too-cross-to-cross-colombia-to-ecuador

Too Cross to Cross! Keeping it Calm at Border Crossings.

Sorry, but I have to start by saying this: International borders are bullshit! At best pointless, at worst evil, the entire border industry (yes, it’s an industry) is based on xenophobia, oppression, corruption, and extortion. These invisible lines do nothing to protect us and everything to inconvenience us. I’m sorry, border employees, it’s nothing personal. But your “career” is a fraud because borders are a racket!

OK, that feels better.

See that? I allowed myself a brief, harmless rant to expunge the negativity and acknowledge my feelings. Now, I feel calm enough to cross the border. Because the last thing I want to do at customs is become agitated. You may think I’m overstating, but keep in mind I was once mugged by an armed border guard. So when it comes to borders, I’ve got baggage!

Venting beforehand helps, but time of day matters too.

I always cross early. I’m at my calmest first thing in the morning. The day is new, so nothing crappy has happened yet and my mood is positive. If I’m still a little sleepy it only adds to my mellowness.

Borders are also at their calmest first thing in the morning. The traffic is calm, the travellers are calm, and the guards are calm, even the bad ones. The “good” guards are calm because nothing bad has happened yet. The “bad” guards are calm because they’re saving their best moves till later in the day. The morning temperature is cool and calming. In the midday heat, tempers flare.

Morning is also best because if I should encounter a hassle I have the whole day to sort it out (sometimes, I’ve needed it). Of course, if there’s no trouble and I’m through quickly then I have the whole day to explore the new country. Perfect!

I always plan it so that my last night in a country is spent as close to the border as possible. Then I go to bed early and wake up before dawn. As soon as I’m up, I pack the bike and zip down to the border, sometimes even eating breakfast while I ride.

Haitians-Crossing-Into-Dominican-Republic-At-The-Border

Undocumented Haitians wading into the Dominican Republic at one of Latin America's dodgier border crossings.

Some websites and guidebooks attempt to list which border crossings are easiest and which to avoid. This kind of information is, at best, general. Yes, some borders are busier than others and some are in a more pleasant location. But the potential for hassles is seemingly random.

Are the quiet crossings better because the guards deal with fewer people or are they worse because the guards are bored and looking for action? Are the busy crossings better because it’s easier to blend in with the crowd or are they worse because of the crowds? I could tell you about a great experience I had at a certain border and you could me a nightmare story from the very same place. Really, it’s a gamble.

Well, I started this post with a rant, so let me finish by saying something nice.

Despite my hangups, I’ve had great experiences at borders. I’ve met guards who were friendly and treated me with courtesy and concern for my safety. I’ve had guards draw me maps and give me advice. I’ve had guards allow me to camp at the border and use the staff bathrooms. I’ve had guards put me in touch with their families in case I ever needed a place to stay. Once, a guard arranged a ride for me into town when I was sick. I even had a guard in Paraguay turn a blind eye to some important visa paperwork I was missing (this could have been a disaster with the wrong guard).

What have been your experiences with border crossings in Latin America? Do borders get you antsy? Share a comment below!

 

 

 

border: frontera f

customs: aduana f

passport: pasaporte m

passport stamp stamp: sello m de pasaporte

cross the border: pasar la frontera

border with: limitar con

Brazil borders nine countries: Brasil limita con nueve países

declaration form: formulario de declaración

guard: guardia mf

moneychangers: cambistas mfpl

 

Feature image (top of page): The Ecuador/Colombia border crossing at Tulcán-Ipiales.

 

© El Pedalero, 2012.

 

 

Comments
3 Responses to “Too Cross to Cross! Keeping it Calm at Border Crossings.”
  1. Deb Wellwood says:

    Hey Gareth,

    Funny, I’m reading this post, again, just having written a post about crossing from the USA into Mexico.

    I’ve got baggage too. I was interogated and strip searched as a youngster returning home to Canada from Jamaica. My only offence, as best I could tell, was choosing to fly on a plane full of all inclusives returning from one week, whereas I was returning from two months and on other fronts I was different, young, backpack etc. Even though I had nothing to hide, I was terrified. So I’ve got baggage that three and a half decades later I’m just starting to get a handle on. I’m happy to say that in seven border crossings on our journey from Canada to El Salvador, we’ve only had warm and helpful welcomes from border officials (in Canada, USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador)! Now, I finally have the resilience I need for crossings to come.

    Great post, like all of your posts. You can read my take on our Mexico border crossing experience at http://ravenecological.com/bicycle-field-notes-8-usa-mexico-border-running-the-badlands-on-a-bicycle/

    Bon courage!

    Deb

  2. Lars Henning says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your rant! We are anticipating our first crossing from Mexico to Guatemala in a few weeks. Thanks for the pedalingo!

    • El Pedalero says:

      Thanks for the solidarity on my rant, Lars!

      Good luck on that Mexico to Guatemala crossing! The nicest way I’ve crossed is from Frontera Corozal by boat. Beautiful jungle river crossing, and you end up in a quiet, calm part of Guatemala on the other side.

      Mucha suerte!

      Gareth

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