I’m waiting to board my early morning flight out of Quito, Ecuador and a young security officer approaches me, “Are you Kay-tee Shuuulz?” I nod and he indicates that I should come with him. Walking through hallways and down stairs we finally arrive in the baggage area on the tarmac.
Waiting for me there are men in fatigues and an adorable yellow lab and my luggage. “Your passport please?” one of the soldiers asks. I hand it over and he looks from the picture to my face and back again, “You do not look like a drug smuggler” and he smiles. I smile too and lower my gaze thinking to myself – ah Senor, but isn’t it always the ones you suspect the least that slide right past you?
The soldier begins to search the contents of my luggage.
It appears the x-ray flagged my bag because of suspicious substance – 3 boxes with vacuum-sealed bags inside – Colombian coffee.
Each morning in Quito my friend Sherry brewed an intoxicating pot of the most wonderful coffee. As it perked she would foam milk and we would plan our day. The coffee was so delicious I bought 3 lbs. to bring home. Mmmm, Sherrybucks!
The soldier pulled out the first box and began to dismantle it with his pocketknife.
“You are traveling alone, Senorita?”
“Yes” I replied “and it’s Senora.”
“Ah”, he smiles.
As he pokes a small hole in the coffee bag he apologizes and holds it down for the dog to sniff. “No problems!” he says and begins to repack the coffee. “You are like the rose Beautiful American. Do you know this flower?”
“Yes, I do, the American Beauty Rose and thank you that’s very sweet.”
“Please come again to Quito soon.” I thank him and I’m led back to my gate thinking that the boom of greenhouse growers in Quito has certainly given the men charming small talk.
I take off from Quito, headed to Panama.
The plane lands safely in Panama and I board my flight for Mexico City hours later. I’m already seated reading, the plane is loaded, doors ready to close when suddenly an attendant is jogging down the aisle. I continue reading and feel a light tap on my shoulder. “Kay-tee Shuuulz?” I nod. “Come with me please.”
I follow him out of the plane, back up the gangway and into the terminal where I am greeted by three armed guards and…my luggage.
One of the guards very nicely tells me that my bag will be searched and they will hold the plane unless there are problems. They open it up and everything is pulled out, passed around and sniffed.
“Aha!!” They find the opened box of coffee. The box is ripped apart and the small hole in the bag is discovered. The “nice” guard is now shouting at me in Spanish. He makes the hole much larger and the bag is passed from one guard to the next, as they each smell the contents.
Voices are raised and people are gathering. I’m a little frightened now and wishing I could speak anything but English, but the only phrase rattling around in my brain is patois that Sherry had used in an email and so I bite my lip and whisper “it really is coffee.”
Like a summer storm ending they are all smiles. They repack my belongings and I am told, “Go now and complete the process! FLY!!” With that I am sent running down the gangway to re-board the plane to Mexico.
I’m excited to land in Mexico because I have three hours there. My plan is to hire a cab to cruise around the city to kill time when I hear a broadcast, “Blah, blah, blah, Kay-tee Shuuuuulz, blah, blah, blah.”
I stroll to the Information desk and identify myself.
“Your passport please?” I hand it over, there’s a hushed, frantic phone call and in seconds a Federale grasps my arm.
At breakneck speed I am led back through the terminal to see in the distance…my luggage.
I was heatedly searched again while clearing customs in Houston, TX and yet again in Austin, TX. Road weary after traveling for fifteen hours and no longer afraid, I beseech them not to spill too much more of my precious cargo.
Arriving home close to midnight I’m greeted by the sweet mewl of my furry cat. My husband is away on business and I am alone in the house. I open my bag and pull out the tattered, leaking box of coffee and head straight to the kitchen.
As the perking coffee aroma fills the room, I foam some milk. I load my cup and inhale the scent of Quito.
Collapsing on the sofa, cup in hand, I remember new friends; watching Kiki and Fernando tango; dancing salsa with Lourdes and Andrea; waking up in Kirsten’s hobbit home overlooking Inca ruins in the mountains; but most of all my beautiful friend Sherry and her handsome Charlie who shared their slice of heaven and took such loving care of me. At this moment I miss them so much that my heart aches a little.
I hold the memory of Quito between my palms, close my eyes and smile. I now know, without a doubt, that this is the best coffee I have ever had in my life.