Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Why I hate land borders

I'm now in León, Nicaragua, having travelled from San Salvador. It took us two days to get here, during which time we had to change buses no less than 6 times and cross two land borders, the El Salvador-Honduras border, and the Honduras-Nicaragua border. I thought it would be a good time to elaborate upon my hatred of such international necessities.

Every time we ever seem to be crossing a land border, for a start, it's mind-blowingly sunny. Land borders being what they are, they are always godforsaken dives: a few shacks, overpriced drinks, very little shade, and lots and lots (and lots) of dust. You have to heave your bag across anywhere between 500m and 3km of no man's land between countries in blazing sunshine, sweating like a pack mule, knowing all the while that you've got more hassle and a bus to look forward to when you cross the imaginary line.

The people at borders come in to three categories. Firstly, fellow travellers, either honkies like us or locals. The locals push in front of you because they reckon (often rightly) that being so foreign you'll block up the line and take ages whereas they can be dealt with quickly. All very well unless there are loads of them. Which is usually the case. Honkies like us are a pain in the arse too, because as mentioned above it often takes ages to process them. Plus for some reason westerners find it very difficult to wait patiently, and have a tendancy to start complaining loudly when made to hold on for a while. That's fine, but when a fellow gringo starts trying to involve me in a conversation about how badly organised the system is, I don't want to comment - they've got my passport, and they've got guns. Plus it's a land border: I have no rights.

Secondly there are the officials. These also fall into two subtypes. There are your border guards, surly, silent types with guns and a look in their eye that says "shoot to kill means what it says". And there are the bureaucrats, typically found behind a pane of glass with a tiny hole in it. They then mumble instructions at you so you can't hear. They are the ones who take your passport, give you a form, stamp your passport on page 29 when all the other stamps are between pages 4 and 15, take back the form and stuff the carbon copy of the form in your passport rather than staple it in thus seriously endangering your chances of keeping that vital bit of paper for another land border later. They then take a certain amount of money in dollars from you, and more than likely a few more as well for "stamping fee" or "ink tax". They'll probably then try to underchange you.

Fianlly, the hustlers. This general category covers pretty much everyone not mentioned above from the moment you step off one bus in the first country until you reach your next bus in the second. They try to carry your bags (for a fee), carry you on a bike/scooter/pedalo (for a fee), get you a bus (for a fee), change your money (for a... you get the idea) , sell you drinks/food, get you accomodation - in short, they hustle you for all yor worth, generally making the whole experience even more rushed and sweaty, and meaning it's impossible for you to just stop and relax even for a second. On the plus side, they do provide you with the answers to any questions you might have, since these borders are rarely equipped with adequate signage.

Still, only three more (Nicaragua-Honduras, Honduras-Guatemala, Guatemala-Mexico) to go now, if all goes to plan.

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