— Dare to go explore the world ?
— Sure !
It started with a joke. We were both young adults, both sick of our current life, both a bit crazy and innocent. We jumped on a bus and went South. Across countries, across cultures. We were free, nothing could have hold us back. We packed a few stuffs and stepped in the unknown.
El viento viene, el viento se va, por la frontera, el viento viene, el viento se va…
The wind just comes, the wind just goes, across the frontier, the wind just comes, the wind just goes…
We started off in Mexico. We each had a passport, a Canadian one and a French one. Surely, it made things easier.
The Mexican-Belizean border was fairly straight-forward, even including the three hours spent waiting for a bus which never came. And the night arrival in Belize city in the middle of the slums. The border officers were nice and didn’t ask much. Nothing to pay, passport stamped, welcome to Belize, a country I didn’t even know existed before I went there.
It was much messier between Belize and Guatemala. The bus cut a way through the jungle and dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We followed the crowd to the border stop. The border between the two countries was marked by a tree trunk in the middle of the red clay dirt road. We just stepped over it and didn’t look back. A young officer asked for our passport and we spent ten minutes arguing over the border crossing fee. Go ahead amigo, I can’t do math anyway. The chicken bus was waiting on the other side and we quickly disappeared again in the jungle – the Petén jungle this time, on the road to Flores.
We took another local bus to El Salvador from southern Guatemala. It stopped in the middle of nowhere – we were used to it by then. Pedro de Alvarado. We walked about 500 meters to a guarded border. Two boys, around sixteen years old, stopped us. They both had machetes and machine guns – alright, border officers. We explained our whereabouts and we were searched for illegal substances. Apparently, El Salvador doesn’t get that many visitors from the North. Mira los gringos ! Los gringos are indeed a bit stupid. They wanted the cambio but El Salvador now uses US dollar. We still managed to catch a bus to La Libertad, our first stop in Salvador and we traveled with a bunch of goats in the bus.
Going to Honduras was as slow as going through Las Manos in Nicaragua was fast. I should have swam across the river, would have been faster. Although for the latest, the border officer made a big mistake: he stamped our passport before asking for a bribe. Too bad, no tengo dineros, puedes cambiar traveler’s cheque ? I’m bad, I know. But that’s the rule of the game, right ?
t was pretty bad between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The entry point was absolute chaos. As soon as we stepped out of the bus, we find ourselves stuck on the wooden barrier. A car fought its way through the crowd and we soon heard someone screaming. A man laid there, blood everywhere and angry people quickly gathered around him. We ran away and started queuing at the border post we had finally found. Kids came and went around us, selling pens and the standard immigration form. No one wanted to lose his spot in the huge line-up. We tried a short-cut but we were quickly kicked out by the security guard. It was Christmas time, families were waiting on the other side of the border, at Penas Blancas.
El hambre viene, el hombre se va, sin mas razon, por la carretera…
Hunger comes, the man goes, with no other reason, along the freeway…
We took another bus a few weeks later to Panama, our final stop in Central America. We will then fly to South America since crossing the Darien Gap was less than advisable.
We were the only foreigners in the chicken bus and the driver had to stop at the immigration just for the two of us. We stepped out of the bus and make our way to the nearest building : a pharmacy where we have to buy a Red Cross stamp, promptly glued on our passport. Right. We then got the exit stamp.
Sixaola, in Panama, was close, right across a small river. I asked the bus driver the trunk keys since our backpacks were still in the bus, but he told us to go back on. What do we do ? Does the bus go across the river, or are we walking ? I’d have walked. The international bridge was fairly high but very narrow and rusty. No way the bus could drive on it. We walk away but the bus driver call us back on board one more time. We obeyed, wondering what was next. For the next twenty minute, we watched our bus struggling to stay on the bridge. Someone guided the driver from the other side of the bridge. Ten centimeters on my right, ten centimeters on my left – that was the breathing space. We could either dive into the river or make the bridge collapse under the bus’ weight. Great. We eventually made it to Panama, and spent Christmas at Boca Del Toro.
We felt powerful. We hated borders and we had no troubles going through them. It didn’t make much sense, these guards, these machetes, the machine-guns – all that for what ? Border officers wrote down our names countless time, our passports numbers, we were given forms to fill up, addresses, we showed more ID’s, had more documents stamped. Who cared ? Did my passport number matter that much ? Nothing was computerized.
Crossing land borders made us fell invincible, unstoppable. Same kind of feeling you get when a cop stops you and you have nothing to fear. Go ahead, keep on closing these piece of land, prevent people from leaving the country. I have a passport. I don’t care.
I kept on thinking of the unthinkable. What if I wasn’t French ? What if Feng didn’t have a Canadian passport ? Would we be treated as cattle as well ? Would we have had to fight for the basic right of freedom of travel ?
La suerte viene, la suerte se va, el hambre viene, el hombre se va, sin mas razon…
Good fortune comes, good fortune goes, hunger comes, the man, he goes, with no other reason…
If you can’t choose where you are born, you should be able to choose where you live. Right ?