The Humanitarian Experience: CONTRABAND


Driving into the country of Mexico is generally an easy process. The most time I have spent trying to get into Mexico is about 10 minutes and that included detailed searches of our vehicles. There seems to be a lot fewer people running for that side of the border. On the other hand, leaving Mexico and crossing into the U.S.A again is a completely different story. I am going to estimate my longest border crossing into the USA at 3 hours with an average wait time of 2 hours. I have described the adventures of crossing the border in the past, but this August I had a new experience at the border that I would like to share with you all.

We rose before the sun on that cool Saturday morning with one thing on our mind, the long drive home. The drive home is approximately 15+ hours which is why rising before the sun is so crucial. Groggily the teenage humanitarians and the leaders pack themselves a to-go lunch of apples, PB&J and chips. There will be as few stops as possible on the journey home. With much encouragement, the team clambers into the 15 passenger vans where they soon drift back to sleep. The driver and Co-Pilot (if they are a good co-pilot!) will stay awake wide-eyed as they transport the do-gooders to their true beds of home. We are not the only ones to get an early start, as we drive along HWY 1 we begin to so see thousands of field workers board hundreds of buses to get to work before the heat of the afternoon starts to rise. Buses soon become the enemy of time, as they slow our trip, but the early start helps to alleviate the congestion.

As we work our way north we come across a few Drug-Check points. It is at theses check-points that the AK-47 makes a stand and strongly encourages all drivers to stop for inspection. We of course adhere to this policy and thank the dutiful Federales for their permission to continue on our way home. Continuing on the road we pass the popular tourist locations – Rosarito, Ensenada and finally Tijuana it is now 12pm. Entering the city a new smell can be detected and the smog starts to cloud our vision of the land of Mexico. Aggressively our drivers make their way through the city towards the gleaming view of San Diego, California. But before one can step foot on the soil of the free, one must first perform a series of tasks, including the most time consuming of them all… waiting in line. The Vans come to a screeching halt as they drive up to snake like line of cars that stretches through the city.

Car games, vendors and deliciously hot and tasty churros help pass the time, and after a few hours finally arrive at the border. There you will find extremely high-tech cameras and what I can only guess is some sort of imaging device, that captures the unseen of the vehicles journeying through the border. Slowly we creep closer and closer to the front of the line, I gather the passports from our team and organize them for easy access. I completely respect the border officers and their laws. So in every effort I try to be less of a hassle than we already are. We truly are a hassle for the officers, with our packed vans and massive amounts of luggage we slow down the line and prompt further inspections. This time instead of the standard greeting “Why were you in Mexico, when did you arrive?” we hear, “So do YOU have the apples too?”. I look around and think hard, “Apples? What? Is this some sort of code? Does he think we are secret agents!?!”

My husband who is driving, luckily did not jump to the conclusions that my over imaginative mind did, instead he responds with “Excuse me?”

Border Officer: “Do you have Apples? the other Van had apples…you cannot bring fruit and vegetables over the border. Please answer the question. Do you have Apples?”

Me (I need to keep my mouth shut sometimes): “Apples? I don’t think we have apples. Team do you have any apples?”

Team: “Yes”

Me: “OH!” In my mind I am bringing back the fuzzy images of 6 hours prior — apples, PB&J.. shoot!

At this point the officer is getting annoyed with us, remember when I mentioned we are a hassle?

Border Office: “I need all the apples”

Me: “Even if we bought them in the states?” — I have no Idea why I was even asking this question. Like they could tell American vs. Mexican bought apples…

Border Officer: “YES, it does not matter. You cannot bring fruit across the border!”

After gathering all the Apples we handed over the contraband and smiled.

Border Officer: “Is this every apple?” his charm has completely faded away at this point.

Team: “Yes”

Border Office: ” You are clear to move forward”

As we start to drive past the border, I am pretty annoyed. I hand back the passports to our team, and start to complain about the apples. As I place my own passport back in my bag I feel a small round object. I freeze, and touch it. Yep it is an Apple! I must have groggily grabbed an apple for myself that morning. And now I am a criminal.


Read more about my border adventures HERE.