Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Border Bribery

By Alex

We hardly noticed the sun setting as we entered the taxi. I was tired and unenthused with our mission at hand.

Once you have seen and successfully crossed a border you never want to do it again, but here we were looking across the cement bridge that acted as some magical barrier between Colombia and Ecuador.

There was a time when I would have held my rucksack tight, keeping my eyes on the ground, afraid to make eye contact with any of the conniving currency traders that littered the bridge, but our three months in Ecuador changed all that.

All I could think was which tree we would be spending the rest of the night under. My eyes skimmed the river basin while Alaena explained our situation.

¨Okay, we need to get entry and exit stamps from the Colombian border guard.¨ She cracked a smile, ¨the Ecuadorian guard also explained that we should not under any circumstance give any money to the Colombians. If they ask we are suppose to say we were robbed or make something up.¨

The guard station is nothing more then an outdoor concrete structure equipped with hand rails for people to line up and a roof made of steel and glass. Surrounding it are taxi parking spaces, a few street vendors and a hand full of shops.

In line ahead of us were 20 or so Colombians. They passed through the border with remarkable ease. We did not.

Alaena explained our situation to the guard while I just stood there seriously attempting to keep up with the rambling Spanish. The guard just shook his head and said no.

Alaena has become very good at not accepting the answer NO. She is an optimist at heart, and at times her optimism and persistence works.

Dealing with border guards, police and government officials is always a game. This time they informed us that what they were doing was technically ¨impossible¨. However, since they liked us they were willing to figure something out. This ordeal is all an attempt to get a bribe.

We had a game plan too.

We knew it was highly important to act as if we knew that they were capable of giving us our new stamps. Plus, we had an excuse why we needed them.

One, we needed to get back to Quito that evening. Two, we had a broken car that was forcing us to stay in Ecuador longer then our visa allowed.

We hid the fact we owned a bus figuring they would assume we had tons more money to pay in bribes.

The Colombian border guard looked into the sky as if he was pondering quantum physics, glanced at his computer screen and came to a conclusion.

Twenty minutes later I was standing in a dark corner of a stairway, being restrained from entering the crossing guard’s office by a small middle aged man wearing jogging pants, a white button down shirt and black sweater. He looked more like a taxi driver then a Colombian official.

Inside the office, while attempting the solicit money from Alaena, the guard casually went about his business stamping passports. Alaena`s peculiar position allowed her to read off the computer all the personal details of the tourists passing through.

As the ink dried on newly stamped passports the guard feebly produced a story explaining how his friend would need to check us out of Columbia the next day, since it was impossible to produce an entry and exit stamp in one day. The real problem as the guard saw it was that his ¨friend¨ would not do it for free. The story deafly fell on Alaena´s ears and we exited Columbia with two stamps free of charge.

As we strolled back into the Ecuadorian Office of Immigration, we told our ¨helpful and caring¨ guard once again that we only had $60 and we needed both passports stamped.

He took us back into yet another dark corner and informed us again that it would be impossible to do both for that price. It normally would cost at least $100 for an illegal one at the border and $200 legitimately in Quito. We tried to look sad and explained that we still only had $60 and if it was only possible to do one to please stamp mine.

He took our $60 and passports. We sat down in the coffee stained couches and waited. Two minuets later he walked up to us.

He opened my passport and showed me my new 90 day visa. He handed it over to me and looked Alaena square in the eyes.

¨For good people I gave you…¨ he paused, ¨are you sure you don’t have any more money¨? She sombrely replied No.

With that he handed her passport over, but not before opening it to a new page donning a 90 day visa.

We casually walked outside hailed a cab and laughed for 5 minutes. We had successfully saved $300 by simply leaving Ecuador crossing into Columbia, exiting Columbia and re-entering Ecuador.

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