Border Crossing

I am in a taxi which is taking me to the border crossing between El Salvador and Guatemala. I am excited about entering a brand new country but at the same time feel a little sad about leaving El Salvador – a country that has given me so much. Specifically, Pupusas and an encounter with a prospective mugger.

Now though, it is time to move on. Because that’s what backpackers do. We love ’em and leave ’em.

I get out of the taxi, pay the driver and bid my Salvadoran, taxi driving counterpart farewell. I smile at him with a lump in my throat. Expressionless, he looks back at me and I get the feeling this moment means more to me than it does him.

As I prepare to pass through a small, white building, I detect all the hallmarks of a Central American border checkpoint. There’s a man asleep on a plastic chair and there’s three chaps who want to buy and sell currency at, what I’m afraid to say, are very uncompetitive rates of exchange.

But there’s something missing. This familiar scene is bereft of one particular element. Ah, there they are. I look over to my right because over to my right are half a dozen mean, bulky looking men carrying over the top weaponry.

I was keen to avoid a situation similar to the one depicted here

Now, I’m no armoury expert. In fact, I have very little military training indeed, particularly in the art of appropriate gun selection for Central American border crossings. But these guns seem like they’d be better suited to a scene from Saving Private Ryan.

I chuckle as I pass the mean, bulky looking men carrying over the top weaponry because I’ve seen this before at neighbouring border crossings and I don’t want them to think their big guns intimidate me. I think this would give them satisfaction and, believe me, the last thing I want to do is satisfy a large man with a big gun.

I walk past them and get to the office where I will be stamped out of one country and into another. I wonder if I’ll be thanked for coming, I hope they ask if I enjoyed my time in their lovely country.

“Tres dólares” says the woman behind the desk. Oh, three dollars. Why is she saying the words “three dollars”. I know there is no fee to leave El Salvador and I think the woman knows this too. She does know this, of course she knows this. If she knows this, then why is she asking for three dollars.

I don’t want to pay it and I shouldn’t be forced to pay it. This is a free country and I know my rights and I know the law of the land. It’s about time somebody made a stand against such illegal practises. I decide that time has come and that person is me.

I will be remembered alongside Rosa Parks for my heroism, Winston Churchill for my courage and for standing up for what I believe is right. Just imagine the greeting I’ll get when I walk through the arrivals of Heathrow‘s Terminal 4. The rapturous applause from the adoring crowds, the press, the paparazzi! I’ll probably have to get an agent!

I begin the speech that will put me in the martyrdom hall of fame.

“Yes, but…”

I stop a mere two words in as I notice one of the ridiculously armed men making his way over.

I quickly take my wallet out of my pocket and, trying to minimise the shaking that has curiously taken hold of my right hand, I slide five dollars across the desk to the lady.

She says she has no change. I don’t complain.

I bet it’s rubbish having an agent anyway.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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Cash splashing on a budget

I’ve always done my travelling on a tight budget but every now and again I splash out on something a bit special.

For all it’s good qualities, travel can be exhausting, difficult and incredibly frustrating, and it’s at times like these when I like to treat myself.

Here are some of the things I find it’s totally worth extending my wallet to:

 

1) A hotel rather than a hostel (air-con optional)

When I was in Honduras, in some of the smaller towns which attracted little to no tourists, I had to stay in rooms that pretty much resembled prison cells. A creaky bed, an even creakier bed side table, no window and a light bulb of about

Bunk in a 48 bed dorm

ten watts. That’s it. Seriously, people on death row probably have better accommodation.

But hey, this is what you get for $2.50 per night and it’s all part of the backpacking experience, blah blah blah…

After several nights in these cells, when I crossed into El Salvador I found myself walking past a “proper hotel” in Perquin on my way to somewhere a bit more to my standard. I looked up at it longingly and then thought, ‘why the hell not? I think I’ve earned it’.

So for three nights at something like $15 per night (including breakfast) it was like living in a palace. As I entered my room, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Or rather, the complete absence of one. In fact, the entire room was spotless. The double bed was wonderfully mute, my ensuite (oh, yes) bathroom had hot AND cold water – I was actually in charge of what temperature I washed myself at. This was amazing.

Fresh towels provided, two bottles of water, soap, and the ceiling fan was not only quieter than a jet plane for once, but it did it’s job with aplomb.

Occasional luxury like this always gives me the perfect battery recharge.

 

2) A proper restaurant meal rather than street food

Don’t get me wrong, I love street food and I eat it wherever I go. It’s great because you know there will always be an opportunity to eat wherever you and whatever you doing. Whether it’s pineapple for breakfast on the bus or whatever meat on a stick for sale that you happen to walk past next.

Amazing food. Mmmm...

However, a nice sit down meal once in a while in a proper restaurant where you have a proper waiter/waitress, perhaps a pre-chilled glass for your beer, a starter, and maybe even a dessert, are so much more special and appreciated when you’ve been on the road for a while and necking pad thai or menu del dia every day.

 

3) First class rather than economy (excluding aeroplanes – I’m not mental)

You’ve slummed it with locals, you’ve sat shoulder to shoulder with chicken buses full of kids, you’ve stood arse to face with somebody’s grandmother on the back of pick-up truck so now it’s time for your reward.

If it’s a really long bus/train journey (or even if it’s not) and you can’t bear the thought of playing share the seat with another sweaty, dribbling drunk then

Chicken buses

making that step up to first class is well worth your consideration.

Give yourself a bit more leg room, entertain even the possibility of sleep, and the notion that you could actually make it through this journey in conditions that are neither arctic nor tropical.