If you’ve not made Central American border crossings before, beware the horde

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Anyone who tells you Central American border crossings are a breeze is out of his or her tiny mind!

Mexico was a breeze, even without Spanish. The rest? Maybe it was the Kentucky plates, maybe it was the size of the car, or maybe it was simply because I was an obvious foreigner. Whatever the reason, Central American border crossings were a nightmare consisting of people of all sizes, ages and shapes trying to part the Canadiense from his meager amount of money.

Hundreds wanting to ‘help’

At some of the Central American border crossings there were hundreds of young adults and small kids, all fighting for the nod from me. If they couldn’t become my ‘protector’, they wanted a dime, a quarter, a dollar. To have given to one would have caused a riot, 200 kids all wanting what the first one got. I don’t know whether I did the right thing or not, but I decided to pick the ugliest, meanest, strongest, tallest young man around and tell him that he had the job of getting me through the border if he kept everyone else away.

You will have to imagine some amazing pictures. The camera was hidden away safely; it would have been foolhardy to show there was a fine camera to go with the expensive though battered and splattered car.

Broke in no-man’s land

Always, I seemed to part with a lot more money than I had expected. The worst was at the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Because of the crash and then blowing the engine in the second car, I arrived in the no-man’s land between the two borders with exactly $1 to my name – not enough with which to get into Costa Rica or to get back into Nicaragua. I was stuck.

I had thought there was probably a Western Union office at or near most Central American border crossings, but the closest was 44 miles inside the Costa Rica border. Two young ‘friends’ had attached themselves to me despite knowing I had just a single dollar. “Don’t worry about that,” they assured me. I didn’t find that assuring at all; I knew they had to make a living and couldn’t do so off one dollar. Somehow, they got the customs agent to agree to accompany me the 44 miles so I could use the Internet to get some money sent from Canada.

Taken for a ride

No, I could not take my car. All four of us piled into a taxi for a $70 return trip to be paid for from the funds I would collect. Except it was impossible to get the money before the local Western Union office closed. Back 44 miles to the car, where I slept the night – not the first Central American border crossing at which I had done so on my nightmare expedition.

I refused to take the taxi the next morning and announced I would take the car. Amazingly, the customs officer agreed. The taxi driver was waiting outside the Western Union office. He, unlike the others, was apparently not ready to trust the customs officer with his share. Total cost: $300 out of the $500 I collected. But I was now just one Central American border crossing away from my objective: Panama.

All Central American border crossings were bad, in one manner or another. And some of the roads between them were even worse. Honduras is a particularly bad one, dodging craters that make driving at 10mph reckless speeding.

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