This was to be a "relaxing" vacation (I know...sort of an oxymoron). A friend was loaning us one of their condos and we were renting another one for our crew of 11. Once reaching the airport in Costa Rica, his driver would pick us up and whisk us away to this exclusive area where we would lie on the beach, fish, take a zip line tour of the jungle and much more. We boarded our plane Sunday morning and after 5 hours of flying and 4 hours of lay overs, we finally made it to Costa Rica that evening. What happened next...well, I'll let YOU decide; me? I felt like I was in a nightmare and couldn't be woken up!
Robby and I have traveled out of the country many other times so this was not the first time to use these exact passports. Everyone was making their way through immigration and as I stepped to the side, Robby was not behind me. I wasn't sure what had happened; the agent was just about to stamp his passport when I was cleared. Suddenly I saw them take his passport to someone and move him over to the side. At this point, I was still not too concerned; immigration did this sort of thing all the time. There was a tear on the top of page 12 of his passport. That page had never been used and was still attached to the passport, but what we didn't know about was a new law that had been enacted 5 days prior to our arrival concerning what they considered "damaged" passports.
It seems that once immigration in Costa Rica (and it is up to their discretion...) declares someone's passport "damaged" in any way, it becomes invalid. Yes, even if the airline where you started OK'd it and considered it a good passport, they have the right to deny you entry into their country. And THIS is where our NIGHTMARE began.
First, let me say that virtually NO ONE spoke English; I was wondering WHY I had not invested in the "Spanish Rosetta Stone" series instead of the Italian one. Our airline representative was bilingual and tried very hard to gain Robby entry into the country. She said she had seen many passports in worse condition that his, but the officer did speak enough English to say, "You're English...you would not let me into YOUR country; NOW, you can just go back to the United States!" OK...so, at this point, I knew things were serious. Robby was on one side (not "officially" in the country...) and we were on the other side...and they would not let us cross the line to get to him.
The others were down looking for their luggage while Caitlin, Kevin and I watched what was unfolding. I told Kevin to go get Justin. Before I knew it, the entire family (including a sleeping baby in a stroller...) was standing on one side of immigration, while Spanish was being spoken and interpreted frantically. It was clear that the airline representative could not understand why this was happening, but it was also clear that the immigration officer (the old guy who was checking Robby in...) was NOT going to allow him into the country and HE was in control here. The representative told us that he could wait until the next morning and try to get in when the new shift came on. I told her that if he went back...ALL 11 of us were going back! She begged me to let her "work on it" for a while. Perhaps she could talk to "someone else"...someone at the U.S. Embassy. In the meantime, she said that he would have to stay there and we could stay at a nearby hotel. We did NOT want to leave him there alone...and I was NOT going to do that. After much "family/official" discussion, Robby finally asked if I could "come on the other side" with him; immigration said, "NO". Eventually the airline representative talked them into allowing me to "cross back over". However, not only did they now have Robby's passport in their possession...they confiscated mine too!
We were led upstairs and a guard was assigned to watch over us...all night (and eventually until we boarded our return flight...) long. It was only us, our guards and the cleaning people there that night. The guards took turns changing shifts and most did not speak any English. One did, however, and told us he was studying English (he appeared to be about 19 years old...). At 2 a.m. he was quite chatty, wanting to practice this new language. Robby asked him why they were guarding us...did they think we would try to "run"? He said, "Yes. That is possible." CRAP! Reality was setting in and I DID NOT LIKE THIS! The airline representative brought out 2 small pillows and blankets and Robby and I curled up in the corner, on the floor to try to sleep. As we laid there, Robby asked, "Can you do masonry work?" Opening my eye, I said, "WHAT?! WHY?!" "Well, we might be like Tom Hanks in that movie "Terminal"; we might be living in this airport for years."
We were nudged awake by the individual cleaning the carpet, who motioned for us to move; he needed to clean the spot where we were laying...REALLY?! I tried to just lay there and say, "No comprendo", but Robby made me get up. It was at some point during all of this that I decided...I don't want to get into this country any more...I JUST WANT TO GO HOME! Taking our blankets and pillows, we laid out in the middle of the floor. Robby said, "We're just going to lay out here in the open?" "Yes! We are going to lay here like 'street people'" I was getting pretty agitated now.
It was around 4 a.m. when our new guard arrived and nudged us awake again. No...he was not English speaking either. He motioned for us to come with him. It seemed that the airport was becoming more busy now and they did want us to be seen like that; they moved us to a remote part of the airport. All through the night, no one would give us the international phone number for the airline carrier, but finally Robby got enough Internet service (he had thankfully gotten international coverage on his cell phone before we left...) to find that number and speak to an American. Upon checking, she found that everyone in our party had been booked on flights back to Dallas for that morning. We called the kids and told them where to pick up their boarding passes and we had to wait (with our guard...) until someone brought us ours. All through the night (as each guard changed...), I would ask, "Where are our passports?" They changed hands so many times, that I feared something would happened to them and we would not be able to leave the country. We were told we would not get them back until we were about to board our plane.
Our guard walked us down to where the rest of our family was waiting to board the plane. Just before the boarding began, Robby and I were led to the front of the line and given our passports. We then went outside where our bags were searched before boarding a bus. Hey! We had never entered the country or left the airport and NOW they were throwing away my small bottle of hand sanitizer?! REALLY?! They could throw it away...I didn't care...I just wanted to GET OUTTA THAT COUNTRY ASAP!!!
One "positive" (if there could BE one...) was that we were once again booked in first class going back to Dallas. There, I leaned my chair back, covered my head up with that blanket I had been given during the night, placed my head on my pillow and held my breath until we were up in the air. I slept...I did not eat my breakfast or have any cocktails...I just slept and thanked God that I was heading back to the GOOD OLD USA!
We are in Dallas now and I am happy. Happy to be back in the US. Happy that I can understand the language here. Thankful that my family is all safe and sound. People have often told me, "These things ONLY happen to you..." Well, NOW I will have to agree with that! However, if this kind of "adventure" continues to follow me around, I'm not sure how long I can hang in there!