Busted! I´m Now a Reformed Smuggler!
January 14, 2012 by rtwsenior
I still owe you stories about Iguazu Falls and Paraguay. Hopefully, I´ll get them done soon, as I plan to stay in Beautiful Santiago Chile for a few days. But here´s my latest adventure that needs telling early as it´s pretty good….in my wacky book, anyway.
(Saturday, January 14, 2012, Santiago, Chile) Yesterday, flying here from Asuncion, Paraguay was a hoot. And I was quite tired when I reached the Hostel Forestal in the early afternoon. I was so sleep-deprived from lack of sleep at the fancy & expensive Gran Hotel del Paraguay (AC blew directly on the bed and light shone in my eyes from the porch since the shutters didn´t close all the way) that I slept for 14 hours last night …. very soundly in a $15 per night hostel 8-bunk mixed dorm room. Now I must write about my airport adventure.
I had to get up at 4 a.m. to make my 7;10 a.m. flight but that went fine, then in Buenos Aires I messed up a bit by flowing out of the secure area and having to go back through customs and long lines to get to my boarding gate, but I still made the plane. I landed in Santiago around noon. All passengers had filled out customs forms declaring that we weren´t bringing in any plant or animal products. How many similar papers have I filled out over the years? Certain that I had no forbidden items in my bags or on my person, I ticked off the ¨no¨boxes and signed my name. The operation didn´t tax my sleep-deprived brain hardly at all.
Primary in my thoughts at the time were the two crisp $100 American dollars in my wallet, newly-unwound from their hiding place sewn in the seams of my old rain jacket pocket. This was meant to pay the Chilean Reciprocity Fee of $132 levied upon Westerners, which then is good for the life of the passport… six more years for me. Lonely Planet said that they required the exact cash but I was hoping they coud make change for me. Flowing towards the customs agent´s booths, I saw the sign for Reciprocity Fee and expected to be asked for the money by the official stamping my passport. Having learned my lesson at the Paraguayan Consulate (see my recent blog about bribing), I didn´t dare slide the money across the counter to him. But he just did the usual passport stamping and waved me through. Hmmmm? Must be somewhere up ahead.
I sequed into the agricultural inspection area manned by SAG officials, having made it safely past the drug-sniffing hound. When I saw artisanal items on the signage, I even removed a jute bag containing a few native crafts bought in Paraguay, but the official I asked said that it was fine. Then, just as my bags were on the counter for opening, I heard one officer ask the person in front of me; ¨Do you have any fruit?¨ and something in my brain suddenly recalled the little green apple, bought on my long, hot walk in Asuncion, still uneaten in a pouche of my oversized daypack, which I´d chosen to use as a carryon. The forbidden fruit rolled out in front of the officer. That did it! I was a smuggler, caught red-handed.
It didn´t take the official long to unfold my custom´s declaration form and tap my clearly-checked-off ¨no¨ column over my signature. This was a legal document and I had lied. That green manzana, .013 kg was staring right up at us. Guilty as charged I agreed, preparing to be arrested on the spot. Shunted to a particular table, I joined some intensely-angry German senior citizens who were showing umbrage over the few mandarin oranges and a handful of cherry tomatoes found in their hand luggage. I could certainly sympathize with their plight because they couldn´t speak English or Spanish and but had had to fill out a legal form written in only those languages. Plus, they were members of a group being held up with their detainment. Nonetheless, they were as guilty as I was and the law was the law. We would all be processed and that was simply that! One man probably shaved years off his life with the high blood pressure that he surely must have experienced trying to bully the Chilean officials out of doing their duty.
What happened next? Tune in next time.