Mike and I were sitting on the floor in line to board our last flight from Lima to Cusco when we heard a woman at the counter call our names. It was 8am and we had been flying or in airports from DC since 5pm the previous day – Christmas day. The lady looked worried and said in broken English we had something not allowed in our checked bag. One of us (not both, she stressed) would have to come with her, claim our bag, and take it out. Somehow she volunteered me as tribute.
I vehemently loathed the Lima airport. A loathing founded on irrational fear founded on my thorough confusion during a six hour layover here eight years ago. Eight years ago, no one spoke English or could interpret my charades; at one point I ended up on the curb outside the airport; I wasn’t allowed back into the terminal until two hours before my flight; I had to pay a fee to get back into the terminal I hadn’t even meant to exit (in Peruvian Soles no less which I had to exchange American dollar for and which were useless when I got to my real destination, Chile). To ease my fears this round, Mike had tried to google how to properly navigate the Lima airport, but the internet only returned threads where people suspected the Lima airport was ruled by the mafia. So…that image helped my anxiety. As I followed the airline woman down a set of dreary, dark cement stairs, through the underbelly of the airport, I wondered if she was part of the mafia and if I would ever see Mike again. I mean what is not allowed in a checked bag?
I arrived at what I pictured to be an interrogation room where the contents of our bag were spilled onto the floor: two sleeping bags, two backpacking packs, a variety of liquids, and a can of sunscreen. I immediately thought the spray sunscreen was the issue: maybe pressurized cans become explosive at certain altitudes? But they kept searching…until they pulled a box of sparklers out of Mike’s pack. Freaking sparklers! Dulles airport hadn’t caught it (when we first checked our bag), Miami airport hadn’t caught it (when we switched airlines and had to re-check our bag) – but a third world country that let us through security with our beloved water bottles, belts, and shoes caught the actual explosive devices we had mistakenly forgotten about. Good job guys. Happily, my bag was re-packed, and Mike and I were re-united sans mafia harassment.
Alas, on the way back, I grew to dislike Lima again. They lost (or took) my Machu Picchu dirt. And then didn’t think my dirt was important enough to file a claim. I miss my dirt. I want my dirt back.