Thursday, May 7, 2009

Barely Over The Border

There is a reason why we stop just before the border before crossing and again nearly as soon afterward as is practical. BECAUSE! No matter how many times you have done it, no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how happy you are to be visiting someone else's country - things don't always go as planned. One word taken the wrong way when you pull up to the customs booth. One border agent whose significant other said no the night before. I don't know what else. But after countless easy crossings, today went just plain bad!

If I knew the answer to why it did I would surely tell you. Maybe Canadian agents don't like full time RVers. When I told him we lived in our coach, his immediate and stern response was,
"You really don't want to enter Canada today, do you? Now try again, where do you live?"
"My legal address is Florida. Better?"
Pull over and wait.
An hour and a half later we pulled into the security bay and did the vehicle version of a strip search. Oh, I feel so violated. "Must you put the latex gloves on, officer?"

We didn't think we had anything to hide. Still don't. But we got the old "Where are your firearms?" question about 4 times.
"I don't have any. No firearms. No beef. No oranges! Nothing."
"What about at home?"
"This IS home...I promise you: I will not stay any longer than necessary in your fine country and for sure I will not set up any illegal residency here. When it gets cold again, I'm gone, I'm outta here; I'm old! I further swear not to use my machete on any of your wildlife...or to chop down cherry tress wheresoever they may be protected from such action.

"What about alcohol?"
"Sure, we have this and this and that...."
"I don't need to know what you have. How many liters?"
"Sir, I am an American and I don't think well in liters"
"OK Exactly how many bottles do you have?"
"I don't exactly know."
"I need a number."
"How does three sound? That's sounds good to me."

After the inspection it was pointed out that I had MORE than three bottles. Yes and No. I had three bottles if we merge the contents, but my wife likes to divide everything into "back stock" and kitchen accessible, so what seems like six bottles to you may be only three container fulls to me.

Now about Marilyn's passport. The renewal was done at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa when we lived in Roatan, Honduras. We were there and it was time. But American Embassies all over the world are given the "old style" passports to use up. So every time officials see an old style passport, well, it can make issues if they don't take the time to see where it was issued. The passport is perfectly good. They just don't see one every day.

Maybe it was the EPA and Canadian Customs approved "Bear Repellent" we declared. Was it really an AK-47 in a bottle?

Eventually the ordeal ended and we were ready to roll on out of the bay. "I write a travel blog, officer. Do you think I could get a picture of my big rig in your big search bay?"

"I think not."

Lesson to be learned. This can happen to anyone, any time. You never know. Make camp close to each side of the border. Just in case!

Once through customs at this crossing, watch for the big bull elk in the fields on the right side of the road, several miles out of the gate. We have seen him the last two times through this way, and you may get lucky as well. And take note: windsocks may be indicating a small airport, but more likely they are used for you to see when you are about to get super-blasted by cross winds, which occur regularly here on bridges, open stretches and when coming out from sheltered highway. Both Canada and Alaska are far better then the lower 48 about marking driving conditions and potential hazards. So also watch for orange diamond shaped signs that look like they have a graphic of "mountains" on them. That is a "bump in the road" warning and they are most helpful. They mark even the most mild of situations so slow and steady should win the race. As we get further north, we have similar markings for frost heaves. Some tourists tell horror stories about the roads here.My guess is they weren't paying attention in the first place.

A final word about our border inspection. The inspection officer seemed rather stern to us as he began the search, while we waited in limbo outside the door of the coach. He emerged some time later in a seemingly happier frame of mind then when he entered, so now we are left to wonder: What did he see on his merry search? And did he find Marilyn's happy drawer????

So. From Fort Macleod RV Park, just barely beyond the border, thee ah thee thee ah, that's all folks!


JunieLou said...

Well, we certainly know what you are talking about today. When we crossed the border we were totally taken apart. We had nothing to hide but we did have a legal rifle and that was enough to set them off. Rain, sick dog, us totally innocent and they even searched my freezer and zip up bible. Took a LONG time.
Ok said they, you are fine. Be on your way.

bob said...

Oh my!! Sounds horrible. Fear has created a lot of ugly situations. I have friends who have a home south of Cancuun about 5 hrs so go in and out of Mexico when they drive an haul things and oh the stories sound about like yours. Good days and then disaster. I'm thinking jealousy is a big motivator. Here you are full-timing in a beautiful moho and then there is his life going through people's belongings everyday. So someone has to feel his pain and today it was you. Can't wait till I get there. Haven't been out of the country since 1999. I have promised my wife I will be cordial and not confrontational even if they are less than polite. It is going to be difficult but I can do it. Tomorrow is another day. By the way. Do you tape head lights or make any extra protections on your moho as you get further north? With my gasser I will probably add some hardware cloth over the radiator.

Greg said...

It's intimidating, is what it is. No one was rude, especially. But the wait gets on your nerves and you start to second guess whether there is a reason for this treatment or just the luck of the draw. We left "friends," and none the worse for wear. Good stories have to come from somewhere. Otherwise, who would read this blog to begin with?
And you CAN"T get testy with them or A) you are getting turned back (we saw one guy get turned back today for no apparent reason to us)or B) you get to turn around, kneel down and cross your hands behind your back. Their decision is not open for discussion beyond a reasonable point! Like the sign in the going out of business retail shop: All sales final!

Greg said...

We were told by some Canadians who pass through with commercial purchases on a regular basis at this crossing, that the Customs Agents have and are meeting a goal of one drug bust a day. When I assured them I had nothing even remotely like illegal drugs, I even offered to let them use MY dog Abby to check out the coach. That drew a smile! "Do you think she could find them if there were any? "No sir, but for sure she will not miss even the smallest piece chicken!!!!!

Denice & Dennis said...

Greg, I feel really sorry for your experience at the Canadian Border. Don't feel alone, we have the same problems when we cross back into our own home country! But Coutts is one of the worst. I was going to mention to you when you were in North Dakota, to giving some thought to coming up into Saskatchewan through North Portal, and into Estevan, Sask. That is the route that we chose when coming home this last trip. This is a small customs and the Canadian officers seem a lot more relaxed here. Another route would have been from Havre, Montana, north on highway 232 to Wildhorse, Customs and then on Alberta #41 to Medicine Hat. This is a good paved 2 lane highway all the way, and the customs agent usually is just happy to see someone to chat with. Coutts is a major entry point and a lot of Bad stuff and People try to cross there, hence the sterness. Anyway glad to see you are now in Alberta, and we hope your visit here will be better than today's experience. Just "I'm sorry" for the way you guys were treated. The rest of us Canadians are good, friendly people!
We did get a real laugh from the reasoning behind the officers relaxed attitude on the way out of your dwelling!!
By the way tomorrow when you leave Ft Macleod and heading north somewhere in the next 50 miles you will meet a 3/4 Black Supper Duty Ford pulling a white Suzuki Sidekick. That will be us!! The Suzuki is what I used to pull with ELTORO, our motorhome, but for this last trip we bought a Jeep Liberty. Sold the Suzuki and are delivering it to the new owner, just prior to the Coutts border crossing. Not going there with a vehicle to sell! If you happen to see us try that Air horn again, We'll do the same.

Good travelling
Denice and Dennis

Greg said...

Denice and Dennis- no problem really. We're here now and glad to be here. I have always felt that I am very nearly as comfortable and "home" in Canada as in the states. I thank you for your analysis about the different crossing options. We chose this one because there was not much in the way of campgrounds open for us to stay in on the other routes. We don't fit so well in your Provincial Parks. And we fully understand those agents have a job to do and that by doing it they help keep all of us a bit safer. Nothing wrong with that. I suppose we would all wish not to be the target of the check, but what the heck! The crossing was not busy and nearly everyone had to pull over for an interview, but we drew the short straw for the inspection. The only other one in the search bay when we were in was a Canadian couple in an vintage Prevost pulling a trailer with a car and a motorcycle in it. They really tore them apart. They said it was par for the course. We had a nice chat with them and shared a few nervous laughs.
You are the first to pick up on the "happy drawer" comment. Good for you- shows your playful side!!!
We were 10 miles down the road before we even thought anything at all about personal belongings- but that does kind of explain the change in attitude, huh? One of our friends wrote to say that maybe a couple of the old dog's pain meds were "borrowed." Nah. That wasn't it!

Mark and Chris said...

Glad to see you are now in Canada. Luck of the draw at the border, going into Canada or USA, these days. I do recall reading somewhere that "fulltimer" is not well digested by border staff in either direction. But hey, you are in and don't sweat the small stuff. Safe travels.