Travel Fiasco

Colombian Customs

by Brooke Siegel

There is no cocaine in Colombia. Or, more exactly, there is no cocaine leaving Colombia, at least not from Rafael Núñez Airport. Ask me how many officers examined my bag before my flight back to New York. Ask. Five!

I know what you're thinking: that I must have looked like a drug smuggler — nervous and sweaty, in a fedora and sunglasses, glancing furtively from side to side. But I didn't even wear sunglasses, and I'm more shifty than furtive.

So what drew their attention to me? Hash remnants in my suitcase from a trip to Amsterdam? No! I've never been to Amsterdam. I was detained at the airport in Colombia because of this apple.

Pretty awesome, right? It's a hand-carved, lacquered wood apple with a pewter stem. Made by a Colombian artisan. I was drawn to it because of the powerful statement it makes about indulgence, Eve, and humankind's eternal attraction to the shiny and forbidden — also, you know, I thought it would look really cool on my coffee table.

I learned that "objets d'art" doesn't translate: Policía National de Colombia could not understand why I would carry a shiny fruit swathed in bubble wrap out of their country.

There's a distinction between Colombian police and Colombian military (one I quickly discerned on Wikipedia), but the important thing — for this story — is that all official personnel wore badass uniforms. When the first officer unwrapped my apple, I was a cool customer. No big. Just a little search and seizure. When he carried the apple over to a second officer, still cool. "It's an objets d'art, señores." It wasn't until they carried the apple to a third officer (the generalissimo, perhaps?) that the plot of Brokedown Palace washed over me like an icy wave. What if my apple is made of drugs? I don't know where the embassy is! How did that movie end (did Claire Danes die)?

As a team of officers stared quizzically at the apple, I tried to look like an innocent person who does not smuggle drugs in a polished piece of fruit. After some time, one of the men picked it up and sniffed it. Sniffed it! I pictured myself getting locked up in a Colombian prison where I'd have to fight to survive and wear my hair curly.

Eventually, the most menacing officer carried the apple back to the table, very carefully swathed it in bubble wrap and duct tape, and handed over my objets d'art with a warm smile. Today the apple sits on my coffee table, but one day I'm going to break it open and party.