Smuggling lettuce and apples

If you wanted a fresh lettuce in Swaziland in 1981 you had to either grow it in your own garden or smuggle it in. The Kingdom of Swaziland, a small landlocked country sandwiched between Mozambique and South Africa was alarmed by the outbreak of cholera in neighbouring South Africa. So steps were taken. Vaccinations were obligatory (and they hurt) and the import of fresh fruit and vegetables from neighbouring South Africa was banned.

All good steps I guess – that is if everyone follows the rules. But they don’t and so the frequent shopping trips to Johannesburg, South Africa turned into smuggling trips with people coming back with lettuces under the seats and apples hidden in handbags.

It makes me laugh now when I watch Border Patrol and I see those confiscated foods taken out of suitcases while the “smuggler” stands by managing to look amazed and puzzled at the same time. Why? I can’t bring in bags of dried fish? It’s just like fish jerky – try some. It’s good.

One trip back from Johannesburg I had fallen by the wayside and let temptation rule as I bought a big bag of Granny Smiths apples. Oh they were so green and crisp looking and I knew I could make them last a while in a cool dark cupboard spread out on newspaper – not touching each other. This was a trick I had learnt as a child in Somerset, England, when Mom and Dad would take us out to pick apples to supplement their income. Part of the deal was that we could take as many apples back to our house as we could carry and so we cleared out the linen cupboard and carefully lined up all the apples – not touching. We had apples for months – albeit a little wrinkled.

But wait – what happened about the apples I bought in Johannesburg? As we drew close to the border I got a little worried. This was a big bag of apples and I didn’t want them to be “confiscated” – we all know what that means. I got my husband to pull over to the side of the road and tucked the bag under the inside lid of the bonnet (OK you guys call it hood – we are all on the same page here). Then we drove for 2-3 minutes till we got to the border at Oshoek – this is the main border post between Johannesburg and Mbabane, the town in Swaziland where we lived. Just another 30 minutes from the border and we would be home.

Cleared customs and immigration fine – the plan was to go a little bit down the road and then whip out the apples from the hood and homeward bound.

Not so fast!

Ya Wena ” (hey you in Siswati!) – running up to the car comes one of the border officers and my heart stopped beating.

Yes – we said (smiling) rolling down the window.

“Please baas – give me a lift to town”.

What could we say. He climbed in the back gratefully and we drove for 30 minutes into the middle of Mbabane town where we dropped him off as he waved and shouted “Siyabonga” (thank you in Siswati) and “Hamba kahle” (goodbye).

That night we had stewed apples for dinner – it was heavenly!

Now I am being a bag

Sorry – but I am going to be a bag and moan and complain and throw my hands up in the air and say Why oh why? $60 to check a bag on a Westjet flight if you are flying on the econo lowest priced airfare. It was $30 and now they have doubled it to $60 – wow! Here was the notice that I received.

I am quite sure it won’t be long before Air Canada follows suit.

Now here is the logic behind this – by offering the cheapest posssible airfare with no frills and no bags they can keep the price down and make flying affordable. It also means that any search engine is going to pull up this option first as being the cheapest – although not necessarily the best. And let’s face it – there are many people who fly for business or just an overnight flight where they don’t need to take a big suitcase so this kind of fare would be perfect.

But what really happens is that you see this airfare with no bags and then compare it to the one with bags and figure out that you can totally do carry on for this four day girls getaway weekend. It’s easy. You roll up your dresses, smart pants and cram them into your carry on (lucky that they are wrinkle proof), then squeeze in your make up, overnight skin care routine, hair styling cream, medication. Yikes now that bag is full – but no worries. Remember you are allowed to take one carry one and ONE PERSONAL ITEM (such as a purse or a briefcase). Hello world’s biggest purse – this sucker holds a circus and expands easily so you can squeeze in that extra pair of shoes alongside your passport and evening bag, sunglasses and sunhat. You can probably even slide in your kobo, ipad and iphone.

You know you won’t be able to lift that bag up into the overhead bin but there is always someone ready to help. You know why? People just want to get on the damn plane woman so of course they are going to help you get your extra heavy carry on bag up into the overhead bin and the person sitting next to you doesn’t mind if your over-flowing handbag doesn’t fit properly underneath the seat in front. Of course the flight attendant is going to come and point that out to you and will probably have to try and find space is another overhead bin somewhere – but first of course you will have to take out your valuables like wallets, ipad, iphone – you know. Never mind the people lining up trying to get on the plane.

Or

There could be another scenario that is maybe even worse than the one above. That is that when you get to the check in gate with your super heavy hand luggage they announce that the flight is completely sold out and that space in the overhead bins is limited so anyone who wants to check their bagcan bring it up to the check in desk. FOR FREE. For those who paid $60 to check their bag so that they could have an easy boarding process they just have to grit their teeth.

But let’s look at this in more detail – what about a flight from Calgary to Vegas. What options are there and what is the cost?

I wonder what would happen if there was free checked bags on every flight for every fare basis? Would it make for a quicker and easier getting on and getting off? Probably not! The only way this will ever happen is if we ban carry on completely and make everyone check their bags and allow one small personal item not bigger than a laptop computer. I tell you what – that plane would be ready to go in half the time!

You left WHAT on the plane?

Come on – own up. How many times have you left something on a flight by mistake? It happens more often that you might think. Even though you do that check towards the end of your flight, look under the seat, check the overhead bin and that yucky back of the seat pocket – something usually gets left behind.

The best I have heard is the gun (yes that’s right – gun) left behind in the washroom on a flight in the UK. The gun belonged to the bodyguard of David Cameron – former British Prime Minister – and the godfather of Brexit.

The gun was found in the toilet – of all places. Well I guess carrying around a gun gets uncomfortable at times. Not only that – the bodyguard left behind his passport and the passport of David Cameron. Oops!

Apparently the officer was removed from his duties. “We are taking this matter extremely seriously and an internal investigation is taking place,” police said in a statement.

So if you do leave something on the plane what do you do? Well it is all a matter of timing. If you have just got off the plane when you pat down your jacket pocket and find your phone missing then you can turn around in the tunnel and make your way against the flow – much to the irritation of everyone else trying to get off. Might be better to just stand at the entrance and wait to get the attention of a friendly flight attendant.

If you have already got off completely and have passed security then best head out to the desk of the airline you just flew on. Having your boarding pass will be handy and they can try and put in a call or at least log your details. If you have already left the airport then best thing is to contact customer service of the airline. This is a tough one because there are numerous different people (and companies) coming on the planes to service so if you have left an expensive iPad lying around you might just be out of luck. Many airlines do have a social media presence now so that might be a quicker and easier way to get in touch.

But what sort of things do people leave behind? The Points Guy regular contributor, flight attendant Carrie.A.Trey reports having found numerous items of clothing – including even a jock strap! (Must have got very uncomfortable on a long flight). Wigs, dentures and that very worst of sins – a dirty diaper! Goodness me.

There is a place where these things go to (at least the ones picked up by honest people). As reported by Conde Nast

The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, is a 40,000-square-foot warehouse designed like a department store, where you can browse—and buy—thousands of items that passengers have forgotten in seat-back pockets or that airlines failed to reunite with their owners. They stock between 500 and 700 items every day, with shipments they purchase through a contract with most of the major U.S. airlines. “We get a lot of tablets and e-readers,” says spokeswoman Brenda Cantrell, who’s been working there for 19 years, “but you just never know what you’ll find: shrunken heads, African tribal kinds of things. I don’t get surprised by what arrives anymore, but I’m sure lots of people would.”

Some of the stranger things that have made it through the store have been a West Point uniform from the 1930s, Neil Diamond’s xylophone, a functional 14-foot-long rocket, a full-size headstone, and a coin purse made from an actual frog. Hoggle, an animatronic puppet from the Jim Henson’s 1986 cult classic Labyrinth, which got lost on the way back from filming in England, also made its way to the center.

On the more luxurious end: a presidential platinum Rolex valued at $64,000 (someone bought it for $32,000, Cantrell says), Versace runway samples, and a loose 40-karat emerald that sat in the store for five years.

Wow – imagine leaving behind a Rolex – and a 40 karat emerald? The rolex I can understand – maybe it slipped off his wrist. But a loose 40 karat emerald? Hmmm – I would rather find that in the seat back pocket than a filled diaper any day!

The anti-social traveller

There are lots of different types of travellers. There’s the adventurer who just wants to get out there and do every kind of scary weird thing they can think of – like sky diving, eating crickets and taking on white water rapids.

There’s the solo traveller – someone who wants to travel and for multiple different reasons has no partner to travel with. They might be married and their partner cannot travel or just doesn’t want to. They might be single but their friends either can’t afford to travel or don’t want to do the same trips as them. Eventually they say – to heck with it – I am going to go and see the world. I kind of like to think of them as adventure travellers too!

Then there’s the boring traveller. I don’t mean that they themselves are boring – but their travel is boring. Why? Well because they go to the same place every single year without fail. They like it. They get to know all the staff at the hotel by name. They have their favourite walks. It’s a safe choice because they know it and they know they will enjoy it – but basically it’s boring because it’s never new.

Then there is that particular couple on the tour that nobody else likes. C’mon admit it. If you have ever gone on a guided tour you can bet your bottom dollar there will be that one couple (or person) who even the tour guide does not like. They are the ones who complain about everything, they are always late for the coach, they never tip and they always want to sit in the front seat.

So what about the anti-social traveller? Have you met him or her yet? You will know them when you do. This is the person who is sitting in the window seat right next to you and does not even acknowledge your presence or make any eye contact at all. I get that – maybe they are travelling for business and they just don’t want to indulge in aimless chit chat.

But can you call yourself anti-social if you decide not to pick up a BFF on every single tour you go on….. like this blog writer who I can totally identify with – (Heather and Peter from their blog Conversant Traveller (www.conversanttraveller.com)

“Am I really the only antisocial traveller around?

I can still remember her name. Ena. From Ireland. She was the sort of girl who had the enviable charm of being at ease with everyone she came across. Ena certainly wasn’t an antisocial traveller. The confines of the rickety chicken bus made friendly chatter amongst passengers inevitable, and thanks to it being Independence Day in Guatemala, we were taking a rather long detour on our way to the markets of Chichicastenango. Two hours later we felt like we had known Ena for weeks. As mountains of quetzal-embroidered ponchos and woolly hats festooned with llamas heralded our arrival, it became apparent our new friend was expecting to tag along with hubbie and I on our day at the market.

Now it wasn’t that we didn’t like her company. On the contrary I admired her courage at travelling solo around Central America, and although I was secretly jealous that she managed to pull off the local headscarf look rather better than me, I thought she was a lovely lass. It’s just that we’re not keen on unanticipated company. Hubbie and I are unashamed antisocial travellers.

So we abandoned her.”

Can you identify with them? I can.

Pass the hand sanitizer!

It’s that time of year – flu season. Lots of people out there sniffing, coughing and chugging down Buckleys (it really does taste horrible – but it works!) We are told that keeping clean hands is the first rule so let’s keep passing around the hand sanitizer.

And now coronavirus has been added to the mix and causing havoc in China. Lunar New Year means lots of travel and naturally this makes things more difficult for the Chinese authorities but it is good to see that there is a great deal of international co-operation and transparency from the Chinese officials so hopefully we will be able to get this virus contained.

Thinking about the flu season – and the coronavirus – made me realise what a good idea it is to wipe down your tray table and safety belt. I never do this and I think I should start. I am sure with the quick turnarounds at airports the planes don’t really get a thorough clean. That’s why newer planes are doing away with those disgusting seat pockets. Yuck – have you ever looked inside one of those on an old plane. No? Then don’t!

In comparison when you travel on the highspeed trains in Japan everything is so clean. At the end of the line they have a special cleaning crew that come onto the train with disposable gloves and face masks and they wipe down everywhere! Why can’t we do that with the planes?

I used to be the sort of person who sat on a plane waiting while the plane loaded up and if I noticed someone taking out the antispectic wipes I would be like “omg – really?”. Well turns out that person was smarter than me. Meredith Lapore reported on December 2019

“In addition to the armrest and seatback pocket, you should also worry about the headrest.  Microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Files, told Well & Good, “Airplanes have their own microbiome and the most common types are those from human skin, which isn’t surprising considering we’re all constantly shedding bacteria. As for the germiest place? It’s the headrest, where you’ll not only find bacteria, but also yeasts and molds.” He continued, “If it’s a short-haul, you may not have to worry about it, as you’ll have the same exposure as you might in an office building. But as the flights get longer, the microbes on your skin can grow and that can get a bit smelly,” says Tetro. “If you do happen to pick up bacteria or fungi that’s not your own, this may lead to itchiness and bumps on the skin and scalp. ”

OK – so how do we deal with this headrest thing? Seems that it is not just the seat pocket we need to worry about. Not to worry – good old Amazon has us covered –

So you take your own seat cover and it has a tray table kit. Wow! Only 3 left in stock. I must confess I have never seen this but why not? The head rest is the place to be careful of and that makes sense. Maybe I am just going to start wearing a toque on my flights. Might be a bit weird if I was going somewhere really tropical. But those head rests …. mmmmm

So now that I have thoroughly frightened you all into moving into a bubble – where’s your next trip?

C’mon – don’t be a scaredy cat – there’s a big world out there to discover. Just don’t forget the hand sanitizer 🙂

Ozzie rules!

I read a lot of travel news through different sources – Canadian publications, Conde Nast, CNN as well as stories from our industry sites such as Travelweek and Travelpulse – but nobody – and I mean NOBODY – does it better than the Ozzies. I love reading the travel news articles in Australian publications. They always give me a good laugh – so I thought I would share some of these with you today so you can have a good chuckle too.

“Former The Block star turned radio host Jess Eva has revealed she became the latest victim of a cheeky scam while on holidays in Bali.The co-host of Triple M’s Moonman in the Morning with Lawrence Mooney and Chris Page explained that she visited the popular island earlier this month and wanted to have an enema before returning home.”

Well that’s a new one for me! Go on holiday and have an enema before you come home. At least you start off the work week feeling fresh and chipper! Or maybe it’s all about the return flight – no need to use the loo because you’re running on empty!

Or how about this report about a weird kind of hotel in Japan

A hotel room with a nightly rate of $1 sounds too good to be real.This Japanese hotel is real — but the rock-bottom price tag it comes with an unsettling request.The owner of the Ashai Ryokan in the popular coastal city of Fukuoka has found a novel way to get guests into the hotel’s under-booked room 8. He’s offering it for ¥100 a night ($1.36), if guests agree to be live-streamed the whole time they’re in there.” The hotel, which is dubbed the One Dollar Hotel, has a YouTube channel set up specifically to broadcast the goings-on in the room.”

And here’s another weird one … an australian hotel that relocated to North Korea – what?

It was a luxury hotel of a kind the world had never seen before.

The five-star Four Seasons Barrier Reef Resort opened off the coast of Townsville in 1988 as the world’s first floating hotel.

Featuring tennis courts, nightclubs, swimming pools, bars and restaurants, a helipad and almost 200 rooms across seven storeys, the floating hotel was the height of 1980s luxury — and put Townsville on the world map.

But a bizarre series of events in the following decades saw the hotel relocate, of all places, to North Korea, where it played an unlikely role in a brief truce between the North and South. But this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un demanded it be demolished, finally ending the Australian hotel’s truly bizarre, 30-year history

But then I guess it makes sense that these sort of weird stories would feature high up in Australian publications. Take this front page story. Yep!

Sign language – kind of…

Do you and your partner have a hidden language? You know, that nod of the head or a raised eyebrow that sort of says “let’s get out of here”. We communicate more by signs than we think we do and our faces and eyes are usually dead giveaways.

Then there is the sign language of the hands – the bad things you say to other people with your hands that is. It is different in every country around the world. Having grown up in England it was very common if you were mad with someone to give them the “two’s up” – this sign –

Interesting history of this sign – it goes back to the days of Agincourt as reported in wiki and the sign was seen as a threat from the English archers to the French that if they caught them they would chop off those two fingers. Well you can imagine, they wouldn’t be much good as archers without those fingers.

But then we turned the fingers around and it became, in the second world war, a sign of Victory and then in the ’60’s it just meant “Hey peace man”. Nowadays it is very popular in Asian culture and you will often see Asian tourists posing for photos with the V sign/ peace sign.

Travelling from one country to another you will come across different signs and some you will not understand. Now that I have told you what the English two’s up sign means you will be well equipped to deal with your next traffic jam in Britain. But what about in France? Well you can give them the chin flick. Otherwise known as la barbe (the beard). Just a flick of the hand under your chin tells the other person to basically get lost – but this sign is for guys. Sorry ladies – there are plenty out there that we can do.

This is the famous lip curl. A look of disdain or disgust. I was good at this as a child. So good that I used to get told off all the time and my dad told me that when I grew up my face would stay like that. So I practised not being disdainful. But it can come in handy ladies – and you don’t have to have a beard. Plus I am pretty sure that this would be recognised all over the world by any man or woman. So – universal!

There are other signs – some with no name. Such as when you are standing at the counter at the check in desk waiting to speak to an agent and you start drumming your fingers on the countertop – almost as if you are typing out your own reservation….

Yep – that check in agent will get the message pretty quickly that you are impatient – even if you are smiling. Your conscious self smiles because you know that only they can help, but your unconscious self is frustrated and impatient – and she can see it!

You can really really communicate with people without saying a word. And not just with your hands or your fingers – with your whole body. When was the last time you went on a flight and sat next to a stranger? You know that moment of not really making eye contact and then tucking in your jacket so as to make sure that it doesn’t even come close to touching the person next to you. That is basically saying to that person “look, we have to sit together for 3 hours on this flight. I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you. Let’s just pretend there is a giant glass wall here between us.”

If that doesn’t work you could always buy a blanket …. just sayin’