should have left the country together."
Well... It wasn't clear at all.
It is about 700 km from Moscow to Rezekne and the prices of logistics companies exceeded the value of the trailer. Finally a good friend Dima of Margarita felt sorry for my situation and accepted a fair price for bringing Margarita, me and the trailer to the border.
The next issue was, how to get the trailer over the border without a car? Dima and his backup driver Stas didn't own a visas for Europe, so we had to find another way. Asking random people who were crossing the border showed quickly, that nobody was willing to help, so I decided to push the trailer by hand over the border from Russia to Latvia and Margarita was documenting this surreal scenes with some photos.
All those customs inspectors and officers working on both borders haven't seen something like that before and seeing me pushing a car trailer manually to the check points insured to be the running gag of the day.
It wasn't illegal to do so and they let us pass and we were very lucky to find a friendly man who was finally willing to hook the trailer up on his Mercedes after we passed the Latvian border and bring us to Rezekne, which was anyway his destination too.
With united forces of friends and friendly strangers it was a successful adventure and I am finally back in Moscow with car and trailer together.
Thank You Maria, Margarita, Viktor, Dima, Stas and the unknown Mercedes driver.
Let's see what the next adventure will be.