Last week I wrote about some of the better border crossings I’ve experienced. Today I’m going to talk about the less good experiences. So, I need to start with a caveat – I’ve never really been stuck with a really bad border crossing. What would that be? Well, probably one where I didn’t even get across the border. People can have really bad experiences at borders. For me, well, I’ve been through some that took a fair bit of time. That doesn’t make them bad. It might mean my timing was bad, I hit borders at precisely the busiest possible times. But having said that, some of them could do with a bit more order and structure. Like my first example.
England to France – Boarding the Eurostar, 2017, at St Pancras Station
Okay, so from necessity this is going to be a thorough border crossing. I don’t know if once you’re through security you’re technically in France, but you’re stamped out of the UK and into France in St Pancras station so I’m counting it as a border crossing. And as such, I would say it’s a really crappy one.
There is one simple reason for that – it does not have the capacity for the people who are coming through. A line that went halfway around the large station, funnelled through a few gates, into a squashed area to wait for trains after passport, baggage x-rays and security. I question how they can effectively screen everyone, and I would imagine the Eurostar to be an appealing terrorist target. It was a real sardine experience, slow, frustrating, in Summer way too hot. It took more than two hours from lining up to getting through, and then suddenly a mad scramble to catch my train. Grrrrr. The frustration on this one was… very real.
Bangladesh to India, Banglabanda, 2004
It was a long overnight bus ride from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, to Banglabanda at the border with India. But it hadn’t gone that badly. Interestingly enough the bus arrived well before – a couple of hours at least – the border actually opened, and we didn’t finish at the border, we all needed to pile onto the back of a pickup for the final couple of kilometres. Nevertheless people seemed happy to stop in this little village, they were able to wash and prepare for the crossing.
The pick up truck was where it all went a bit wrong. I was sitting on the side with my backpack on my back, and well, I just fell off! I must have fallen onto the backpack, and I don’t think anything was broken in the pack or any part of me. Then I had to yell to get the pick up to come back.
There was not a sign post to be seen. There were some sheds and then a building before a gate, then a walk of around 500 metres through no-man’s land to India. A group of people gathered at the building near the gate. Passports were handed to officials and names were called. There were a couple of hundred people at a guess, maybe slightly less.
It seemed to take forever. After 45 minutes my name was called out, I got my passport back and I began the walk to India. Suddenly someone ran after me, and took me back. I needed to visit one of the smaller huts to get my stamp, I had presumed the officials I handed the passport too would stamp it. In the end I did a lot of walking and waiting with that full pack, still dirty from it’s impact with the unsealed road. The sun had well and truly come up, the scene with people waiting to hear their name was truly chaotic. But hey, memorable. When I made it to the Indian side, there was more weighting and bag checks. But I made it!
Ecuador to Peru, Huaquillas, 2016
The border here should have been easy. On the bus, heading south, we were ushered off and through the Ecuador side really fast from memory. Back on and a but down the roads. More customs buildings. What ensued was truly chaos in the end. And needlessly so.
It was about two busloads passing through at the time and the odd car, not much in the way of volume. The buildings handed out customs cards to be filled in, and there were officials aplenty. It took 3 hours plus to process maybe 50 – 60 people. It was a joke really. And I still don’t know why it took so long.
They photographed everyone. And that took a while I guess. There was a lack of order or sense of which person to go to next. In the end we all worked it out, we had to see a series of people and also got to wait around for ages in queues and then waiting for everyone else on the bus to go through. There was some hold up to do with children. I think one parent was taking the children to Peru, but they needed permission from the other parent to let them cross, some sort of official document they didn’t have.
Okay, from my perspective not all that horrendous bar the waiting I know. Nevertheless, when you consider how easy some border crossings can be, I wonder why this one took as long as it did!