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How to not see Canada…

July 11, 2007

We took off on this little adventure on June 29, but we weren’t actually boarding the ship (embarking, that is) until June 30. I’m so glad that we weren’t because our introduction to Vancouver, BC would have been so much worse if we had actually missed the boat. The flight to Vancouver isn’t bad, about two hours, and the view upon landing is absolutely stunning. We were excited to be there, excited to begin several days of rest, relaxation, scenery, and fun, and a little tired from all of the packing, planning, and waiting. We had passports and customs declarations form in hand as we exited the aircraft and really, truly thought the process would take maybe an hour.

Boy, were we mistaken. As we headed down the ramp, warnings of “no cell phone usage, the officials get mighty upset” ringing in our ears, we surveyed the 9 billion or so other folks waiting to gain entrance to Canada with sinking hearts. The line snaked around so many times that it put the Disneyland Magic Mountain line to shame. Tourists and others from every other nationality on the planet were in line and there were only five customs officials to handle everyone.

The air was stifling and there was some girl in line right behind us with sweatpants on that barely covered her business holding a purse with a very loud, very small, yippy dog. Despite the warnings of keeping the cell phones off, every other person in line had one glued to his/her ear. I’m sure the network was jammed from the sheer volume of users. We spent an hour working our way through that snaking line, inching the carry-on luggage along with our toes, listening to the yappy dog, and sweating in the uncirculated air, until we finally reached the front of the line. I know, you’re thinking that those five customs officials were pretty darn efficient, aren’t you? I was, too. 9 billion served in an hour isn’t bad. I figured we’d show the passports, the declaration form, they’d see that we were only in the country for one day, just passing through, and off we’d go to the baggage claim area. Sadly, it was not to be.

We were directed to the surliest, grouchiest, meanest, most suspicious customs official known to mankind. He didn’t crack a smile or change the focused stare one bit, no matter what. He held up our passports, looked at our declarations form, and asked us what we were planning to do in Canada. I told him that we were going on a cruise and would only be there overnight until embarkation. He spent another minute perusing the passports, asked my husband about his airsickness issue (he was still looking a little green), then drew a big red “X” right through the customs declaration form, wrote “No” in big red letters at the top (still no smile, not even a nod), handed it back to us and shooed us over to the Immigration Office by pointing his finger in that general direction.

At the Immigration Office, we were told to leave our carry-on luggage by the door (so much for not leaving one’s luggage unattended, I guess) and told to enter the Office through the glass door ahead. Once through the door we stepped into yet another line that snaked around and around, full of folks looking weary and bored. There were twenty-five stations to serve all of these people, divided into “Workers” stations and “Visitors” stations. Our hearts lightened as we saw that the “Visitors” line was ever so much shorter.

While we ended up in the short line, we also ended up in the line with fewer assigned stations. There were two officers, in uniform, working this side of the line (although there were 10 stations), along with a couple of interpreters. We were close enough to gather that one of the girls from Asia somewhere couldn’t seem to tell the difference between her aunt and her grandma, all of her worldly belongings were on a luggage cart in three giant boxes, and the Immigration folks didn’t think she was really “just visiting.” We stood there, through several cases just like those, while interpreters ran back and forth. Phone calls were made to the “aunt” or “grandma” or “boyfriend” or whomever, occasionally someone got a stamp and moved on, but usually they disappeared, followed by an officer, into the “back.”

We watched as the seventy-five other officers milled around in the back, chit-chatted, went for coffee, and generally did absolutely nothing. The clock on the wall behind us ticked away and we stood some more. After an hour and a half of watching the line in front of us barely move, I began to get frustrated about the fact that we were standing in this line at all. The butterflies in my stomach had long since gone, the picture of hubby and I sitting in a Canadian jail for some unknown reason, missing our cruise, and having to get the US government involved had left my head, and I was just downright irritated at this point. The crowd of workers that were definitely NOT working was giving me a little twitch above my right eye and the heat in the room was beginning to make me feel homicidal.

At just that moment two stations opened up, accommodating the couple in front of us… and us. This guy wasn’t any different from the first line of defense out in the initial snaky line. I’m pretty sure he was picked on mercilessly as a child so now was on some kind of ridiculous power trip. He took our passports from us, asked where we were from, and pounded several keys on the keyboard in front of him with two fingers. He asked what we would be doing in Canada and we repeated that we were just there overnight, taking a cruise out the next day. He nodded, humphed, checked the screen in front of him one more time, and asked, “Have either of you ever been arrested in a foreign country?” My hubby said, “I’ve never even BEEN to a foreign country!”

Evidently Power-Trip Guy wasn’t too pleased with the tone because he snatched our passports off of the counter, pointed his finger to the row of chairs behind us and barked, “Have a seat.” Before we “had a seat” I asked, not in a very pleasant way, if he’d like to see our itinerary and repeated that we were only planning to be there for one day. I didn’t even get the courtesy of a decent response. He just pointed his mean old crooked finger at the row of seats, turned on his heel, and went to the “back.”

Great. I was sure that our luggage had been stolen by now, or at the very least rifled through. Maybe someone “unknown to us” had even placed something into it and we would be detained further. I racked my brain for any possible reason that hubby and I had been sent to Immigration Hell when we just wanted to get on a boat the next day and get the heck out of Dodge. Nothing came to mind. Hubby suggested that I give my folks a call since they’d now been waiting for us for nigh on forever. The “no cell phone usage, the officials get mighty upset” flashed through my head again and I resisted.

We waited another 45 minutes, watching the seventy-five others mill around some more, have more coffee, and try to look important, before hubby demanded that I call my poor parents. I finally caved, even though I watched the seventy-five like a hawk to see if someone was planning to pull a gun or some such nonsense for our violation of their cell phone usage policy. Hubby hijacked the phone from me and informed my folks that we were being held up by the Immigration Nazis, that we’d now been in Vancouver for a mighty long time but it wasn’t looking good for us to actually see any of Vancouver before getting on the boat, because we–two silly tourists from the Midwestern US–were causing all kinds of commotion in the great country of Canada… all for one overnight. No, we had no idea what was going on. No, we weren’t going to demand an answer because these folks only speak in monosyllabic words and grunts. No, we didn’t know how much longer it might take. No, we didn’t need my mother to come back there and straighten them all out (although secretly I wished she would–she’s short, but she can be MEAN when she wants to be).

Just then, Power-Trip Guy showed back up with our passports. Hubby quickly hung up the phone and Power-Trip Guy motioned for us to approach the station. He still had the unsmiling, blank stare face going on and I knew, just knew, that we were going to have to do something crazy like call the American Consulate, or whatever one does when wrongly accused of something and jailed in a foreign country. I was ready for a fight. I had all of my hackles up, the adrenaline was flowing. I was like the boxer on the Wii that just stands there bouncing from side to side, waiting for that punch to be thrown. Power-trip Guy stamped our passports, slid them across the counter, and said, “Have a nice cruise.” Then he turned on his heel again and disappeared into the “back.”

Are you kidding? All of that pain for that little anti-climactic passport-stamping ceremony? Unbelievable.

Hubby and I stared at each other, incredulous for just a moment. Then we exited Immigration Hell as quickly as we could, actually did find our carry-on baggage intact, and headed for baggage claim. While I really wanted to just get out of the stupid airport, I wanted an explanation for why we had just spent four hundred years in Immigration Hell for what amounted to a one-night layover in Vancouver. Surely they couldn’t have thought we wanted to stay any longer than that. I mean, really. We were headed for Alaska, for goodness sake. We most assuredly did not want to stay in a country where they use “Loonies” and “Toonies” as currency and they have socialized medicine…

And that is how our lovely trip to Alaska began.

Lest you think that our entire view of Vancouver, BC is skewed because of Power-Trip Guy and his cronies, here are some pics of the fabulous time we actually had once we escaped Immigration Hell. Chinatown was a blast, although a little creepy at times. The Zen Park was beautiful and the scenery all over Vancouver was amazing.

My advice? If you’re taking a trip to Alaska, leave from Seattle… If you must go out of Vancouver, fly to Seattle and take a bus the rest of the way. The road Power-Trip Guys are much nicer, I hear, than those at the airport.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2007 7:43 pm

    HA! What a great post. Fantastic description of Power Trip guy. Frederer and I went to Canada on our honeymoon, and had a totally different experience than you (sorry). We had a fantastic experience with Canadians. Maybe they just had decaf that day?

    Call me in the am and we’ll hook up for our lunch. 🙂

  2. Lynda permalink
    July 12, 2007 11:24 am

    I think you held yourself together rather well under the circumstances. It’s great that you finally got to see some of the city. It looks beautiful! CYA soon!!

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