I don't know what came over me. What on earth was I thinking? After one year spent traveling across Africa and its numerous border crossings, I had become an utterly cynical creature of habit, all too used to victimization at the hands of frontier officials. Those hands, I must add, had never once reached toward ours in greeting. Instead, with palms out, they gestured impatiently time after time for the payment of bribe after bribe. An accepted component of everyday life there, corruption seems as natural as eating or sleeping. After twelve months of this, one might be excused for thinking that's the way the rest of the world works - at and around the edges where no one ever bothers to inscribe the rules.
So first off when we arrived in Perth, a city of two million people on Australia's west coast, I wanted to familiarize myself with the indigenous ways and means of importing motorcycles. To get all of the cards out on the table, so to speak. That's why I blithely asked the customs officer what the going rate for outback kickbacks was. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't trying to force any currency in the form of Down Under inducements on this guy. I just wanted to know what passed for reality on this particular edge of the world, the "Red Continent."
He was astonished! His face flushed and his lips quivered. Maybe he was counting to ten. Obviously, no one queued in this line of his had ever had the effrontery to go there before. Oh, no - you didn't... "Mate," he finally says, "if you don't want to end up in prison, you'd better not ask these sorts of questions here."
I understood, then. Africa was over there, almost an Industrial Age ago. This is now. Still, we had heard hair-raising stories about shipping motorbikes from Africa to Australia: They have to be toothbrush-clean and even so, they are likely to be parked in quarantine for a couple of weeks because the Aussies have reasonable fears concerning the introduction of African pests. Stop right there: We have more than enough weird fauna, thank you!
To receive a coveted "OK, now go about your business" from the quarantine officer, we had spent four stressful days cleaning our motorbikes and leaping through hoops here and there for all sorts of highly important documents. Long live the Bureaucracy!