I was fortunate enough to have a chance to travel early in my twenties. I was invited to attend a summit in the United States back in 2008 and while at it, I took the opportunity to visit relatives from my mother’s side two weeks prior in Vancouver, Canada – my first international destination. It was such an exciting time; I remember literally losing sleep days before because I cannot contain my excitement over the trip. Since this is the first time that I would be traveling from one country to another alone, I have made it a point that I understand all procedures involved including customs and immigration.

The day finally came, early in the afternoon my family dropped me off at the airport we said goodbyes and boarded my twelve-hour flight to Vancouver. The flight itself was uneventful; I ate, tried enjoying the movies on board, filled out the necessary forms, and got some little sleep. Being the Filipino that I am with me on this trip is a bag full of treats which included dried mangoes, cup noodles, and pastries to be given to my hosts.

Landing at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is when things actually got real for me. I have to pinch myself to make sure that this is not just another dream. Since the flight landed late, it took some time for us to get to the gate and do our deplaning. Ahead of us are long lines at customs and immigration because there were many “jumbo-plane” flights deplaning at that point in time.

While on the line, I noticed this sign “Be aware and declare” which stipulates items that you should declare and what are the equivalent fines should you be caught smuggling items into Canada. I have mixed feelings, all food items should be declared, the fine is equivalent to what I have in my wallet at that time but on the other hand, I am sure (I think) that dried mangoes, cup noodles, and pastries are not on the CBSA prohibited items list. After some few moments of reflection, I decided to do the right thing – Declare. I checked the “Yes” box in the declaration form where it said “bringing food items into Canada”.

It was my turn to hand over my passport and forms to the immigration officer, he reviewed it and asked me the usual questions. He noticed that I said, “Yes” to “…food items into Canada”:

Customs and Immigration Officer: What are the food items that you are bringing?

Chester (trying to remember what is inside the bag): Some pastries, dried mango, and cup noodles

Customs and Immigration Officer: What kind of cup noodles? What is in it?

Chester (trying to explain what “La Paz Batchoy” is to the officer): We call it “La Paz Batchoy”, not sure what is in it but I think it contains some meat.

After that, the officer stamped my passport and has instructed me to go to quarantine for authorities to inspect the goods I am bringing in to Canada. At quarantine, another officer inspected the goods I am bringing in and tried to understand the ingredients of the “La Paz Batchoy” from the packaging. After careful inspection, I was told that I could not bring these into Canada and a half-box worth of “La Paz Batchoy” noodles were confiscated by the authorities.

That was the first lesson I learned in travel – Even if the meat flavoring is artificial, should not be brought in to any country that has meat import restrictions. After that, I was able to meet with my relatives, told them this story and enjoyed the rest of my stay abroad.