More customs fun

by Aaron on January 10, 2011

When we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of trouble with customs.  I’d been there this summer and it was a piece of cake(commercial flight though).

I was about as wrong as you can get.  We disembarked easy enough and rode across the airport to customs and immigration.  We got our stamps and made our way towards the door.

We were then approached by a woman who was speaking insanely fast spanish of which I caught none.   We were asked to come with a group of them to the DIAN(customs) office.

It was here after a few conversations in Spanish(I speak a little and no one in the room spoke any English) that I began to understand we were missing a form of some sorts that we were required to fill out prior to landing in Colombia.

And evidently that’s a pretty big deal to them.  We sat in the room for about 45 minutes as I explained to them we were informed that the missing document wasn’t necessary for us since were only staying in Colombia one night.

I’m not sure whether they were messing with us or genuinely thought we were in violation of the law but the situation seemed somewhat serious.

At this point I decided to start recording the conversation on my iphone because I thought it would make some good audio for the DVD :-).

No sooner than I hit record did a woman walk in who spoke perfect English.   She relayed some information to us that my remedial understanding of Spanish definitely did not pick up.

She said quite clearly that if we can’t find the form getting permission to come into the country the authorities had the option to seize the plane.

Uhhhh, that wasn’t going to work.  We highly doubted they would actually take the plane, but you never know, and we definitely didn’t want to burn the rest of the day in customs.

After recording that exchange on my iphone I decided to turn the recorder off to save the clip and to not push the envelope if they caught me recording.  That might have led to some other issues.(I’ll take my chances they don’t read this post, ha).

I got quite the surprise as I went to turn the recorder off the clip began to play back on speaker phone!

I tried to turn the phone on silent but that didn’t work.  After about 5 seconds of button pushing and cussing under my breath I managed to turn it off.  Several of the customs officers were looking around wondering what the heck it was they just heard.  But thankfully there were enough people in the room talking about what to do with us that no one figured out what had just happened.

Suffice it to say the heart was beating a little faster than usual.

Patrick then left the room to go call the handler’s emergency line and see what we needed to do.  Alex and I sat in the room with our stuff and tried to lighten the mood with some light spanish convo’s.

I doubt it helped but we managed a few laughs from them and about 15 minutes later they said we could fill out the form after landing(usually done prior) just this one time and be on our way.

I think one of the officers had made a phone call or two to some of their higher ups and decided we weren’t worth screwing with any more.  And Patrick thinks they were just having a good time screwing with some gringos.

Either way, we filled out the form, said our muchas graciases, and were finally on our way.   As with every customs office we’ve been too they were very friendly as can be, but the red tape cost us some time and almost an airplane.

Colombia is an amazing country and has some amazing people(I spent 16 days there this summer and plan to go back again).  I’d check it out via commercial flight instead of private though.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Edie Stahl January 10, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I’m really laughing about this one. One for the ”randomness” column.


Great Grumpy Z January 10, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Reminds me of the problems I had getting a visa the first time when I flew co-pilot with my brother into Brazil! Also when I landed in Belem International (my first landing in about 40 years.). Then I had to find my Yellow Fever shot record — or get injected right then and there!! [I found it — whew!!]


Peggy Pawlak January 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Have a wonderful trip to Columbia. Hope entry goes more smoothly. Look for some good salsa recipes to send me!


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