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September 1999 Vol. 14, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Indonesian Customs Heist

from the September, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After a 24-hour marathon flight on four airplanes, I was, as usual, toast upon arriving in Bali. At the airport there, customs agents insisted on my giving them a bribe to bring in my gear. At first it was just two of them, but soon two others joined them. We discussed this at length at the public desk, where they pointed at the mountain of dive and photo gear I carried, but they wanted to take me to their office for this transaction. I felt at a great disadvantage. I was the last passenger and traveling alone. But I had no choice. They kept asking how much my gear was worth and I erred on the low side. They didn’t want this to be a legitimate “import deposit” — I asked for a detailed receipt so I would get my “deposit” back, but they would have no part of this. Instead, they threatened to hold my stuff for several days unless I coughed up the money — $400. I argued but kept my cool. They were civil but insistent. It was late, everyone else had gone home, and it became clear they were going to get their “duty” one way or the other.

I finally got them down to $50 (cash, of course) and went away grumbling even more than usual after a long flight. Afterwards, I took a $2 cab ride to the Ramayana Hotel ($42/night), a pleasant Balinese-style hotel 10 minutes from the airport. The next day I headed to Ubud, my favorite town in Bali, stopping on the way at the Sea Contacts office to stow my dive gear. I stayed at the Pertiwi Bungalows ($35/night including breakfast), which Sea Contacts had also booked, to relax and blow off steam about the customs’ airport heist.

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