Motorcycle Travel Lessons From The Border

Patience is a virtue and necessary traveling skill in every country

Drug sniffing dog with motorcycle at border
Before boarding the ferry from Panama into Colombia, all riders must step away from their bikes while the drug-sniffing dogs are brought in for inspection.Photo by Sandy Borden

If you’ve traveled abroad, you know the challenges one faces when crossing into another country. Add a couple of motorcycles and a language barrier, and you have yourself a party! “I need 4 copies of your driver’s license and 3 copies of your paperwork from the aduana. Oh, and we are leaving now for a 2 hour lunch so you will have to wait until we get back.” That pretty much sums up every border crossing south of the U.S. Your greatest ally in getting through this process without the threat of taking a human life? Patience.

Ecuador Border
Just a short visit to stamp us out of Colombia and enter Ecuador. Patience was key when getting the bikes entered into the country.Photo by Sandy Borden

Before our family set off on our journey through Mexico, Central and South America, my husband, Terry, son, Jack, and I spent a lot of time listening to stories of international travel from those who had spent 5, 7, even 12 years on the road. What was the one thing every single one of them said was key when dealing with border crossings? Patience, plain and simple. When the border agent sighs and tells you that it’s going to take several hours to process your paperwork, you give a big smile, shrug your shoulders, and start making yourself a nice cup of tea. When the aduana decides that now is the perfect time for a siesta, you lean back on your side case and pull out your maps. Not reacting in anger or any negative manner shows them that you’re willing to wait it out no matter how long it takes. This irks them just enough that they want you stamped into the country and on your way. They don’t get the rise out of you they were looking for, and you carry on with paperwork in hand.

Central America border crossing kids
Kids are the one constant at Central American border crossings. Be prepared to buy what they’re selling, give them your spare change or hand over a little trinket from the states. It’s really nothing to give them a few pesos especially when it brings a smile to their face.Photo by Sandy Borden

Case in point – We had two border crossings within a 12-hour period going from El Salvador to Honduras, finally landing in Nicaragua. First step was getting the bikes, and us, stamped out of El Salvador. Not a problem. But, when it was time to enter Honduras, we were warned it was going to be a VERY long wait. Even though we had arrived at the border 10 minutes before it opened, the truck drivers and border fixers had already lined up with stacks of paperwork in hand. Fortunately, we have a handsome 14-year-old named Jack that speaks Spanish. And Jack and Terry weren’t thrusting their papers in the faces of the border agents. The boys patiently waited for their turn in line, often being shoved to the side by the locals who deemed their business much more important than the gringos. What the locals didn’t expect was the agent’s reaction to their rudeness. The lone female agent pointed at Jack, smiled, and motioned for he and Terry to come to the front of the line. The locals had no choice but to part to the side and let the sweaty motorcyclists on by. Patience prevailed, and for that we were rewarded.

Did we have our doubts that this theory would work? Absolutely. How could the mere act of being patient make the border process go smoothly? But, it did. And this pattern continued for the rest of our journey. Lesson learned. Maybe those long-term travelers really do know what they’re talking about.