Borders are the scar of history

Travelling is food for the soul and fun for the body: moving into new realities, new languages, new traditions, and cultures keeps the body and the spirit alive and well. For some, like myself, to stop traveling is to stop living. And I mean traveling not “going to a destination”, moving is the joy, arriving is not important, with Ted Simon “the interruptions are the journey”.

Some of the most frequent “interruptions”, when traveling overland are BORDERS, roadblocks to stop and prey on travelers, the legal opportunity for harassing good people and for promoting contraband. Better and kinder: “an imaginary line between the two states, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of another

The statement of Ambrose Bierce well expresses the feeling of a biker (or any road traveler) blocked for hours in generally squalid offices or premises to fulfill “duties” that appear futile to all the protagonists. Exaggerations? Just one of the many 2019 cases of absurdity: senior friend rider Antonio with wife spent one winter planning a ride of two months in central Asia to be rejected at the Iranian border despite valid vis per people and vehicle just because the Islamic Republic of Iran introduced a prohibition to a motorcycle with more than 250cc. This new rule was then canceled one moth after his attempt to cross.

In any case, a simple border crossing at airport, the experience is a lesson of humility when people with uniforms and golden badges exercise power over us the “hoi polloi*. Even more humiliating for travelers of lesser means who do not have money to buy cars and are obliged by fate to move on two wheels. Even more humiliating and more complicated when it comes to cross borders between countries with different ideologies, visions, alliances and practices.

One more friend, well travelled around the world and living now as expat in eastern Europe tells me that in such case the crossing becomes a crucial issue… to the extreme of being left in the no-man land refused by both countries. Only a bribe (a well-accepted one) took me out of such situation many years ago, on the Black Sea border between Russian and the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia (even today recognized only by three or four states). I thought that a visa entry to Georgia would have granted entrance from Soci, but the severe guards of Abkhazia independence (or Russian dependence) refused entry and back to Russia was the only alternative. Not so easy since I had, with my bike, just a single entry visa. Stuck in no man land subject to pecuniary blackmail.

Or picture a frequent case when you have all the process completed, the visa stamped but you are still being questioned about your ideology by somebody holding your passport in his hand… and you know that she/he won’t give it back until you answer “correctly” at the interrogations. One more friend on two wheels, 2018, suspended for over 10 hours at the Munabao, Pakistan-India, border under questioning for religious beliefs.

Getting angry and remonstrating with the officials is the first but wrong reaction. It is better and worth taking a breath and think, find a win-win solution, keep smiling trying to find what makes the officer happy. Showing of respect, submission and flattery normally satisfy the thirst for power of frustrated custom officials. Most of the time they reverse over you the humiliations they receive from bosses, wives&husbands, other custom users. Be humble, be merciful: a new country is waiting for you, after the border a new and clear horizon, new friends and new places. The custom officer must be an experience to pass, gone, part of the past… a funny and interesting story to tell while kicking tires, a small chapter in your travel journal.

This control of mind and action comes handy in life and on the saddle. Restain, with a pinch of smile, is part of good riding skills; not only cornering, accelerating and braking properly but more important controlling emotions, forcing your mind to think, consider the consequences and focusing on positive results. Borders can be everywhere: a peaceful weekend and idyllic ride when, out of that crossing, comes, with suspensions lowered, exhaust busted, stripes applied and windows blackened, a bad looking Peugeot 106 challenging to the final gunfight. A new border and what was smooth and peaceful becomes now a matter of life and death, a pure feral and primitive reaction. You have to cross.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"