Travel tip: If you’re trying to smuggle cash into Panama, start using the train.
Three Honduran men were arrested at Panama City’s international airport after police found $7.2 million, mostly in $100 bills, in secret compartments in eight pieces of luggage. According to this video from Newsy (Newsy? Really? Really.), officials in Panama believe the money was connected to a drug cartel. Thirty-two officers and airport security staffers have been suspended as a result of the find.
Thailand has a thriving illegal trade in dog meat. While authorities have been cracking down on it recently, the demand is such that many dogs are stolen off the streets to supply restaurants in Cambodia and China, where the consumption of dog is legal.
Now a charity in Phuket, Thailand, is trying to save these animals. The Soi Dog Foundation has taken in hundreds of dogs seized by Thai border police and is asking for sponsors and adoptive families. Dog lovers as far away as Scotland have taken in some of the pets, but there are many more stuck in the charity’s bursting facilities.
While stealing pets and smuggling them across the border is certainly wrong, not to mention illegal, is eating dog meat wrong? Different cultures have different standards as to what food is OK and what isn’t. Hindus will tell you that eating any meat is wrong, and that eating beef is the worst of all. In Slovenia, they eat horse burgers, and while I’ve always loved horses I did give them a try. Horses are no less intelligent, loving and loyal than dogs, so what’s the problem? Is it all a matter of perspective? Tell us what you think in the comments section!
Somewhere in a small town in an unnamed country is the complete skull of a crocodile and a small box of teeth that belong to that skull. The crocodile, who wasn’t using her teeth anymore, was not supposed to make this trip but did so anyway, without a passport, packed in the insulation of T-shirts stained with the red dust of the Australian Outback. The person who checked this partial crocodile knew there’d be some risk of having the bones and teeth seized at the border. Plus, hey, it was free, scooped up at a swampy turn out somewhere. No money changed hands in the acquisition of the croc skull.
What was to lose? Seizure at the border, a protestation of ignorance and slap on the wrist. “Sir, you can not import animal bones without proper documentation.” “I had NO idea, I am sorry, yes, of course, take it.”
It’s a risk. And make no mistake. You may very well be breaking the law. Travelers take it on because what’s the worst that can happen? Well, a lot. Best case? You’ll have your goods seized or maybe get tagged with an expensive fine. Consider yourself lucky if that’s the case.
Here are a handful of questionable souvenirs that seasoned anonymous travelers decided they’d try to get through customs.
Three kilos of flour: “…for culinary purity. When my friend asked me to bring corn flour, I didn’t think much about it, and then suddenly I found myself with two big bags of white powder in my checked luggage. Not only was I bringing in an unlabeled agricultural product, but it resembled something else entirely.”
The USDA allows you to bring in baking mixes and the like, but requirements are that it’s commercially packaged and properly labeled. Certainly, flour won’t set off the drug sniffer dogs, but explaining those bags of white powder isn’t something you want to find yourself doing in any airport.
Ten pounds of cheese: Cheese is tricky. Hard cheese is okay, soft cheese isn’t, and the USDA guidelines on what a hard cheese is or isn’t aren’t exactly clear – they say “like Parmesan or cheddar.” Brie is probably out, as is Camembert, but what about a blue cheese? Unlcear. Good luck.
Italian olives: “They are officially not okay to bring back, but I found some that were vacuum packed and decided to give it a go. I listed foodstuff on my customs form, and when the officer asked what kind I started off with all the things that I knew it was okay to bring back (wine, hard cheese, olive oil, etc.). By the time I mentioned the olives he had already tuned me out.”
It’s fresh fruit and veg where the trouble lies, packaged, processed products are less likely to raise eyebrows. But if you don’t declare your fruit or veg, it could potentially set you back a $300 fine, plus, oops, there go your olives.
Various kinds of meat: “I packed the salami wrapped in socks and tucked inside my shoes, and sailed past saying not one word.” Meat products are strictly regulated, with a mind towards preventing the spread of disease. Multiple travelers fessed up to squirreling all kinds of fancy product past the border, not just salami, but pate, rillette, prosciutto and more.
Bones, bones, more bones: “A llama vertebrae.” (Taste in souvenirs does vary.) The crocodile skull. A handful of seashells. Ivory and tortoise shells are especially tricky and require special documentation to prove their antiquity. This stuff is all governed by Fish and Wildlife in the US and, in some cases, can only come in through certain airports. To complicate things, there are additional guidelines for “Individuals Wishing to Import Non-Human Primate Trophies, Skins or Skulls” meaning should do your homework before tossing that monkey brain bucket into your bag.
Antiquities of any kind: “I snitched a tiny black and white marble mosaic tile from a heap that looked destined for Ostia Antica’s dump. I feel guilty, but 30 years on still love cradling in my palm something an ancient Roman once touched. It’s like holding hands across time.” Stolen cultural artifacts – that’s a big one.
There’s a useful page of information on the US Customs and Border Patrol site, including a Know Before You Go sheet that will send you into a rabbit warren of other places. What about that machete – is it legal? Probably, but you won’t get it past security in your carry-on. Plus, security, that’s a whole different can of worms.
Worms, by the way, will never make it past customs. Don’t even try.
A Dutch man was detained at Rochambeau airport in Cayenne in French Guiana for attempting to smuggle over a dozen live hummingbirds out of the country. The passenger was apparently acting suspicious and searched by authorities. According to Jeanna Cullinan of insightcrime.org, each of the tiny birds were wrapped in cloth to keep them still, and then placed into pouches that were located above the man’s crotch. When authorities checked his record, they found that this was not his first conviction for attempted hummingbird smuggling.
While this may sound bizarre, this type of crime is known as “eco-trafficking” and is quite a lucrative business, although illegal. Eco-trafficking is the act of “trafficking in rare and endangered species” and generates billions of dollars for organized crime groups in Latin America. Worldwide, Interpol believes that eco-trafficking brings in up to $20 billion in profits annually.
The train, traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, was stopped at Quang Ngai when the incident happened. Apparently someone was smuggling the animals when they broke loose. Police gathered up 45 kilos (99lb) worth of snakes but didn’t find the smuggler.
Cobra is a popular dish in Vietnam, even though the poisonous reptiles are legally protected. Check out this video for a rather gruesome look at how one is prepared for a ten-course meal.