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Who are DHL?
DHL are the company that charged me £80 and couldn't even spare some bubble-wrap for the flutes that I shipped halfway around the world. Bastards.
My Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience with DHL
I've started to build up quite a collection of random world music instruments in my bedroom at home, and on my recent six-month trip to Bolivia I managed to add to this collection 26 panpipes, 13 tarkas, 10 musinus, 2 charangos and a quena. Most of these instruments are still in Bolivia waiting to be sent back to England, the 13 tarkas I managed to fit into the biggest suitcase I could buy in Bolivia, which broke my hostel owner's scales as I was trying to check the weight of it, and the musinus I posted back home with DHL just before I left.
One thing that can be said for DHL is that they're almost as prolific as Starbucks - there are offices in every city in Bolivia and a total of seven offices in the capital La Paz. I walked into one of these with my flutes in my arms and was told that I would need a special wooden box made for them, what with them being fragile, delicate, easily breakable instruments and everything, and I was thus sent off to the DHL headquarters which were, of course, not in the centre of the city and required a rather expensive taxi ride to get to.
But once I had got to DHL headquarters things didn't take that long at all. The nice DHL girl helped me to fill in the forms, which were easy enough, and then took my flutes and went away and weighed them. She came back with a 'volumetric weight' of 4 kg, and my Spanish wasn't good enough to understand why she wasn't going to charge me for the actual weight of the instruments, which was more like 2 kg. But I've just found the answer to this on the DHL website, which is simply to get as much money out of you as possible:
'Sometimes, large items with a light overall weight can be charged according to the space they take up on the vehicle. In these cases, Volumetric Weight, or dimensional (Dim) weight, is used to calculate the shipment cost.
It is recommended that you calculate the Volumetric Weight for every shipment that you send, then compare this to its actual weight. The greater weight of the two is used to work out the price that we charge you.'
So you're buggered either way, then. I don't know if this is a standard courier service thing, or if it's just DHL, but it does seem a bit sneaky, really. Especially as nothing about volumetric weight was mentioned when I first went into the Sucre DHL office to get an original quote, or when I took my flutes to that first La Paz office and they weighed them there. So it turned out to be rather more expensive than I had first thought, although no mention of any special wooden box that I also had to pay for was made, and I wasn't going to ask. Apparently I didn't need one after all. So I forked out my £80, which is such a lot of money in Bolivia, and was given my receipt and tracking number. The DHL girl told me that they'd take 7 to 10 days to be delivered. She then started taking the flutes out of my dustbin liner and transferring them into another bag, and noticing my rather worried stare she told me that they were going to look after them, I didn't have to worry at all, this was purely to transfer them and then they'd be put into a solid cardboard tube and everything would be wonderful. I was somewhat reassured and left.
I flew home the next day and my flutes turned up 20 days later. They got to England within 5 days and I thought that that was quite impressive, but they then spent 2 days in the East Midlands and almost two weeks Cambridge. And when they finally reached me I was utterly shocked to find that the packaging of my obviously fragile instruments had consisted of absolutely nothing at all. They had been put inside two cardboard tubes and the two cardboard tubes had been tied together and that was it. No padding, no bubble-wrap, no tissue paper, no polystyrene or anything. I paid £80 to 'the global market leader in international express' and they couldn't even wrap my flutes in bubble-wrap! It was hardly surprising that one of them had cracked on the journey and is now unplayable. Fair enough, it might have only cost me about £2, but I can't replace it. Not unless if I fly back to Bolivia, take the other nine flutes with me, find the man in the countryside who made the set for me and get him to replace the broken one, and then ship them all back to England again with DHL who'll probably break another.
I have got to be one of the world's most laid-back people and I don't usually get angry about anything, really, but gosh am I angry with DHL. I don't know, they might be alright with bits of paper and really solid things like crowbars, but if you want to send anything fragile with them then don't expect it to turn up to its destination in one piece. And don't expect it to turn up on time. And don't expect to pay the correct amount for the actual weight of whatever it is you're sending.
Good things about DHL:
They have more offices than you could possibly ever wish for all over the world. They sort out all of the paperwork for you. Had I of tried to send the flutes myself through the post office in La Paz there would have been a considerable amount of paperwork to do. They have a clever little tracking thing on their website so that you can see exactly where your items are. They package things up for you.
Bad Things about DHL:
Fragile items or anything that can't fit into one of their standard sized boxes potentially requires a trip to a different office, and probably the one which is furthest away from the centre of town. The whole actual weight versus volumetric weight business. Discrepancies between different offices - conveniently not being told certain things, or being told other things which then turn out not to be true. Items might just happen to spend up to two weeks sitting in an office in Cambridge. Their packaging is shite.