Hello everyone and greetings from the Tocumen International Airport in possibly lovely Panama City, Panama. Please note, this is not the Panama City, FL airport that a delightfully dim girl in DC thought she was flying to over a week ago when I started my South American adventure.
Since that painful 6:30 am departure from Dulles on May 4th, I have successfully:
1. Helped facilitate a very successful staff retreat.
2. Remembered why I love where I work and the people that I work with.
3. Found a bunch of new reasons to feel good about the future of conservation
4. Had a minor meltdown about my own future, but whatever, that happens all the time these days.
5. Had a kickin' massage from a tiny Ecuadorian lady who I later found dancing quite graphically to My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas.
6. Routinely had to stop and catch my breath after walking with a quickness or climbing any flight of stairs because living at an elevation of 11,000 feet actually does take its toll on you.
7. Hung out with coworkers in the thermal baths of our spa retreat center (www.papallacta.com.ec)at least 3 out of 6 nights that we were there.
8. Left Ecuador for stop #2 on the South American Adventure - Buenos Aires, Argentina!
Now, number 8 may not seem all that remarkable, given that I have a previously purchased ticket and was able to find my way back to the airport in Quito in time for my flight. Easy peasy japanesy, right?
Sadly, my departure from Quito was not the smooth sailing that I had so eagerly anticipated. Rather than quickly boarding the plane and popping in the iPod to watch "Evidence of Things Not Seen" for the 300th time, I was treated to a baggage check by the Ecuadorian drug authorities. I'm not sure if it was a random check or if there was something in my bag that set them off, but here's how the scene played out, with a little creative commentary that is sorely overdue to my friend, Courtney (last name withheld to protect her adult anonymity, even though I'm not saying anything bad about her here. Other than implying that she has a friend who is now a known target of the Ecuadorian Drug Enforcement Agency. Which I am. I have a record now. Cool.)
Scene: Int. Quito airport, gate A2 (I think there are five gates total, it's a real hopping airport to say the least.) Lizzie Musar is sitting at gate Skypeing with Heather Kirkwood and Katie Musar.
Loudspeaker: Spanish spanish spanish Musar spanish spanish spanish.
Musar internal: That's weird, I think they just called my name, too bad I don't speak Spanish worth a damn. Let me log off and check it out.
Musar approaches gate agent: Soy Elizabeth Musar.
Gate agent: No hablo ingles, senora.
Musar internal: That's funny, I was trying to speak Spanish. And don't call me "Senoria." Or Shirley. Hehe.
Other Gate agent: Que tal?
Musar: Soy Elizabeth Musar. Tu llama mi nombre?
Other Gate Agent: Si, la policia spanish spanish spanish spanish.
Musar: Que? No hablo espanol, lo siento.
OGA: Oh, the police need to talk to you. Go with this person.
Musar internal: The police need to talk to me, that's strange. I haven't witnessed any crimes or found any missing wallets. I have all of my bags. Wonder what they want to talk about.
Musar follows OGA #2 outside of gate area, down stairwell, and into baggage sorting area below gate and next to plane.
Musar internal: It's hot out today. Hey, look at that yellow lab! Dog at the airport! Wait, dogs at the airport are drug sniffing dogs. HOLY CRAP, THEY THINK I HAVE DRUGS IN MY BAG!!!
Aaron Sorkin: Hey Lizzie, looks like you may be in a spot of trouble. Don't worry, I've been here before, it all works out ok.
Musar internal: Aaron Sorkin, what are you doing in my head? And what are you talking about, everything turns out alright? I seem to remember you were arrested and thrown in rehab when drugs were found in your luggage AND then went on to leave the best show ever made. Nothing worked out ok in that situation, nothing.
Sorkin: That's awfully dramatic of you, don't you think?
Musar internal: Shut up, Aaron Sorkin, my bag is about to be searched by that cute yellow lab. My dirty underwear is going to be strewn about downtown Quito on the afternoon breeze, I'm gonna go to jail like Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace, and I don't even have any drugs in my bag. I'm gonna be a cautionary tale.
Sorkin: Look, I'm just saying that you need to find happiness beyond West Wing. True, it was probably the greatest work of mine or anyone's life, but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip wasn't ---
Musar internal: Shut up, Sorkin, they're talking about me and pointing!
Small Ecuadorian Man with Big Gun: Musar, Elizabeth?
Musar: Si, soy Elizabeth Musar, pero no hablo espanol.
SEMwBG: Did you check a bag?
Musar: Yes, that big gray one over there (points to bag in small pile of other presumably suspect bags).
SEMwBG: Is the bag here?
Musar: Yes, it's that gray one over there.
SEMwBG: Which bag is it?
Sorkin: This is starting to sound like I wrote it with all the repetition. God that's such an effective tool for entertainment.
Musar internal: I swear to God, I will beat within an inch of your ego-driven, imaginary life, Sorkin. I'm trying to concentrate here!
Musar: It's this one, sir.
SEMwBG: Please place it on this table and open it up.
Musar: No problem. (grunts at immense weight of bag, groans at thought of having to repack overly stuffed bag, opens hateful bag)
Sorkin: Now this is when you have to start distracting them. Talk about the weather. Ask about the dog. How do you feel about flashing him?
Musar internal: You really are some kind of idiot, Aaron Sorkin. Now shut up, the dog is coming over.
SEMwBG: Where are you from?
Musar: Washington, DC in the US.
SEMwBG: How long have you been in Ecuador?
Musar: 9 days, I was in Papallacta.
SEMwBG: In the mountains? It's very high up there, no?
Musar: Yes!! It is very high up there!
Musar internal: Good, now we're friends. Bonding over altitude. I probably shouldn't have just said "high" so enthusiastically.
Sorkin: Flash him, flash him!
Musar internal: What's wrong with you?
SEMwBG sniffs bag, rain coat, toiletry bag, notices three boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese.
SEMwBG: What is this?
Musar internal: Crap, how do I explain Heather's need for Kraft Easy Mac without sounding like I've loaded the orange cheese powder packet with cocaine?
Musar: It's a gift for a friend in Argentina. She misses it.
Musar internal: That was incredibly stupid.
Sorkin: Yeah, way to open up the door to further inquisition there, sport.
Musar internal: Don't you have a show to sink somewhere??
Sorkin: Now you're just being mean.
SEMwBG: Argentina? You are going to the US.
Musar: No, I'm from the US, I'm going to Argentina for vacation.
SEMwBG: You didn't say that.
Musar: Oh, well, I am going to Argentina for two weeks before I return to the US.
SEMwBG: And what is this? (holds up kraft box)
Musar: It's macaroni and cheese. For my friend. There's peanut butter in there, too. Here let me show you. (reaches for bag to unearth jar of Jif from underneath pile of dirty bras.
SEMwBG: That's not necessary. You know I am searching for drugs, yes?
Musar: Yes, I figured.
Sorkin: This guy has no sense of subtlety.
Musar internal: I think he's a little more concerned with freaking me out right now. Also, the dudes with the big guns don't need subtlety. They have big guns.
Sorkin: Very true.
SEMwBG: (Sniffs some more stuff, pokes dirty underwear with a wooden stick) Ok, thank you, you may go now. Enjoy your vacation.
Musar: Thanks, here I'll help you rezip the bag, it's pretty full.
SEMwBG: Please go back to your gate, miss.
Musar: Ok, gracias. (walks back to gate with OGA#2)
Musar internal: I'm safe.
Sorkin: I'm fairly certain you couldn't have possibly handled that with any less finesse or poise, though maybe if you had urinated on yourself and run towards the tarmac, you would've proved me wrong.
Musar internal: Shut up, I hate you.