On June 15th we set 3 alarms for 3:00am in order to be sure to get up in time to catch our pre-arranged taxi that was scheduled to pick us up at 4:00am. Our hostal owner, who spoke no English, told us (in Spanish) that he would make the arrangements for a taxi pick up. We were both a bit nervous about this and had “Plan B” in case there was no taxi at 4:00. “Plan B” was simply to go out on the main street and flag down a cab. This was not an option we wanted to take since the neighborhood we were staying in has a reputation for being dangerous at night.
We were very thankful to find the cab outside our hostal at 4:00a. We got to the airport with no problem and the 5 hour flight from Quito, Ecuador to Houston, Texas (USA) was uneventful. At about 12:00 noon we entered the United States.
We had been out of the United States for over year and had visited 29 countries. We doubted we would just walk through customs like all the other people – and we were right. On the U.S. immigration card one of the questions asked what country we had been to before coming to the U.S. We both wrote “Ecuador + 28 others”. We got in line with several hundred other people and commented to each other that we had never seen so many people at a border crossing.
At passport control we explained to the officer that we had been out of the country for over a year and I showed him a list of the countries we had visited. These included:
He immediately wrote a code on the top of our immigration cards and sent us on our way. When we got to customs, we noticed most people just walked on through. When we got to the customs officers they sent us to a special customs room. Once we were in the customs room we saw the majority of people following green arrows and their luggage was being x-rayed by a machine. We were told to follow the red arrows where our bags would be inspected by hand.
Neither one of us wanted to unpack our bag – not because we had anything to hide, but because it took us so long to find the perfect spot for each item so that everything would fit. Plus, we had carefully wrapped many of our souvenirs in articles of clothing and strategically placed them in just the right place so that they wouldn’t get damaged. Michele also bought some artwork that had been professionally packaged and unwrapping (then rewrapping) that would be a nightmare.
We went to two different officers. Michele’s customs agent asked her which countries she had been to, whether she was carrying food, flowers, or plants, and which countries were her favorites. He also asked her to describe the artwork that she was hand carrying. After answering these questions she was told to exit the room. Meanwhile….
Mike’s customs officer took every single item out of his pack and put it on a table to examine. Mike had some souvenirs wrapped up and the officer even unwrapped the individual souvenirs to take a closer look at them. Mike was also asked a lot of questions. The officer explained that there had been a recent increase in drugs smuggled from Ecuador and that’s why he wanted to go through Mike’s bag so thoroughly. The officer was pleasant enough and after 30 minutes of digging through Mike’s stuff, he let Mike repack his bag. During this time Michele waited outside the special customs room and asked people exiting whether or not Mike (tall guy with long beard) was still talking with an agent. One couple told Michele, “It’s going to be a while. He’s got the entire contents of his pack spread out all over a table.” About 45 minutes after Michele exited, Mike walked through the door.
We had booked our own flights back into the U.S. and purposefully scheduled a 3 hour layover just in case we had trouble getting through customs. We’re so smart!
So, after 374 days, 29 countries and tens of thousands of dollars (look for a complete spending analysis in the near future) we’re happy to report we are alive and well (but a bit tired). What a trip!
As a comparison, here we are before and after our around-the-world trip:
BEFORE leaving on our trip (June 5, 2005):
AFTER our trip (June 15, 2006):
We are now in San Francisco, California visiting friends. Tomorrow we will go to the Portland, Oregon area to visit Michele’s family before returning to our “home” (storage unit and P.O. box) on the East Coast…