Day 90: Panama City - Miami - Madrid - Amsterdam
Panama City Travel Blog› entry 119 of 120 › view all entries
My 90-day journey across Central America ended with the biggest anti-climax imaginable. When I booked my flight to Mexico and the return from Panama I was already pissed off that a mandatory stop-over in transfer in Miami increased the ticket price with an absurd US$ 60 “security tax” on top of normal Airport taxes. This was a year and a half after 9/11 and anti-terrorist craze was at its height.
But worse than the tax was the actual transfer itself. Normally when you have an international airport transfer in, say, every other country in the world, you remain on international ground and don't have to clear immigration. Basically you just wonder around the airport for a while (which you aren't allowed to leave) before you board your next flight. Not so in the US of A. Big brother wants to know who enters the country, even if you don't intend staying. So you have to clear immigration, a process which can take up several hours due to the scrutinizing immigration officials. I was even awarded a 30-day entry visa in my passport so I figured I could head into Miami if I wanted to (had I had time). I wondered what they did with people with nationalities that aren't as welcome in the USA. Would those people require a visa just to pass Miami airport?
Anyway, with the immigration out of the way, we still had 3 hours to spend before our next flight. Surely there would be some form of entertainment at this airport, a duty-free shop or a bar or...
I stared in disbelief at the official who was blocking the exit of the immigration area. What do you mean no? We just want to have a stroll through the airport.
“No, you are not allowed. The transit lounge is that way, and you have to wait there for your next flight.”
“But I have just come off an 8-hour flight, about to board another 8-hour flight. Surely I am allowed to get a drink, or buy a newspaper or a magazine?”
“But why not? Here, I was even granted a 30 day visa to enter your country. So I am free to go as I please in your country. There's no stopping me from heading into town if I'd want to. Haha, what do you have to say about that Mr Big Gorilla Security Guy?”
“If you do that your bags will have to be taken off the plane. You will have to check them in again for your next flight, and I assure you you will miss that flight if you try.”
You have got to be kidding me! Unfortunately, he wasn't. The way the Greatest Nation in the World treats its guests from the Lesser Nations is to stuff them all together by their hundreds into windowless rooms, deprived of any comfort, in ways not seen since 1940s Germany.
Seriously, there are prisons more welcoming that this.
There was some sort of bar in the waiting area, but it was closed, and the only things for sale were cans of coke and peanuts. Arnaud and I aimed our hopes at decent in-flight food during our Iberia flight to Madrid instead.
After the overnight flight we had one more stopover in Madrid, which was the complete opposite of Miami. Friendly people, bright and airy public areas, and a great little restaurant serving nice breakfast and kick-ass coffee.
The last hour and a half to Amsterdam were rather uneventful. In fact, most of the 20-hour journey from Panama had been uneventful, apart from the incident in Miami. As I said in the first entry of my blog: flights are often horrible, but within hours after arrival you can't even remember what was so horrible about it at all.