smarter than a speeding ticket

At the El Salvador/Guatemala border I was quite alarmed to see trucks backed up as far as a kilometer standing in queue waiting to clear the border.  I didn’t want to spend another full day waiting to get a passport stamp like at the Honduran border.  I noticed a red truck ahead of me who continued to drive passing up all of the parked 18 wheel trucks and I followed him right up to the border checkpoint.  He exited and walked in and I followed him inside.  It seems that there were two lines, one for commercial traffic and one for non-commercial traffic.  It looked like I was now #2 in line and I was able to process my application rather quickly.  However, I still had to wait for my paperwork to clear.

I returned to my vehicle and after about an hour I was called back into the building.  I was issued my vehicle permit and allowed to proceed to immigration to get my passport stamped.  As I looked at my passport I noticed that the customs agents of Central America had really butchered it.  I had stamps EVERYWHERE and they took up whole pages; each border crossing wiped out one full page.  I didn’t mind all of the wacky and excessive stamps; I think it adds character to a passport.  But some of my German friends really freaked out as they are used to border agents “coloring between the lines.”  By the time that this trip was over I would have to add new pages to my passport before I could go on my next trip.  A few of the border agents even “personalized” their immigration stamps with their names and signature blocks:

Once clear of the border I ran into a roadblock and then another.  At each roadblock I was asked for bribes and I either had to pay or else argue that it was improper to pay; sometimes this took 15 minutes, sometimes an hour or two.  I was getting a bit anxious to get back as I was behind schedule and I was afraid that I would be late for work.  A few miles down the road I saw two Guatemalan soldiers complete with Israeli Gallil 5.56 assault rifles, fatigues and combat boots.  They appeared to be waiting for a bus and I had a stroke of inspiration.  I pulled over and back up to the bus stop and in my broken Spanish I asked them where they were going.

The soldiers told me that they were travelling to their base that was located about 250 kilometers down the main road.  I asked them if the base was on the main road or on a side road and they said that the base sat right on this main highway.  I asked them if they needed a ride and instantly, both of their faces light up with big smiles.  They eagerly accepted my offer and I wasn’t sure if they were so happy to be saving the bus fare, that they would save time and wouldn’t have to wait for the bus or if they were just happy to have the company of this goofy looking Gringo in a black truck.

Before they boarded, I asked if I could have their photo:

As we came to the next roadblock, the solider in the front seat directed me to bypass it by driving into the lanes on the opposite side.  The policeman looked startled at first but then saw the soldiers in the truck.  Both of my companions waved enthusiastically to the policeman who stared back and watched as a potential bribe drove by unimpeded.  This was great, I could bypass all of the police checkpoints and in no time I was back on schedule.

The two soldiers asked me what I was doing in Guatemala and I told them about my road trip.  We talked about work, how long they had been in the Army and then I told them that I was in the Army and that I drove tanks.  They were most impressed and they invited me to come inside their base to meet their First Sergeant.  I agreed and we chatted for the few hours as we drove further north.

We arrived at their base just before dusk and the gate guard waved us right in.  They brought me inside and I met the First Sergeant and some of the other men.  They were all quite enthusiastic to have a visitor and were very cordial.  I asked if I could take a photo but I was told that photographs were not permitted inside the base.  They gave me a brief tour and invited me to stay for dinner.  I lingered as long as I could but I wanted to make it to a hotel before dark and I reluctantly made my goodbyes and got back on the road.


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