Friday, November 28, 2014

An Angry Man & Bird Poo: Exit to El Salvador

The mechanic gave us the all clear. Tires are primed, oil and filters changed, and the diesel engine is tuned. We are off for a new experience. Destination El Salvador and an all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean coast line. The Shep family and our extended family: Gloria, Chelsey, and Chuy. The only thing that stands between us and the beach is 91 miles of driving and a border crossing. Sounds pretty simple I think? Except that it is not.

A 91-mile drive in Ohio would take about an hour and a half. We left our house at 9 a.m. and arrived at 3:30 p.m. There is always adventure when traveling in Central America. Within the first hour of the trip I had already taken two wrong turns and given us an additional 30 minutes or so of sightseeing. Over the last 18 months I have seen a great deal of Guatemala thanks to my tendency to drive the wrong way. It has paid off more than once. We’ll take off to some new destination and I’ll exclaim, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” This trip was no different. 

Once we got headed the correct way the kilometers began to tick by. The scenery was exquisite. As we hummed down the highway at about 90 miles an hour I was transfixed by the slowly approaching horizon. An approaching range of mountains that had been pushed up from the mantle of the earth thousands of years ago was topped with four large trees that were distinct against the blue sky. I considered how much time and change had taken place across the millennium before they could take root there and be seen by us in our travels in this moment.

We came to near the border of Guatemala and El Salvador and pulled into the dusty roadside panel building for the official exit stamps on our Passports. At this point in our lives, officials and borders are a familiar process. Present your documents, smile, and look like you know what you’re doing. The sound of the stamp announced our release.

Two kilometers out from the border crossing, traffic came to an all out stop. We sat eating diesel behind two lanes of semi-trailers, each containing about 150 trucks. One of the two lanes would move forward a truck length about every 5 minutes. The math was against us. And so, at the urging of an unidentified man on a motorcycle, we began froggering into the oncoming lane of traffic to advance past the trucks, attempting to avoid oncoming head-on collision. We were edging forward with caution between the two lanes when the driver of a truck opened his door, leaned into our window, shook his head and muttered, “Americanos.”

At this point something triggered in my head and I knew that we just had to get to the front of this line. Clearly I was just clogging up the works as I held to my western ideas of forming a line and waiting my turn. And so… I shifted into 4-wheel drive low, drove across three lanes of traffic, dropped off the edge to the dirt, and floored it as we left a wake of dust in our trail bouncing and crashing through the ditchline. And so, nearly 2 hours later we came to the migration office where we would obtain our second stamp.

As soon as I parked the car (in a clearly marked no-parking zone even though the man on the motorcycle insisted that it was the place to park), I exited the vehicle and found a very large man shouting in my face in rapid Spanish. It seems he belived that at some point during the journey I had either cut him off or blown my horn at him. While I do not recall having an encounter with him, he was convinced that I had slighted him. 

While he yelled in my left ear, the man on the motorcycle was demanding that I buy him a Coke for his assistance in my right.  For some reason I can’t explain, I shook the hand of the screaming man, apologized and made my exit. Our Guatemalan friend Jonathon had arrived on the scene (he had came in behind us) and an unidentified gentleman had stepped in as well. I have no idea who he was, but the diversion gave me opportunity to remove myself from the situation.

Once we were away I was able to pilfer 20 Quetzales off of Kellie to pay the still lingering motorcycle man who was very pleased with the equivalent of about $2.50 for his service. Meanwhile the large angry man stood at a distance and gave me the stink eye for the following hour. Of course… once we all got in line for the final migration stamp… he stood immediately in front of me. That was a fabulous time. Oh… A bird also pooped me on although I did not notice the white splash on my shirt for several hours.

And so, while the fast highway, off-road excursions, playing chicken with semis, and being threatened by a large man did not harm me, score a point for the bird. He met his target and I bear the badge. Of course one additional obstacle remained: we had to get our vehicle through. After all the previous officials and stamping, if the cop at the end of the road didn’t like the looks of my vehicle, or if any paperwork was amiss, he could turn us all around. I approached with my title and passport in hand, and it was not the correct documents. 

Through his language and more so through his gestures I understood that he wanted to see my License to Operate a Motor Vehicle. I reached (slowly) into my wallet and produced the Driver License. He gave it a quick but thorough scan, comparing it to the title and waved us through. Welcome to El Salvador, the Sheps have successfully been admitted to yet another country! 

I give thanks to God for a few days to rest my body and reset my mind. I feel like life is pouring into us these few days after a long period of pouring it out. Even now, my soul is aware of the continued task that lays before us. I am so thankful to be spending the days of my life in this advancing Kingdom.

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