The airport was as empty as I had ever seen one, with only a few passengers going through customs and anger written all over the remaining employees’ faces. It was 10pm and I had just landed in Trinidad. Being the cheapskate (errr…”budget traveller”) that I am, the least expensive way to get to Guyana was to have a layover here for the night and then fly to Georgetown in the morning.
As I approached customs, the only person smiling was a petite young woman, obviously there to field any questions and to make sure everyone got out of the airport by closing time. For the first time in my life, I had bought camouflage pants and a camo backpack, both of which I was wearing. The small backpack was stuffed to the gills with electronics and personal items, while my larger blue pack held my clothes and gifts for the kids I would no doubt come in contact with during my journey.
The woman, still smiling, approached me and said softly, “Are you in the military?” Smiling back at her, I said, “No, I’m not.” A slight look of concern came over her face, replacing the smile as she glanced toward the sneering customs agents and lowered her voice slightly, “Ok, well you’ll have to have a talk with the agent.” It was about this time that I noticed a small sign on the front of the agent’s desk which read, “NO CAMOUFLAGE ALLOWED.” My eyes then darted over to a man who had deplaned along with me, getting a bit irate as the agent held up some camo pants he had retrieved from his luggage.
“Uh oh,” I thought, as I glanced down at my new pants that fit so damn well and the scenario started playing out in my mind. What now? They take my stuff? Will I be fined? How will I carry all of my things in the backpack!? The agent took some of the man’s camo clothes and put them under his counter. The man was raising his arms up in frustration, yelling, “I didn’t know!”
I was next in line. The woman still stood beside me, hands clasped behind her back. She’d obviously seen this every day, yet she still seemed on edge as to what would happen to the last passenger wearing camo. She finally fessed up…”You can only wear camo if you’re in the military.” “Why?” I asked. “Because you could be impersonating one of our soldiers.” It all became clear. I hadn’t really read anything about Trinidad, since I didn’t intend on staying more than a few hours and in all of the trip reports and articles I read about Guyana, not once did anything come up about camo being banned. This was not a good start to the trip.
The agent called me over, not looking me in the eye, but rather at my pants and my backpack. “Don’t you know camouflage isn’t allowed!?” “Sorry, no, I did not know that before I came here.” “Well there’s a sign right there!” I had to laugh at how ludicrous that statement actually was. It was almost like he wanted me to start an argument. “How long are you staying in Trinidad?” “About 8 hours, I fly to Guyana tomorrow morning at 6am.” “Well you can’t leave here with those pants and that backpack.” “So how am I supposed to carry all of my stuff then? I’m going straight to a B&B and then coming back here first thing…I’m hardly even going to be outside or see daylight!”
He stood there, looked over my shoulder at someone and said, “Stay here.” After a lengthy wait, a woman came over with him. I went through the whole story with her as well. She asked if I had other pants to change into and I said I did. She pointed to a room, stern faced and said, “Go change.” At this point, I didn’t even care if they took the stupid pants. I changed and brought them back out. She said I could keep them in my luggage, which was a relief, due to the fact of my overnight stay.
Now, on to the backpack. I said, “So what should I do about this? I have too much stuff, I can’t fit it all in my other pack.” “Ok, hang on,” she said as she walked away. This took another 20 minutes with me getting more impatient, hot and hungry. I turned around to see a guy slowly walking over with a large plastic black trash bag. I was told to put my backpack in the bag and when I came back in the morning, to turn the backpack inside out. I couldn’t believe my luck. “Hey, no problem…thank you.” I walked out of there as fast as I could, being held up for at least an hour and a half. By the way, a backpack turned inside out is not the easiest thing to carry.
After arriving in Guyana, I told one of my camo-clad hosts about the ordeal. He said they weren’t as strict in Guyana, but that all of South America pretty much has that rule. So during my final days there, while boating down the river, I asked one of my guides if he’d like to trade his backpack with mine. His eyes lit up and he started taking stuff out of his for the exchange. A good deal for him, not so much for me, I found out.
When I got to my last destination, I removed my things from the backpack to re-arrange it all and when I shook the bag out, some live roaches fell out and I noticed it smelled really badly, as things tend to do in hot, humid regions. It was a funk that you couldn’t shake and I had nothing else to replace it with. I had to take this thing back to Trinidad, funk and all, then try to find a different bag along the way. The camo pants were left behind as well since I wasn’t about to go through that ordeal again. Lesson learned: Don’t bring camo into South America!