NICARAGUA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED OCTOBER 2013

(Specific locations are below)

As with everything you do, do it with a positive attitude.  We’ve heard a lot of clich├ęs but one that I think fits here is “if life gives you lemons, make lemon aide”.  Damn man, I’ve seen too many people piss and moan about the weather, where they are, who they’re with, excreta, but they DO NOT make any attempt to change anything and move on.  If you take a positive attitude where ever you go, the people you talk too, places you see, and most everything else will be good.  With one major exception, we can’t change the weather so suck it up, be prepared to change your plans to inside activities or plan on being hot, cold, or wet.  It’s life, live it.

Arrival Process From Hell; Miami International Airport - 23 October 2013 (CONDENSED VERSION)

My original intent for this posting was to explain the international arrival process at Miami International Airport (MIA).  However, with the experience I had while returning from Nicaragua on 23 October 2013 this post will be about what you DON'T want to happen; I really hope your arrival process goes better. 

Arrival Process From Hell; Miami International Airport - 23 October 2013 (DETAILED VERSION)

So you want to know more details; here we go.

I departed the airplane with a 90 minute window to clear Immigrations and Customs, recheck my bag, and make it to my connecting flight.  Normally this would have been plenty of time, but today it didn’t work that way.

Approaching the Immigrations hall I noticed three CBP (US Customs and Border Patrol) agents checking passports and documents; this is routine so no big deal.  When I made it to the agent she checked my passport, document, and asked a few questions; “How long were you in Nicaragua?  Where did you stay? What was the purpose of your visit?”  All these are normal questions, and my answers were equally normal; “almost 90 days, Corn Island, and was house sitting.”

The agent put my passport in her pocket and told me to “stand over there” pointing to a spot about 10 feet behind her and the other two agents.

After about 10 minutes a male agent talked briefly with the female agent (1) as she passed him my passport and Customs document.

Let me stop here for a minute and say, out of respect for them, I WILL NOT mention names or anything else about the CBP agents.  They were all professional and just doing their jobs.  At the time I had and as of this writing, still have the opinion that the majority of them honestly thought it was strictly a “bag check”, which turned out to be more; it was a “cyber” inspection and my electronic equipment confiscated.

Let’s get back to the story.

The male agent explained that I was being detained for a baggage check.  I told him I had a connecting flight that departs at 1300 hours.  He said I’d make my flight and leads me to a holding area where there are about 40 people.  These people are presumably waiting to clear some sort of documentation challenge and I was added to the cue.  The agent with me said he would get me processed as quickly as he could.

Ten minutes later the male agent called my name, now accompanied by a different female agent (2) they led me back to the Immigrations hall.  As we walked towards a waiting CBP agent manning a computer the female agent (2) was asking me if I knew this person or that person on Corn Island.  To all the names she threw my way I told her I did not know any of them.  She rudely (in my opinion) asked if I “stayed in the house all the time”.  I told her the names of some of the people I’d met and asked her if she knew them.  To her response of “no” I sarcastically said “Oh.  Well those are some of the people I met.” 

The agent at the computer processed my passport and after about 30 minutes step one was finally out of the way.

I followed the male agent while the female agent (2) followed me about 10 feet back to the baggage claim area.  Walking to the carousel, I picked up my bag and took it to the male agent.  He checked the tag number, asked if I packed the bag and if everything in it was mine.  I responded yes to both questions and we walked toward a hallway within the baggage claim area.

This time we walked past the bag check station to another holding area.  In this holding area we were rejoined by female agent (1) and another female agent (3).   My entourage of CBP agents had grown to a total of 4 accompanying me.  The holding area was a room housing four separate holding rooms, two bathroom cells, and two larger rooms used as offices.  All these rooms were around a central processing area where there were stainless steel search tables and three 6 foot stainless steel benches.

I put my bag and backpack on the search table, stepped back, and the male agent and female agent (1) began their search.  They opened everything, and I mean everything to include interior pockets, touched every piece of clothing, and double checked to make sure they had gotten everything. 

All the time they were searching my bags, female agent (2) was in one of the offices on a computer while female agent (3) engaged me in what I considered casual conversation.  The only suspicious thing in our conversation was she asked the same questions I’d already answered with the other agents.

Okay, it was about 45 minutes since I’d left the first holding area, my bags had been checked and I was fairly certain that I would miss my connecting flight. 

It was about now that female agent (3) asked me to empty my pockets onto the table.  I did and as she approached the table she asked how much cash I had and I told her.  She then opened my wallet and commented on my having a concealed weapons permit, to which I responded “yep, and if you look a little more you’ll find a retired military ID card also”.

Yes, my patients were wearing thin. 

She then told me to have a seat on one of the benches in the central area.  Before I was seated she told me “no, sir sit in here” as she escorted me to one of the individual holding cells. 

I waited in the 8 x 9 foot cell for another 30 minutes before two plain closed agents (one male and one female) walked in and identified themselves as “Special Agents from the Department of Homeland Security, Cyber Division”.  I looked at their identification and their questioning began.  This time, I knew it was an interrogation than casual conversation.

Glancing out to my bags I couldn't see laptop, cell phone, and two cameras (found out later they also had my two USB storage devices).  

The male Special Agent (SA) told me they were going to take my electronic equipment and asked if I “had a problem with that”.  I responded “yes, I do but what are my options.”  Looking at both agents they simply shrugged their shoulders and smiled.  To which I responded “ok then, I guess I don’t have a problem”.

The male SA then resumed asking me questions, this time they were more specific.  He asked about some of my belongings and my trip to Nicaragua.  He then said “let’s talk about your children”.  I looked at him and said “specifically, you want to talk about my Ecuadorian daughter right”; his response was “yes”.  Knowing we (the SA and myself) had not talked about my children I knew all the conversations with the other agents were relayed to the Special Agents.

Twenty to thirty minutes later the Special Agents told the female agent (3) they were done and I could leave.  She then called the male agent and he escorted me to the main terminal of Miami International Airport.  Time on the clock 1330, my connecting flight had already departed.

I made my way to the airline ticket counter to change my ticket and when I found out I had a two hour wait, I elected to drive the four hours to my home.  Next stop rental car and on the road.

Okay, time to fast forward to October 29th.

It’s been a week and my electronic equipment has not been returned.  I called the female SA and asked her the status and she said it would be about another week.  That is not satisfactory so I wrote a letter to my Congressman requesting assistance. 

I’ll now enter into another waiting game with two branches of the US Government.

Late on Friday, the female SA called and informed me my equipment would be in the Tampa office on Monday.  She said an agent from there would call me to arrange a time for me to pick up my electronic equipment.

Today, twelve days after my re-entry to the US I finally got my stuff back.

That's the end of this story, at least for now as I'm still awaiting a response from my Congressman.  Like I said earlier, I really hope your entry into the US or any country for that matter goes a lot better.