The Guatemala- El Salvador border crossing was our first bad border crossing experience. Compared to other horrible tales we have heard of or read about it does not seem that bad, but it was a 4 hour PITA ordeal. It is amazing what a little bit of power will do to some people’s ego. Think about your worst experience at any bureaucratic establishment (say the DMV) and raise to it to the 10th power… and the hardest part is having to smile throughout the whole process, because any hint of loosing your temper can only result in longer delays.
We arrive at the border at 9:00AM to find a very long line of trucks driving into and leaving El Salvador, total chaos. Trucks passing trucks, trucks blocking the road and not a single cop in sight. Lacey stays in the car as I try to avoid the (very) insistent group of guys that offer to help me through the paperwork on the Guatemala side. After many “no, gracias” from me all but one guy leaves, and this one persistent s.o.b. never left my side. I even told him I had no money and would give him none for his troubles. He kept “helping” me anyways. Let me walk you through our wonderful morning (especially for anybody planning this particular border crossing). Immigration was a piece of cake, the gentleman looked at our passports, did who knows what on a computer, stamped the exit stamp, and handed the passports back and said thank you. The truck on the other hand… well not so simple. We keep several good quality color copies of all our papers (license, registration, passports, etc.), but you still need more copies of random things like the vehicle import paperwork (even though it comes in triplicate) and the passport page that has your vehicle info stamped on it. That is no big deal really, except when you go to the window and wait in line and watch 10 of these guys sitting in AC walking around acting busy, but doing nothing. It really starts to get on your nerves (definitely on my nerves). I saw one of the customs officers, inside the wonderfully cool office, checking out his Facebook page while we (me and a dozen truck drivers) waited in insane heat and humidity! After taking my paperwork, TWO agents stared at them for 20 minutes and had mini conferences with other agents. One of them finally asked me to meet him by the car. I met him by the door and when he opened the door from his air conditioned office he cringed at the heat, looked at the car and asked: “Is that it?” Yes. “OK.” Another few conferences with the other agent and the stamps came out… ahhh, the sweet sound of a stamp full of ink on paperwork. By the way, the guy who was “helping” me still expected money, I gave him none, but I thanked him for his kind help.
On to the El Salvador bureaucracy. The truck queue was even longer once across the border. We parked at the end of the line and stared in disbelief at its length. A truck driver smiled at us and said: “just drive on the oncoming traffic lane and cut, tourists are different than truckers.” I thanked him and followed his advice against my better judgment. In the middle of a two way bridge (in other words blocking oncoming traffic) a soldier stopped and told me to turn around and get my ass back to the end of the line. At least he was nice about it, but when I proceeded to turn around a friendly immigration officer told us to just go through and park at the immigration offices. Hoping the soldier would relent we went ahead into El Salvador and parked. Once again immigration for Lacey and myself was simple and fairly quick (even though I had to help the immigration officer find the Guatemalan intake stamp in our passports). The truck import was once again the issue on this side of the border. It took nearly 3 hours for this one step, 3 hours! I have no idea how hot it was, but it was hot and humid. I mean Satan’s crotch hot and humid (not that I have ever been there). In the meantime I guess you could say I tried to go with the flow and enjoyed people watching in the heat. I got to hang out with a group of rowdy potty mouthed truck drivers that were actually quite funny. The ladies bathroom was right next to our line and I saw this one woman go into the bathroom followed a few seconds later by a man, after some time the man would come out and later the lady. While I waited in line this happened no less than 3 times with the same woman yet different men. The world’s oldest profession? She was not the only one making money there, I saw quite a few officers making quick slick exchanges with truck drivers for what seemed to be more prompt processing of their paperwork. I can’t say I actually saw any cash being exchanged, maybe it was just dodgy looking handshakes.
The customs guys did a little of their sitting on our paperwork for a while and one of them finally came out and gave the Landcruiser the once over. Nothing thorough, more of a “hmmm, it is hot out here let’s make this snappy” kind of a deal. In the meantime poor Lacey was sitting and sweating by the Landcruiser reading her trusty Kindle, being stared at by all passersby for who knows what reason. An hour later we were finally on our way. I think we were lucky though because I saw the same officer order a family to completely empty their fully loaded pick up truck and he went through every item…
BTW for further and more detailed info on this border crossing, check Alisa’s post at MotoAdventureGal