You Have the Right To Remain Silent

You’ve got to give New Zealand credit.  They have the most stringent airport security (for international flights – more on domestic flights in a bit) for a country that no Al Qaeda terrorist has ever heard of or if they have they would never thinking of wasting their precious 4C to target this small, politically benign country.  And that’s not meant to be a slight on New Zealand, but rather a compliment.  To maintain such an amazingly beautiful country that is a popular tourist destination and still remain out of the international political fray is an impressive achievement (even Bali was bombed twice by Islamic fundamentalists  in recent years and Indonesia is a Muslim country!) .

Still I have never experienced such a thorough security check in all my life.  For starters, before we even left Melbourne, New Zealand was trying to assure that we would be eventually leaving their country.  The Jet Star check-in agent in Australia said she was required to see printed proof of our flight out of New Zealand even if it was on another airline.  She said it was a New Zealand policy that they needed to comply with.  Francesca only had the itinerary on her iPhone which the technology-challenged Jet Star employee found difficult to read.  After a quick i-tutorial by Francesca she accepted that we had sufficient proof that we were not planning to seek asylum in Kiwi-land.

Upon arrival in Christchurch the immigration official grilled us at length about the places we had visited in the thirty days prior to arriving in New Zealand.  We figured that Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam would be red flags for something (illegal fruits & vegetables, soil, etc.) so we briefly considered leaving a few of these out, but figured she would probably notice the stamps and visas in our passports and the jig would be up so we came clean.  Without smiling she wrote a large “E” on our customs form and waved us through.

While we were still trying to decipher what the “E” stood for we were greeted by a friendly customs official in the “Goods to Declare” section.  We greeted her politely, but informed her that we had nothing to declare and so we should be in the other section.  She smiled cheerily and said “That’s okay, just come with me.”  She took us to a bag check area and it was only then that I remembered we were holding two bottles of duty free wine.  “Crap, do we have to declare two bottles of duty free wine?” I whispered to Francesca.  “I don’t think so” she whispered back.

The customs official spoke like it was just a formality.  She said she would only check one of our bags and we pushed mine forward.  Then she began asking us detailed questions about the countries we had been prior to arrival.  She seemed very interested in our RTW trip and was asking us a litany of questions seemingly unrelated to her professional interest in our travel  – “Do you miss your families?”, “You quit your jobs!?”, etc.  Then she asked if we had any cameras or phones and we happily produced my video/still camera and Francesca’s iPhone.  Despite the momentary detainment we were really in no rush and had nothing to hide.

She started to swab the outside with something that looked like the oil blotters that Francesca and I use to de-grease our faces each morning (I’m only part metrosexual.   Bi-metrosexual?).  We asked what she was doing and she told us she was checking for traces of illegal narcotics.  She looked me in the eye and asked “you two aren’t involved in anything like that are you?”  I immediately replied “No, of course not” as if the mere question offended me. Thinking back on a couple of wild nights I had in Thailand twenty years ago I almost followed up with “well, not anymore at least”, but then decided that might not be wise under the circumstances.   “Good” she said.

She then took the blotter and ran it through a machine behind her.  First Francesca’s iPhone.  Type, swipe…wait….”NO ALARM DETECTED” in large green letters.  Next she ran my camera blotter through. Francesca and I were enjoying this whispering to one another about how nerve wracking it would be if we really had been taking drugs in Laos.

Suddenly we heard a buzzing alarm and we looked over to see a flashing red message that read “DRUG DETECTED”.   “What is that?” I asked incredulous and she replied “Your camera tested positive for cannabis.”  Bombshell!  In an instant a million thoughts went through my head.  I am in ankle shackles wasting away in a Thai prison.  I am in a Turkish maximum security prison being violated by a man much bigger than I.  Snap back to reality.  She is standing in front of me with that ‘tsk tsk’ look on her face.  I stared at her for a moment while my embarrassment and worry percolated to a boil.  I was so shocked that I almost blurted out “YOU tested positive for cannabis!”, but I didn’t think that time honored fifth grade come back would be the most appropriate response at this point.

Thankfully Francesca was thinking quickly on her feet and suggested that it was possible the traces came from one of the dozens of backpackers who have handled our camera in the past thirty days when they had taken our photo for us.  The customs agent made a quick frown with a look that suggested she thought this was plausible and started typing things into her computer.  I asked her what happens next and she said she would have to consult with her boss and he would have to make a decision on whether or not he believed our story.  Then she disappeared behind a one way mirror where her boss would size us up and decide our fate.

“Holy shit” Francesca said. “What if they throw you in jail?”

“Me?!” I cried.  “You’ve used this camera just as much as I did!”

“Oh my god, I wonder if they’ll do a full body cavity search on you!”

“Shut up!”

But then I reasoned that since the evidence was completely circumstantial they probably couldn’t arrest me/us, but they could certainly deny us entry into their country and send us out on the next flight.  This would be a big bummer since my cousin Rob was waiting for us at a hotel nearby and our friends Tif and Adam would be meeting us in Queenstown the following day.

After an agonizing five minutes (that felt like fifty) the customs lady emerged from behind the glass and said that we were free to go.  We both let out a sigh, but not TOO big of a sigh so as not to look guilty.  There’s a fine line between guilt and relief.

We didn’t get to my cousin Rob’s resort apartment until about 11pm and our knock rousted him from his slumber.  But he manned up and rallied for a few hours while we chatted and drank a couple bottles of wine…and smoke pot (JUST KIDDING!).

Rob is a pilot and splits his time between flying commercial flights for Delta and flying huge troop and cargo planes for the US Air Force.  His current assignment is flying scientific equipment into Antarctica which is totally awesome!  I begged him to take us next time – I’m a big polar exploration history buff – but he said his boss (I guess that would be Obama!) wouldn’t allow it.

By the way our meeting up with Rob in New Zealand was a complete coincidence.  I only found out Rob was going to be in Christchurch the same time I was when I saw his Facebook posting with his Antarctica pics and even then I had no idea he’d be flying out of Christchurch until I emailed him and we made the connection.  Rob lives in Seattle normally so we don’t see each other much.  What are the odds of meeting up randomly half way around the world?  No, really, what are they?  I’m curious.  Any of you statistical gurus out there want to venture a guess? 😉

The following morning we went into town and walked around.  It reminded me a lot of Seattle – a very clean, outdoorsy vibe.

We found a video game arcade (remember when you had to go out of your house to play video games!?) and Rob and I played a zombie shoot-em-up game…..

.…while Francesca was busy working the punching bag on this game with very detailed “how to” instructions.  Hilarious! (unless, of course, you’re gay in which case it would probably be offensive).

Our time was too short and soon after we needed to head to the airport to catch our flight to Queenstown.  Oddly (or perhaps completely understandably) there was virtually no security on our domestic flight to Queenstown.  They never once x-rayed our carry-on bags nor did we go through any metal detectors – I kid you not!  I guess they figure they do such a great job getting people on their way in the country that they don’t bother harassing anyone once they’re in.

Statue of the tragic Antarctic explorer Sir Robert Falcon Scott sculpted by his wife Kathleen.

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4 Responses to “You Have the Right To Remain Silent”

  1. Just been catching up the last week and I’m exhausted from traveling around the world with you:) Thanks for taking me places. Very inspiring to trust strangers who would take you off the beaten path;) Seriously cool. Thanks for posting and enjoy the rest of your visit!

  2. 350 to 1 are the odds
    i didn’t know you had any cousins 🙂

    • aroljahns Says:

      Thanks Jules…….really? only 350 to 1? I would have thought more. I didn’t know i had any cousins either? you can imagine my surprise when i found out?

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