I hope it’s not true what they say about first impressions.
It was a glorious day in the town of Port Moresby. My good friend Sam who I met so many weeks ago on my flight into the country sat next to me in the driver’s seat. We were on our way to the airport for my departure to a new country, a new adventure. The streets were quiet and peaceful as a gentle breeze blew in through my window and out through his. I couldn’t believe the difference I felt between the same drive we did five weeks prior. It felt like a Sunday drive back from my summer home in Canada. I admired the dirty beaten streets and felt a streak of sadness to know I would probably never see these streets again, at least of course, that’s what I thought.
Security was laid back, they had a fun time examining my flint and Bear Grylls knife while patting me on the back and smiling when I showed them how it worked. The check in line was short and waiting with my massive bag on my back and wasn’t going to be strenuous two hour shuffle in the wrong airline kiosk like I once experienced in Singapore. I dropped my bags on the scale and no problems with the weight. I showed my ticket and passport and everything seemed in check until the attendant asked to see my outbound ticket from Philippians. Ah but I knew this trick. The airline in Australia made me purchase an outrageously expensive last minute flight out of Papua New Guinea with the threat of not being able to enter the country without one. Unsurprisingly an outbound flight from PNG wasn’t required and I passed through customs without the slightest inquiry. I told her I was heading to Vietnam from the Philippians. She asked to view my (travel plan) which in my selective hearing meant rough itinerary and not outbound ticket. I told her I had one but it wasn’t with me. Rule #1 in airports, never lie about anything. My boarding pass and passport were handed back to me and greeted a safe flight. I pre filled my departure card in the lounge and slid through customs with wide smiles and head nods. Something wasn’t right; in fact everything was too right. I’ve never been this incident free in an airport in my life. Maybe the airport curse had lifted and my bad dues had been paid. Was this really the new beginning to smooth sailing?
My flight was great and so was the service. I sat in the far back right in front of the stewardess kitchen. After spending so much time in the housing settlement designed specifically for the Air Niugini staff in Morseby I felt like part of the staff myself. I sparked up a conversation with a flight attendant who happened to be Sam’s wife’s cousin. She knew and worked with Sam often so she made sure to take extra care to me as my beer or coke never touch bottom before a new one replaced it. I explained my haphazard travel style of no plans and no set destination; I also expressed a small note of concern for not having an outbound ticket from Philippians. She assured me that Phillipeans was even more laid back than PNG and mimicked the same response Sam had told me “You’re a Canadian, Canadian passports are gold” I gave her a big hug and thanked her, she responded with letting me know the hotel they would be staying at and I promised to stop by for a drink. Ah yes, I haven’t lost my charm, smooth sailing was the only thing on my mind.
I walked through the arrival halls like I had been there a hundred times boasting the confidence of an experienced traveler. I walked past a group of backpackers my own age frantically filling out customs cards. Pfft armatures, everyone knows to have a black tipped pen with your carry to fill out the inbound passenger declaration card on the plane. I sidestepped past them cutting the line and finding myself at the front of the customs cue. I’m getting good at this. The officer took all my paper work, cards, and passport and seemed pretty satisfied until the dreaded question came along. “Sir can I see your return ticket to Port Moresby” The knot started to tie in my stomach but it wasn’t an impossible question, I still had some moves “No, I’m heading to Vietnam from here, I’m not returning to PNG” Not convinced she asked “Okay, can you show me your departure ticket to Vietnam” the noose was tightening “Yes, I mean no I don’t have it with me” “But you do have one?” here it comes.. “No not yet but il get one as soon as I know how long my visa allows me to stay” “Sir please follow me” I mind as well have just taken the suicide pill right then and there.
The interrogation room was allot more comfy looking than what the movies portray. The padded benches lined the circumference and a glass wall faced all the other passengers struggling through the diplomacy papers outside. But it doesn’t matter how comfortable something looks when you’ve just been detained in an Asian country, shit was going down and I was the cause of it. I stopped short of the door to let a Russian couple who were on their way out pass. Both were teary eyed and being escorted in the opposite direction of freedom. Shit. I always imagine myself as the clever witty criminal that would die before cracking under torture but I’ve said it before, I would be the worst serial killer in the world. I was a nervous wreck. Instantly the stress liquefied my insides and I was begging for a bathroom. I slid my hands inside my pockets to hide the shakes. It wasn’t that bad, I would just explain to them honestly what my plan was and if they needed to see a ticket I would pull my laptop out right there on the spot to purchase one. Sounds logical right? Unfortunately the handbook to boarder protection and customs is a compilation of illogical solutions to easy problems. Different people kept coming in and asking for my passport and boarding passes while walking off and returning moments later with the sense that they had forgotten the purpose of needing the information in the first place. Nearly forty five minutes of this confusion went on until I saw my large backpack being rolled up next to the glass wall on a trolley. Things were getting worse by the minute and still not a single person had even explained to me why I was being detained.
Finally all the random people appeared at once and informed me to hurry because my flight was departing. Fed up with being held in silence with an improper explanation of what the hell was going on I spoke up and enquired to the Customs supervisor about my situation. I was informed that as of 2013 all passengers entering the Philippians require an exit ticket in order to be granted access to the country. In fact it was now international regulation that an exit ticked must be provided for entry for every country. No problem I’ll just buy one now. “No sir, we have changed the rules so that tickets must be purchased before entering the country and we will not allow tickets to be purchased after arrival”. I’m pretty sure that rule was written in bold on the first page of the book to illogical solutions. The five airline representatives waiting for me and listening to the conversation were growing increasingly impatient for me to leave. I was getting pissed off though from these stupid unrealistic rules and demanded to speak with the Canadian consulate, who at that point was the only person with the authority to allow me access. They refused my request urging me to get on the plane. I knew that stepping foot on that plane would cost me nearly $1000 in new visa’s, transportation, and tickets out of PNG again along with sacrificing valuable days of travel to political rubbish. The Custom’s officer informed that they had just rejected two Russians and had already fined my airline fifty thousand pesos for allowing me on the plane without an exit ticket. Unsympathetic to the strangers and multi-billion dollar airline, I didn’t see what that had to do with me. The noose was tight around my neck and the stool had just been kicked from my feet. In my last desperate attempt to wiggle myself out of the rope and salvage the situation I told them I was leaving on a cruise ship to Japan. They wanted to see my ticket. I told them the cruise ship was actually a small sailing boat my friend owns, they weren’t buying it. I decided I was done for and seized the protest to allow fate to take hold.
The airline representatives were frantically running and racing us towards the gate while clearing a path for me to run. But I walked like the defiant little bastard that I am. Very few people other than my immediate family have seen me really angry. Last night I showed and told every creature within earshot how I felt. I walked towards my gate letting out the loudest f word my lungs could muster. The airline reps took it as a sign to stop pestering me to run. Fists clenched, I walked past the last temporary barricade kicking it to the ground as my final farewell. I imagined smashing the large glass window to the terminal hall and escaping into the night like they do in the movies. I later had a laughing fit on the plane thinking about how stupid I must have looked and how lucky I was not to get arrested. Ridiculous behavior really however an angry man is not a rational man. Little did I know that a 180 seat plane full of passengers was waiting for me to board. So two hours after the initial flight was supposed to depart, I found myself rolling down the tarmac on my way back to Papua New Guinea after being deported for the first time ever. So much for smooth sailing.
Lesson not really learned, here I am back in the country I didn’t expect to see so soon. Adventure has just been spaded from the world of travel. If all countries are going to follow the Philippians example on one way ticket holders then my travel style has just suffered a crippling blow. Spontaneous last minute decisions are the birth to unique unplanned experiences. Removing the flexibility to change plans and go with the flow creates a boring restricted itinerary.
It’s time for plan B