"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
The scene: Cozumel International Airport (CZM), Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Boarding gate 6. A hundred or so passengers have been cooling their heels for several hours awaiting a late-arriving American Airlines 737-800. Severe weather in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (the flight's origination) has snarled air traffic. Although Cozumel airport is comfortable, with a number of worthy distractions ("A 750 ml bottle of Bombay Sapphire is how much?!") once one leaves the comfy confines of an all-inclusive resort, nothing but home is acceptable. Edgy is one way to describe the throng, munching on airport snack foods and jealously eying the passengers boarding a US Air flight to Charlotte. Cranky is another.
A sense of foreboding overtakes us. At the US Air gate are three security people, having roped off a table, doing pre-boarding spot checks. Super. Nothing like having someone root through carry-on while others cluck sympathetically, lugging their steamer trunk-sized uprights bound for limited overhead compartments - the victim's rightful space, no doubt.
By and by our chariot arrives and it is our turn to head home...and run the gauntlet. But, fear not. We are saved by "that guy."
Actually, it was a woman. Selected for personal service by security, she puts up a fuss. They want to swab her hands (to ensure no bomb building, I guess) but she freaks. "What are you doing?" she demands to know. She refuses to cooperate, wants to know what is on the swabs...
A friend told me of his arrival in Iraq. He was following a long line of people shuffling toward a check point. Apparently concerned about allowing illness into the country, everyone was having their temperature taken. Forehead sweep? Disposable plastic tip? No. Glass thermometer, swished in alcohol between examinations. He was appropriately taken aback. He had a right to complain. (He declined their invitation, saying he felt fine, thank you). But, I digress. Back to Cozumel.
Now, it's a scene. She demands to know why she has been singled out, what they are doing to her hands and can she speak to a supervisor? This presents two very interesting observations.
First, with her to entertain them, the security people are not going to care about an aging traveler and his wife taking leave of beautiful Cozumel and boarding the silver bird bound for home.
Second... Mexico is a sovereign country. They try to make getting in and out as easy as possible, but it is their country. They have rules and procedures that make sense to them. If they don't make sense to you, spend your vacation somewhere else. Anyway, the soldier looking on certainly didn't seem inclined to summon his supervisor.
Not that she was in any real danger of being spirited off somewhere. But why take the chance? Years ago we were arriving at Liberia airport, Costa Rico, to attend a wedding. A woman was standing next to a table, her belongings strewn about. She was screaming at a woman in uniform. Others in similar uniforms were elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to scream back. We stood dutifully in line, but the first uniformed woman (apparently having lost her turn) smiled at us and waved us through.
Travel tip #1? When you are in line ahead of me, in a foreign country, and the locals involve you in one of their infil or exfil ops? Please, make a fuss. I'm on your side.