Welcome to Middle Earth! read the sign in the airport as we got off the plane. Man…they really take this Lord of the Rings thing seriously. Welcome back to the world of flushing toilets and clean water! is more like it. Our 10-hour flight from Singapore was thankfully uneventful and we had finally arrived in New Zealand. We felt jet-lagged and wiped-out from two days of travel, but still had to go through the formalities of customs in a new nation.
We wandered from important desk to important desk in our dazed and confused state (slightly amused at this new accent), answering questions about where we had been, where we’re going, and what we intended to see. Apparently, we may have said or done something to set off a red flag and were eventually told, “Go take a seat over there. We’ll be with you in a moment.” Is it the hair?! Another customs official then asked us to bring all of our bags over and began asking us a million more questions, including whether they could search our belongings. Can’t really say no to that one… Slowly and thoroughly, everything in our possession was spread out across a long stainless steel table and inspected by a woman with rubber gloves. We felt like our rights were stripped away in the hands of the law.
Where did you get this? India. What does it do? It’s a neti pot. Do you ever do drugs? I do yoga.
A blatant violation of privacy, right off the plane, for no apparent reason. After everything was inspected to the fullest extent, the supervisor came over to take one last look through our food bag. A tall man in his mid-60s, with glasses, greying hair and moustache confronted us.
Did you read this and fill it out under your own free will? (in reference to our customs form). Yes. Is that your signature? Yes. Did you see the part about not bringing animal products into our country? What? We’re vegetarian! That INCLUDES bee products! Uhhh… That’s a $400 fine for endangering our billion dollar bee industry. What?! But we’re poor backpackers! Can’t you just throw it away?! Maybe if you had checked the box marked “yes” one centimeter to the left. Whoa…cheap shot dude.
Apparently, we still had a tiny bottle of bee pollen from Thailand that we forgot about. Bee pollen is used as a natural supplement for energy and to promote good circulation. Now we were facing a $400 fine because we failed to remember still having it in our bag after all these months. And even if we remembered having it, who thinks of bee pollen as an animal product?! When the grumpy old man walked away, the woman who searched us felt bad because she may have been able to toss it out and look the other way if she was the one who found it first. She said that guy hands out the fine to everyone, young or old, rich or poor. There was nothing she could do now.
During the next few minutes of feeling sick about the impending dent in our already-depleted bank accounts, there must have been a shift change or divine intervention because we never saw that cranky cook again. Instead, a different supervisor came over to assess the situation. He saw the pity on our ghost-white faces, the long scraggly hair, the tears building in Gabriella’s eyes, and asked, Is this your first time in New Zealand? Uh-huh… Do you realize the danger you could cause to our bee industry? Uh-huh… Ok, well I’m going to let you off with a warning this time, but don’t let it happen again. Ok? Uh-huh!!
We thanked our lucky stars (Grandma’s above), repacked everything we own, and got the hell out of there before anyone changed their mind! Welcome to New Zealand!!