Our plane touched down in Charleston at midnight. The serious man at the immigration counter carefully perused our thick passports, maintaining a scowl on his face. He glanced up above his bifocals to compare our real faces with our photos. Then back down – for what seemed like an eternity. Hmmm. Not good. We secretly prayed, “Please don’t let this be a hassle.”
Finally he spoke. “You’ve been gone a long time.”
“We’ve been around the world,” we chirped in unison.
He looked up slowly … and his face broke into a friendly grin. “Well, welcome home!” he exclaimed.
No sweeter words were ever uttered!
But … you don’t know what to expect at Immigration and Customs. Sometimes the Immigration Officers want to quiz you on everywhere you’ve been for the last six months … complete with dates. Yikes … who remembers that?
Next, the Agriculture folks don’t want you to bring anything into the US that might adversely impact our crops or food supply. So they pretty much prohibit most food items. When they asked us if we had any food in our little rolling backpacks, I admitted that we had some peanuts for snacks. The guy looked at us, smiled, and said, “As long as you didn’t pick them yourself, you’re okay.” Cool.
And finally, we encountered the Customs guy. His job is to make sure that you’re not bringing in prohibited items (like ivory) and that you’re declaring everything you bought on the trip (in case you owe them fees).
So we went up to the Customs guy, and he couldn’t believe we’d been around the world for six months … and only had two little rolling backpacks … and I only bought a scarf. So he searched our luggage, just to discover that we had only bought (wait for it) … a scarf!
The sleepy guy at the car rental desk looked up with bleary eyes. He’d been waiting for us coming in on the last plane of the day. When we said that we’d just gone around the world – that perked him up a bit. And when we told him it would be the first time we’d driven a car in 6 months … well, that got his attention.
We stepped outside into the parking lot, savoring our first, sultry Charleston night in a long time. The air smelled so sweet. When we finally found the little rental car (a good ol’ USA Chevy) we laughed and reminded each other, “Drive on the right!” (Since we’d been in Australia and New Zealand most recently where they drive on the left!)
So, we’re officially back in the USA. Yay!
As any traveler will tell you, it’s exciting to set off on a long journey … and wonderfully confusing when you return.
Confusing … why?
Because you’re thrilled to be back in a place where you speak the language and (supposedly) understand how things work. But in our case, we were now officially homeless – or “home-free” as we prefer to call it. And it was time for the next stage in our meandering life journey. So stay tuned.