The sins of my youth finally caught up with me. I had done pretty well outrunning them, head down, full-speed ahead, don’t look down. But, as I found myself hanging off a nine foot wall at the border separating Costa Rica from Nicaragua, shouting no puedo, no puedo at my disgusted guide, Wiley Coyote had his man.

I had first tried to cross the border two days previously, but was turned away due to a torn page in my passport. The few people who had questioned it in the three preceding years had accepted my, perfectly plausible, cover story that I had ripped it trying to remove it from my backpack one careless day. Unfortunately, Nicaragua is strict about damaged passports, the slightest defacement invalidates theirs and they seem to extend this to visitors also. After this first botched entry to the country, I returned to San Jose and the following day visited the embassy there. Having spiced the story up for sympathy value with a tale of menacing border guards trying to use the damaged page to extort bribes from me, and my demure British sensibilities being shocked at the suggestion, I was given a letter requesting safe passage and verifying that my documents were still valid for travel.

Things did not go well though on my second visit. The bull-knecked, stumpy hick that had been placed in the position of determining whether I could enter the country was clearly not too useful. It seems to be a recurrent problem when dealing with large organisations that the people who they let deal with other human beings – customers, citizens, the public generally – are the least qualified people on the payroll. For big corporations making profit by screwing people every which way, it makes sense to leave a blind man in place of the sign post to the managers office. When it is the government, or a bank, or any other tyrannical organisation that has monopolised a facet of the system essential for getting by day-to-day, it is infuriating and can be tragic.

Having been turned away a second time, I was left with no option but to seek illegal means to receive my legally entitled right of entry to the country. I found, or rather was found by, one of the fixers that mills about the border. I have a suspicion that this is all an interconnected industry, the border guards screw you over so that the guy who offers to arrange a bribe for an entry stamp can then pay them for what you should have been given for free anyway, everyone getting a cut at your expense. The speed with which we were hit upon with this offer only added to the sense of swindle. This would have been a rather simple procedure and for $100 not outrageous compared to the cost of the alternative. However, apparently I had made a sufficient scene, resplendent with accusations of gross stupidity and questioning the christian virtues of the crucifix wearing boss of the border, that this option was closed to me.

Our new friend, William (whose name has been changed to protect his identity), said that I could hop the border as my final resort. Loath to return to San Jose I decided to go for it. A taxi would be waiting at the other side for me and William would help Henry, whose papers were legit, carry the bags across in the usual fashion. So, we got to the wall, William hoped over and shouted for me to hurry across in the same fashion. It was a nine-foot wall with a smaller wall, only a couple of feet tall, built a decent leap ahead of it. This was the moment of my disgrace.

Fat, bald, and with a stupid beard, I made it tit high on the wall, but no further. William kept shouting at me to hurry, then he straddled the wall and tried to pull me over. Nothing worked. Eventually, god knows where the cops were, I spotted a piece of fencing that I could use to climb up. I made it to the top, then promptly got my jeans caught on the spikes. I stood there looking like I was trying to surf the fence, all up in the air and in plain sight. When I finally unhooked myself, or unhinged maybe, I tried to jump down. However, the combination of the height and my ever so slightly top heavy build meant that even though I landed on my feet, the momentum in my gut propelled me into a hard belly-flop on the concrete. I must have looked a right plonker. I staggered, a little dazed and bleeding from several grazes into the taxi, where the rather amused driver sat chuckling and told me to take a minute to pull myself together in case I had to talk to the cops up ahead.

In the finish, everything can be said to have gone rather smoothly in hindsight. Henry strolled across with the bags, we were never stopped by the police to check our documents and we arrived in Granada feeling flush at the triumph and only in need of a stiff drink. Once in the country, if anyone asked I intended to say that I had lost my passport and was applying for a new one, but it never came up.

Before crossing into Honduras I went to see the immigration office in Managua and told them that I had bribed the border guards to let me through and complained of the extortion, especially as I was still not stamped in, even after payment. They didn’t seem to care. They verified my passport, which took several hours, just as when entering Panama, and then said that I had to pay a fine for not passing through immigration when entering the country. They also said that I had five days to get out of the country, but having done so could return as I wished, they even explained that legally I could cross into Honduras and return the same day and receive the standard ninety day tourist visa. So, if you ever wind up in Nicaragua illegally, don’t fret, just be aware that there is a $10 a day charge for the privilege.

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