Border crossings are like legends. Travelers circulate tips, advice and helpful hints amongst each other in the hopes that they will spare another from the experience they had. For us, border crossing days were stressful — we felt our most vulnerable with passports in hand, cash in pockets and at our most vigilant against scams, cons and thieves, who always appear at their most intimidating at border crossings. So here’s our round up, after 50 countries, the good, bad and ugly of our border crossings.
Good: Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan
I had trepidation about Central Asian border crossings after going through the lengthy and painful visa process. Needless to say, Kazakhstan- Uzbekistan was our first train border crossing and it was clear we had nothing to worry about when the conductor took us under his wing. Although the form was in Russian and Kazakh and his wife spoke very, very little English, we somehow filled in the customs and immigration forms. When the immigration police arrived to our berth, the conductor smoothed over the process, his wife responding to questions for us and shooing the immigration people away as quickly as possible. I think we made great cover for their contraband tea. (Read the post!)
Bad: Argentina- Chile
It took us six hours to cross from Argentina to Chile. I’m not joking, we literally left Mendoza, arrived quickly at the border and waited. And waited, and waited. We watched two movies on the bus, we got off, walked around, read, entertained ourselves, went for food, came back, read some more, it was a never ending wait to cross the border. The scenery was lovely, but had I known we’d spend the whole day waiting in line I would have gone for a hike! We weren’t able to contact our couchsurfing friends who were waiting to pick us up in Santiago, so when we got off the bus at nearly 11pm, we were anxious about finding them and/or finding a place to sleep. By the time we got a SIM card, loaded it and made the call it was nearly midnight. Unable to reach them our anxiety level increased until from across the bus station they called out to us! Serendipity!
Ugly: Kazakhstan- China
As you can tell it was a rough couple of weeks in Central Asia. We spent only two nights in Almaty when we realized we had to get out of Kazakhstan. The regulations were unclear as to whether we had to register. By our understanding we were already registered, having flow in and gotten our visas in the U.S. Everyone else told us we were wrong, and after pushing and shoving at immigration in Almaty, we determined they were right. With not enough time to process our registration before we would face a penalty, we booked a ticket to China and basically fled. Arriving at the Kazakhstan border, we held our breath and quickly passed through customs. China was another story. Relieved and excited, we arrived at the Chinese border post amazing at the organization and the English signage. After charades and lengthy discussions with the immigration agent, we were searched and our laptop and my passport were taken from me. Immediately I made a big to-do, mostly because I didn’t like my passport out of my sight. I refused to go through the last security checkpoint without my passport or computer and eventually after complaining to everyone I saw, my passport and laptop were returned. The whole situation was uncomfortable. It was the first and only time my passport left my possession, albeit unwillingly, and I was incredibly fearful.
This column of ishouldlogoff.com aims to answer those questions that we always get asked. What was your favorite this, or your worst that. Every week we aim to highlight a new topic and will do so until we run out of ideas. If you have an idea for a Good-Bad-Ugly post, feel free to tell us in the comment section below or send us an email. To read all of them, click here.