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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Night of the Scopion King

I know it’s been awhile since the last posting, but we’ve been busy with our move and settling in.  So far, we’re loving our new home of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  We’re slowly settling in and getting our to-do lists done!  We are familiar with the city, have moved into our house, unpacked our furniture, set-up Aidan’s room, and are exploring every nook and cranny of Chiang Mai.

The biggest challenge of the move so far has been the dogs!   Ron literally spent the last 6 weeks we were in the US talking to Delta Airlines about getting our dogs to Thailand.  Initially, it seemed so easy, but everyone at Delta that we talked to gave us different information.  It literally seemed that Delta never moved dogs before (which is not true).  Ron made several trips to the Seattle airport to talk to Delta staff in person, and he even brought the dogs and their carriers for a run-through/pre-approval.  After all of that, Ron ended up making a lion cage for Bleu- the wooden “room” is almost 6 feet long, 4 feet high and 3/5 feet wide (it doesn’t fit in our house so sits in the driveway and someone has yet to come over that hasn’t complemented it)!  It is rather impressive and was cleared through “inspections” of Delta Cargo!

Ron and I were extremely nervous the days up until we moved.  Not only were we moving to a new country, but we weren’t sure if the dogs would be on our flight or how we would get them out of Customs in Bangkok.  Ron called the Thai Embassy in Washington, DC, who then called Thai Quarantine and Customs.  They gave us the go-ahead with the dogs and said that our process would be expedited (which we foolishly believed).

On Sunday, the day we moved, Patton, Christie and Tony took us, the dogs and all 8 suitcases to the airport.  We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends who spent a good part of their day seeing us through!  It made leaving Washington that much more difficult knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing them as often as we would like!

Once at the airport, we were able to check-in without any issues!  Paige and Kai’a were checked as baggage in the airport.  Once they were all clear, we bid them our good-byes and wished them luck before heading to Delta Cargo to work with Bleu.  There were forms upon forms, but finally, Bleu was all set to go.  He was going to be on our flights, just in the cargo hold.

Ron and I couldn’t have been any more relieved that all 3 dogs were checked in and ready to go.  Finally, we could relax, laugh and take a deep breath!

The flights to Bangkok went really well.  The flight attendants updated us on the temperature of the cargo hold and they all knew the dogs were on board.  We even saw Bleu’s carrier on the tarmac in Tokyo!  I really wish I knew what they were thinking and what was going through their minds during this adventure!

Once we arrived in Bangkok, we were able to clear immigration without any issue.  Paige and Kai’a were at baggage claim, crying like crazy.  Poor girls- they had no idea what had just happened or where they were.  I brought all their forms to quarantine, where 2 quarantine officials worked to clear the dogs.  After multiple stamps on the same sheet of paper and $30.00 later, all 3 dogs were cleared without inspection or even a glance.

Once outside the airport, we were met by another Army officer that is stationed in Bangkok.  He was wonderful and had arranged for 2 vans to come pick us up.  After loading our 8 bags, 2 dog kennels, carry-ons and empty stroller (yes, we pushed that through the airport so we wouldn’t have to pay for another bag of checked baggage- we seemed crazy to the security personnel), we loaded in.  We then began the epic search of finding Bleu.

In Bangkok, Delta outsources its cargo to BFS: Bangkok Flight Services.  There isn’t a cargo area, but a “Free Zone”- a separate section of the airport that requires you to pay and show an id to enter.  After driving around the airport for almost an hour, we finally found the “Free Zone.”  Once inside, Ron was able to locate Bleu about an hour later (thank goodness for his Thai as no one spoke English). 

Bleu was safe and sound inside BFS.  Just as we were about ready to load him up, we were told we couldn’t because he wasn’t cleared through customs.  After discussions, showing the officials all of our pre-approved paperwork and offering bribes (a common thing to do here), we still weren’t allowed to take Bleu.  Ron and I had joked before our trip that if Bleu couldn’t leave the airport, I wouldn’t leave the airport….

Well, since Bleu couldn’t leave the airport and we had no idea where the customs office was or how we would locate/clear Bleu if we left the “Free Zone,” we decided that I would stay.  Ron had to in-process at the Embassy in 6 hours (it was now 1AM), so he headed to the hotel with Paige and Kai’a while I stayed.

At first, the employees were shocked that I was staying with my dog, but I kept saying I wouldn’t leave him (especially after some joked that he would taste good…although Thais traditionally don’t eat dogs, especially white ones (just black), I didn’t trust that something wouldn’t happen).  I was given a “Visitor’s Badge” and was lead to the “Live Animal Hold” room.

The room was actually a small closet that was air-conditioned.  I was told I needed to stay there with Bleu.  The staff brought me in a chair and a large sheet of paper that I could lay on.  In the corner, taking up about ½ of the room, were 4 stacked wooden crates.  Luckily, I didn’t look to see what was inside that night.

Bleu was restless in the room…he kept circling and insisted on lying between me and the crates.  Finally, we both laid down and I was able to get about 4 hours of sleep, using my purse as a pillow and my cardigan as a make-shift blanket.  Bleu didn’t sleep at all.

At 6AM, I went to the bathroom, only to come back to the Animal Hold to find the door locked.  Bleu had locked it accidentally!  It took over 30 minutes to find someone that had a key to the room, but finally, someone did!  That was a scary thought thinking Bleu was locked in that room without a key, which would’ve added just yet another complication to my day!

Once back in the “closet,” I turned on the light and really noticed the 4 crates.  The first thing I noticed was, “REPTILE.”  I thought, “Oh NO!  Snakes!”  Then, I read, “Non-poisonous snakes,” and I thought, “Oh, good.”  Then I saw, “500 live scorpions.”  My first thought after seeing that was, “Oh good, there aren’t any snakes in there” before I realized, “HOLY S***!!!!!!  I just slept in a room with 2,000 live scorpions!!!!!”

I then realized why Bleu was so restless and why he insisted on lying down between me and the crates.  I then loved on Bleu like crazy as he became an even more perfect dog that night!  I sat in the chair and for the next 2 hours, Bleu was able to finally get some sleep knowing I had taken over scorpion watch!

At 8AM, the customs office in the Free Zone opened.  I’ll spare the details, but I literally spent the next 3 hours going from building to building, office to office, trying to clear Bleu.  There were 2 Thais that were a significant help to me, and I’ll be eternally grateful!  After more forms, countless stamps (I’ll never understand all of the stamping), and a few fees (some I’m not sure I needed to pay), Bleu was cleared!  I literally did a happy dance!  But then…how was I going to get Bleu and his lion cage to Bangkok, which was 45 minutes away.

After asking a lot of people and using charades, I was finally able to find a driver that would drive Bleu, his kennel and I into Bangkok for $30.00 in the back of his covered pick-up.  We loaded Bleu in the back of his truck in his kennel and were off!

Keep in mind that all this time, Ron and I didn’t have cell phones so Ron had NO idea what was going on.  He spent the morning in-processing and asking everyone he could if they could call the airport customs to help me.  Somehow, someone at the hotel had told him I had checked in around 10AM, so Ron stopped worrying (even though I was still in the “Free Zone” at that point).  I’m glad this happened though so Ron could relax and not stress.

When we finally made it to the hotel, Ron was just getting back from in-processing around noon.  He saw me in the lobby and I just ran to him and gave him the biggest hug.  He was really confused why Bleu was in his cage in a truck outside until I explained the whole story to him.  He was shocked at how crazy my night had been, but was definitely very proud of me! :)

Once we had Bleu in the room, Ron told me that Paige and Kai’a had gotten out of the room that morning.  Our room had a latch door, which Kai’a knows how to open by jumping up using her paws.  Ron had gone to breakfast and 15 minutes later, he found Paige on the stairwell when he was going back to the room.  Paige was on the stairwell of floor #2, our room was on floor #4.  Kai’a was found on floor #6.  Thank goodness the girls didn’t make it down to the lobby or they would be loose in Bangkok with the hotel’s automatic doors!

The whole story made me laugh at our “kids.”  Despite all of the travel, they were still themselves….Bleu was beyond perfect and protective, Kai’a caused some trouble,  and Paige simply went along for the ride!

I think Ron and I will always laugh about the night we cleared Bleu through customs.  It is now known as the “Night we slept with 2,000 scorpions” and we call Bleu our Scorpion King!