12 Days of Christmas – 3 Border Crossings

Border crossing should be routine and easily accomplished but as any traveller knows, this is far from the case. Continuing the 12 Days of Christmas countdown, here are 3 of my more troublesome encounters.

3 Panama into Costa Rica.

Ok, this wasn’t in the slightest bit troublesome, but a sign made me stop and ask “why”. Why do you feel the need to put up a sign saying showing the different types of rocket propelled grenades you weren’t allowed to bring into Costa Rica.

Combine the comedy sign with a rickety, rusting bridge and a large Jamaican woman who got annoyed at how slow the crossing was and this is one memorable border!

2 Peru to Ecuador

This is rumoured to be a hellish crossing and it had me rightly nervous. For me it was simply a very nervous experience and I needed have worried at all, however an American girl I met did the crossing at night and had a very different experience – she was almost deported!

The crossing is in three parts – first you leave Peru, travel a distance on the bus in “no mans land”, pass the Ecuador checkpoint and then about an hour later you go through customs. It was scary enough at 2pm so I always wondered why Lori was going to do it at 2am! Anyway, the story goes that she made it through to customs and they found drugs in one of the surf-board bags – they immediately assumed it was a solo traveller at fault so hauled them all out onto the ground and had them on their knees. Lori only survived because a Swiss couple grabbed her and told the authorities she travelled with them.

Lori told me about the dramas at the airport when we headed out to the Galapagos, but you can read her account on her blog Lori and the Llama.

1 Peru to Bolivia

This is the worst border I’ve had the misfortune to cross and it was my first. It all started to go wrong when the Peruvians started to protest at the plans to mine their sacred mountain and they blockaded the roads. Things started to get violent and we heard that buses were getting boarded and the tourists getting mugged so, the hostel organised a boat across Lake Titicaca and we paid our monies and boarded the minibus.

The start of the bus ride was fine (I fell fast asleep) until we got to the blockade – however it appeared that palms were crossed as we continued on after a while to cheery smiles and waves before criss-crossing through the countryside to reach the dock. The small boat arrived and we piled on (almost missing it due to watching a school play) and then sat for goodness knows how many hours getting colder and colder as the perishing wind punished us for sitting up top. The camaraderie of the people “up-top” was great though and arriving in Bolivia was a doddle for us – we left the boat, jumped on a bus which took us to the border and jobs-a-goodun.

So far so good, but I was one of the lucky ones. I met a group of girls who had been chased through the streets of Puno with the locals throwing rocks at them. The Germans I rode Sorata with were chased through the towns on their bikes often getting locked in restaurants or hotels by the owners for their safety. People tried escaping round the north of Lake Titicaca and ended up getting abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Boats would land near the Peruvian checkpoint and were set on fire. People were shot and killed in the area…

On the way back I bided my time waiting for a definite “all clear” before giving up and buying a flight to Lima. It just wasn’t worth the risk at that stage of my journey!

You can read more of this story in my blog post : Leaving Cusco for Bolivia – a bit of an adventure.