Sunday, Sept. 21
Peru to Chile
Well, I got busted.
I bought the stuff in Lima the night before my flight to Chile. Packed my things and caught a few hours of sleep before waking up at 3:30am to take a cab to the Lima airport. I figured I'd enjoy it on the plane, before going through Chilean customs.
But I fell asleep on the flight, forgot all about it. In the Santiago airport the signs were everywhere, reminding me to get rid of it. A bulbous green receptacle at baggage claim offered one more chance, no questions asked.
I didn't even think twice. Thought I was clean. An airport dog paused at my bag, sniffed, raised its tail--then moved on.
When my bags passed through the customs x-ray, the officer pulled my backpack aside and asked me to open it. No sweat. Then, as she ruffled through it, I remembered:
Two oranges and a bag of raisins. Carajo.
The officer pulled out the offending produce and frowned. Come with me, she said.
I know agriculture imports are forbidden. And I understand why: the light brown apple moth, for instance, probably hitched to Cali on an innocent-looking fruit. The spore that causes sudden oak death, the scourge of Big Sur, is believed to have arrived on a gentle rhododendron. So these Peruvian oranges, and even the sealed bag of raisins, could theoretically cause serious trouble in Chile.
But I felt ridiculous sitting in the customs office like a kid facing the principal. Over the course of about an hour, I got a little lecture and had to sign a series of papers, including a statement--"I bought it in Lima, meant to eat it on the plane but fell asleep and forgot I had it. I'm sorry."
The fine might be $4,500 U.S., said the woman handling my case. Then she paused, just to watch me hyperventilate.
...But, she added, since you're not aggressive and this is your first offense, we'll give you the minimum fine of 37,000 pesos--about $75. The next time, she says, it will be much more severe.
I swore there would not be a next time.