How not to smuggle in the Galapagos

Sally Lightfoot Crab ready to take us on in the Galapagos

Hubbie and I were relaxing in the airport departure lounge (more of a ‘shed’ really) after spending the final week of our South American honeymoon ogling blue footed boobies and snorkelling with sharks in the Galapagos Islands.

Blue Footed BOOBIE, in the Galapagos
Blue Footed BOOBIE, in the Galapagos

We were continuing an ongoing heated discussion about just how many photographs of sea-lions we actually needed, when a loud Hispanic voice crackled authoritatively over the airport tannoy:

“Would Mister Peter Cole come to the security desk – IMMEDIATELY!”

We sat uncertainly on the edge of our wooden seats for a few minutes, sure that there must be another chap with the same name, and wondered what mischief he’d been up to. Unsurprisingly, no-one else stepped forward or looked in the least bit interested.

The gorgeous Galapagos
The gorgeous Galapagos

It couldn’t be hubbie! What had he done? Was he being summoned just because he was a white male in his twenties with incredibly short hair? He usually gets stopped at airport security for these reasons, particularly in the USA, and I’d suggested on numerous occassions that he should let his hair grow and not use so much sun protection. However, a few weeks ago we had vowed only to honour, not obey, so the advice fell on deaf ears. Perhaps the airline had decided to upgrade us since it was our honeymoon?

All these suggestions however seemed unlikely, and after the third rather more impatient announcement, we hurriedly returned to the security desk, where hubbie was promptly ordered to climb over the baggage carousel and firmly escorted outside by a couple of ‘robust’ looking guards with a couple of ‘robust’ looking guns. I attempted to follow, sure there had been some simple mistake, explaining I could help with the translation.

I was rudely pushed aside however, and told under no circumstances should I follow. So I slipped on the sunglasses of anonymity and waited anxiously in the hall,  trying not to meet the accusing eyes of other curious passengers. I eventually managed to catch a glimpse of the proceedings through a hole in the wall, and didn’t like what I saw. Hubbie’s voluminous red backpack was lying forlornly on the dusty floor, surrounded by officers who were keeping it in the sights of their weapons as if it was some ferocious animal. I began thinking our dream honeymoon was about to end in spectacular fashion.

One of a zillion photos we took of Galapagos sealions
One of a zillion photos we took of Galapagos sealions

Hearing a few snatches of Spanish, I identified the word for ‘fish’ and then saw hubbie frantically flapping his arms about, clearly trying to communicate but failing miserably. The guards did not look amused. After several long minutes, the Mr Cole in question emerged from the scene, eyes downcast as he scaled the baggage carousel once again, this time less energetically. My heart stopped as he told me:

“They found something illegal in my bag”.

What on earth could it be? Had someone managed to stash something in our luggage without out realising, and would anyone believe us?

“Two small, sealed packets containing white powder” he mumbled.

Sh*t!!! The nightmare was becoming reality.

My first thought was cocaine. Big trouble.

My second thought was sand, illegally smuggled from the Galapagos islands. Even bigger trouble! You can’t step foot on a boat after snorkelling or visiting the islands without being thoroughly hosed down (a not altogether unpleasant experience) to make sure not a single grain of sand escapes, thereby helping to preserve the ecosystems.

Land Iguana, Galapagos
Land Iguana, Galapagos

My third thought coincided with the wide grin spreading across hubbie’s face, and with it came sheer relief. I had been right in offering to translate in the first place. It would have saved a lot of stress (and some rather poor acting skills), but as it was my poor hubbie had to play a game of charades with guards. It is quite difficult to mine eating seasoned chips. Apparently.

So the moral of this story is … if you for some reason decide that purchasing 2 kilos of salt from the Salineras salt pans in Peru is a fantastic idea, just remember that stuffing it in the bottom of your rucksack with your socks might just seem a little more dodgy than it really is.

The Salineras salt pans in Peru
The Salineras salt pans in Peru

The infamous salt now has pride of place shoved in the darkest depths of the baking cupboard, almost forgotten, and certainly rarely used.

The infamous salt from Salineras in Peru
The infamous salt from Salineras in Peru

Edited version as published in Wanderlust Magazine

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  1. says: Angella

    Oh no! I’m so sorry you had a difficult time through customs, just for bringing back some innocent Peruvian salt! What a horrible experience! We almost had a similar incident but with coca leaves! Luckily they were factory packaged and they didn’t make a big deal out of it…lesson learned though!
    Thank you for sharing! I came upon your site while doing more research on Peru as I’m finally blogging about our adventure from 2017! Peru is a beautiful country with an amazing culture. We hope to revisit again soon!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      It’s experiences like this that make the memories isn’t it! I guess they see a lot of tourists with cocoa leaves, but so easy to forget you have them, or just not realise it’s an issue. Glad you enjoyed your trip!