What it Means to go Beyond the Borders of my Country
I now regret my brief moment of laughter at the business man who came rushing into the Brazilian Consulate where I was waiting to pick up my visa. He had rushed from the airport where he had been advised he could not board the plane to his all-expense paid trip to Rio de Janiero to attend a trade show because he had no Visa. He was an American he blustered, and he’d never needed a visa when he travelled in Europe. Well, South and Central America are not Europe and our standing here varies from friendly to we out right hate you.
Given that the U.S. has a history of assassinating favored leaders and supporting right wing governments who crushed the people and disappeared thousands, it’s not surprising. After all it was the CIA who killed Che Guevara. So, my experience crossing borders is always a bit heart pounding, sometimes costly, and sometimes I am that guy standing at the airport ranting about not being allowed to board a plane.
It happened in Peru, where TAME airlines refused to board us because they claimed that Ecuador required you to have an exit ticket (later proven wrong by the Department of Turismo who sent us to the Tame office to demand our money back for the rebooking fee to go the next day). It is true that I wouldn’t be in Columbia now if weren’t for that error because Columbia was the only country to which we could buy a bus ticket from Peru (no easy task mind you).
We have now gotten savvier as Panama and Costa Rica make the same demand. We came prepared with our fake reservations printed out at internet cafes, although not one Border official has asked us for the damn things. We have come to respect Border officials who in that moment have supreme authority over your next move. Colombia asked nothing of us but a smile, even though we had to wait in a line for one and half hours with a throng of people at the Ecuadorian border chomping at the bit to enter a country once dangerous and now simply breathtaking and awaiting tourist from around the world.
(Colombia is absolutely amazing and filled with family friendly fun from Bogata to Medellin to Cartagena. The Policia are everywhere, incredibly helpful, and the military is posted along the highways to assure your safety with a thumbs up to each passing bus driver.)
We have gotten use to Tica Bus representatives confiscating our passports at the border, demanding various amounts of dollars for us to exit and enter countries, and hoping they return they with the necessary exit or entry stamp. We have gotten used to dragging our luggage off buses and hauling them onto tables for some poor government employee to pretend they care about what’s inside. We gotten used to the drug sniffing dogs going doing the line of luggage and thankfully not stopping at ours. We have learned the secret is to be last in line and terrify them with the sheer size of our rolling backpacks in the boxy looking luggage covers. They just look at us and ask “Ropas.” “Ropas,” we confirm, not mentioning the mounting souvenirs and growing collection of coffee from the best coffee countries on the planet. We’ve gotten used to government officials coming on the bus and demanding our passports. We are surprised that by now we haven’t memorized our passport numbers, like I have my social security number.
We have learned to be patient, say as little as possible and give them what they ask for. We have now crossed eleven borders and counting. And at every border crossing (except Honduras) TMobile Global has greeted me with a text message letting me know I can still read email, get text messages and call the next hostal for directions and advice on how much a taxi will cost from the bus station.
I am getting a little nervous about the radio silence I will experience in Belize. (Not yet on the TMobile Global list).
One thing that is constant in every country, across every border. WIFI. Couldn’t live without it and thankfully I haven’t had to.