On unusual border crossings

It was an undignified arrival.

Like amateur trapeze-artists, we held our rucksacks above our heads to steady ourselves, before stepping gingerly off the narrow-beamed motor-boats onto the muddy shore.

We entered Mexico on our hands and knees. We scrambled up a slippery bank under the barrels of guns wielded by stony-faced soldiers glaring down from the ridge. They looked more inclined to take prisoners than issue visas.

The Guatemalan customs office consisted of a large shed of corrugated iron in which a pudgy-fingered official sweated over an ancient typewriter to record our details inaccurately, at the official sloth-like pace. It was a long queue, and his two-fingered technique suggested the bulk of his training lay elsewhere. Moving about us like a paranoid drug-dealer was a man with a wedge of bank notes thicker than War and Peace. He was the Bureau de Change.

On the Mexican side, the authorities were even less inclined to modernisation, but their methods were quicker. A single official scribbled down our details, prioritising speed over administrative accuracy. Alongside the diminutive customs shack, a shop sold tinned food and mangy fruit and vegetables. Chickens clucked about our feet on the dusty track to civilisation.

Here on the edge of Mexico, ten of us waited for the taxi we had booked in Tikal. The taxi that turned up several hours later had space for five. We crammed in muttering impotently about what we would say to the tour operator we would never see again. The 4-hour drive to Palenque was an experience to endure and forget. It’s hard to make friends while simultaneously defying the laws of physics, and avoiding shattering your front teeth with your kneecaps. Hell – as Sartre would’ve said if he had spent more time backpacking – is Other People in a cramped minibus.