Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Travel, Customs and Border Stops
We received an email on the proper procedures to observe clearing customs in Guatemala. The email said in essence, “Do not say anything. Hand them your documents then wait for them to be handed back.” As I pictured the military police in uniform I first flashed to Sargent Shulz saying to Colonel Klink, “I know nothing,” in that German accent. That image propelled me to other memories of border stops.
Traveling through Europe before it was the European Union meant many border stops. Entering and leaving each country meant a stop. Stereotypes were confirmed and made at the entrance to each country. The Germans were the worst. At a number of German checkpoints the speech went like this, “Your-passport-please.” Staccato and terse it was as if somebody forgot to tell them they were no longer at war.
Not at war but still behind the Iron Curtain I travelled to Latvia in 1978. Paranoia was the air you breathed. It was believed that the Soviets monitored everything; spies were everyplace and everyone was spied on. I was with a large tour group at the time. Upon leaving customs we all were escorted through with no difficulty except for the outspoken U.S. Citizen and Latvian independence sympathizer. They tore through his suitcases taking delight in creating chaos with his clothes and personal items. Even the clothes on his back were searched and pockets emptied.
Great adventures often begin and end going through customs at the airport. It gives you a little window into the people and regimes of those countries you are entering. One is reminded that much hinges on the mood of the guards and that little piece of paper you hand them as you state, “I am visiting friends,” and they wave you on through.