Wednesday’s return trip from Colombia included a lot of weirdness.
Travel papers and my wife’s assertiveness:
Alicia’s US residency hasn’t come through yet, so we had requested an Advance Parole that would allow her to re-enter the US. It arrived the week before she went to Colombia. There were two copies that appeared identical, so she took one along and left one at home, at my suggestion.
At the line in front of the Spirit Airlines desk, they have a desk where they check the passenger list and inspect passports. Alicia gave them her travel documents, and the girl said, “Do you have the other copy of your Parole? You can’t travel with this one.”
“Both copies are the same,” I said. “In any case, it’s not your problem, it’s something we can work out once we get to the US.”
She shook her head. “The other one is the one you need. They won’t let her into the US with this one, and we can’t let her on the plane. Can you please step aside so the line can move?”
“I’m not moving anywhere until you find a way to let us travel,” Alicia said. She demanded to see the girl’s supervisor.
“I’m the one in charge,” the girl said.
Alicia shook her head. “There must be someone higher up we can talk to. Who do you answer to?” she insisted.
After a long argument, the girl said she would call the Embassy, and she left. The passenger line at Spirit petered out. Our luggage porter was still standing by the cart with our bags, so we paid him off and he left. I fumbled through my phone in case I had the Embassy number on it. (I didn’t. Something to think about next time.)
A few minutes later, the girl returned. “The Embassy said it would be okay to travel with this copy. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience,” she said.
Airport security and guys with ponytails:
Airport security in Medellín is very thorough. They have the usual metal detector and carry-on luggage x-ray, but a police officer also looks at the bags and asks questions before you can move on to the immigration booth. Sometimes there’s an additional carry-on check at the gate.
In front of us in line was a Colombian guy with a ponytail, carrying only a laptop in a soft case. The policewoman was clearly suspicious of him. She opened the laptop and ran it through the x-ray twice, turned different directions. She turned the case inside out and felt it thoroughly. Finally she gave him back his belongings and he moved on.
I was carrying a massively heavy bag full of ceramic dishes, and fully expected to have the guard empty it and unwrap each piece, as on my previous four return trips. I had two laptops in my briefcase. And I also have a ponytail.
Alicia went through the metal detector first, and the officer asked her a couple of questions. I came through behind her and was surprised when the officer waved us on to immigration without opening a single thing!
It pays to have a glamorous wife.
Mysterious native woman on airplane:
As Alicia followed me into the airplane, an elderly woman in the second row, apparently from one of Colombia’s northern tribes, grabbed her wrist. “When is your baby due?” she asked.
“I’m not pregnant!” responded Alicia.
“If you want your child to be beautiful and healthy and have no problems, eat carrots. Lots of carrots!” the lady continued.
“Okay, thank you,” said Alicia.
Exit row seating (A):
I had paid extra for exit row seats, but at the Spirit desk they reassigned Alicia’s seat. “She can’t sit in the exit row because she doesn’t speak English,” the guy said. I couldn’t argue with that.
Once on the plane, I was pleased to find that she was in row 10, just in front of me. “Alicia, I’m going to try to get you back here. When the stewardess asks questions, just say ‘yes’ in English,” I whispered. The seat next to me was empty, but the Spirit desk personnel were on the plane helping the stewardesses.
The stewardess came by to ask the usual emergency exit row questions, and a couple of minutes later, the desk personnel left the plane. I called the stewardess over. “Can my wife sit with me?” I asked.
“Sure. Does she speak English?” she asked.
“She gets by,” I said.
“But is she fluent?” she asked, winking broadly.
“She gets by,” I said.
Alicia came back to sit with me. The stewardess asked the exit row questions, to which Alicia responded “yes,” and then the stewardess said, “Are you looking forward to visiting Florida?”
“Yes,” Alicia said.
She told me afterward that the stewardess winked at her while she asked the question.
US airport security and my wife’s assertiveness:
My wife was already on an antibiotic but woke up with a fever our travel day, so while I packed, she went to see a doctora bioenergética, something like a homeopathic doctor. Our friends picked me up and we swung by the doctor’s office to pick her up. Alicia had several little bottles of injectable vitamin C and four large bottles of agua de plata (colloidal silver water). I told her to put the little bottles in a zip-lock bag with her pills, and I found safe places in the suitcases for the bigger bottles.
We had no trouble with Colombian airport security, as I already mentioned.
Ft. Lauderdale Airport was a nightmare. It’s way too small to handle the traffic it has. It took over an hour to get through immigration (they were quite understanding about the missing copy of the Advance Parole, as I expected), and then another half hour to get through the massive Customs line. Alicia was sick and exhausted and hungry. I wanted to get through security before finding something to eat, so we joined yet another long line.
After we ran our bags through the belt, I put my belt and shoes back on, and was surprised to see a female TSA officer take Alicia and her backpack to one of the little inspection tables. Alicia reached out helpfully to unzip the backpack. “¡No lo toque!” the lady said. She opened the pack and pulled out Alicia’s bottle of Mr. Tea and the vitamin C bottles, grimacing at Alicia and brandishing each bottle in her face, acting as if Alicia had been trying to get away with something. There was a large bottle I hadn’t seen before, a dietary supplement the doctora had also prescribed.
“Those are my medicines,” Alicia said, but the lady paid no attention. She whisked the bottles and the pack off to run through the x-ray again. She returned with a Hispanic agent, a younger girl, to serve as translator. They threw out the Mr. Tea, which was fine with Alicia. There followed a long discussion about the medications, in which Alicia explained that she had been to see the bioenergética that morning and had the prescription. They asked to see it, so she dug it out of her pack.
Finally the mean lady left, and the Hispanic girl opened the bottle of dietary supplement to do a chemical test. Alicia thanked her for her politeness and gave her quite an earful about the older lady’s attitude. “She ought to be working as a prison guard. She had no right to treat me as if I were a criminal. It’s one thing to be trying to do something illegal, and another to break rules that I didn’t even know existed. She’s seriously lacking in people skills for this job,” she said.
“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” the girl said. She put the cap back on the big bottle and tucked the vitamin C bottles into the zip-lock bag. “Blessings. Have a nice trip,” she said as she handed back the medications.
Exit row seating (B) and masculine fragrance:
I was distressed to find that Alicia’s seat to Tampa had also been changed. She sat in 13B, a couple of rows back. Someone already had the seat next to me, and a couple of minutes after we sat down, Alicia got up to let a young man take the window seat. She gave me a look and held her finger under her nose as he slid past her.
I called back and asked him if he wanted to trade seats. “Sure!” he said.
I dug out my briefcase and scrambled into the aisle. As the young man squeezed past me, my nostrils were assailed by a horrible sweet fragrance with musky granular undertones that seemed to fill my sinuses with silt. It lingered for the whole flight.
The closest aromatic equivalent I could think of was 15 years ago when I forgot to open the flu before lighting the chimney and smoked up the living room. To try to mitigate the residual smoke odor, I sprinkled the carpet with a “deodorizing” vanilla-scented powder, and then vacuumed it back up. The smell of the powder turned out to be as unpleasant as the smoke itself.