There are these lines drawn on maps, by humans, that tell us where one country ends and another begins. Often, the lines are drawn along natural barriers, like rivers or mountain ridges. Sometimes, they seem totally arbitrary, and can even be unnaturally straight. They can mark a real difference between people with different languages and cultures, or they can split those communities up. Many wars have been fought, many lives lost, deciding exactly where to draw borders. Countries build walls and fences and station their armies along borders to defend them from other people and countries.
When traveling like we are, you have to cross a lot of borders. It's exciting to enter into new countries I've never been to before, but it can be a very strange and intimidating experience, really. The military of each country sits on either side, prepared to defend their territory. All the roads, rivers and ports where you can enter a country have checkpoints you must go through, called Immigration and Customs, often with long lines. Borders almost always have people wanting to change your money for you (from whatever kind they use in the last country to the kind they use in the new country). They give you a little less than your money is worth, and that is how they make their money while helping you. I think it's technically illegal in most places, but it seems to be open and accepted.
We coasted to a stop in front of the Nicaraguan customs office, again greeted by moneychangers. Alfredo waited while I filled out my immigration paperwork, paid my $5 US for a "tourist visa" and paid another $2 for something else-it never really made a lot of sense to me, but what could I do? My passport was stamped with an entrance to Nicaragua, and we were on the way again. We passed the customs office, where all the trucks were being inspected, but no one looked in my bags this time. Another 3 kilometers or so down the road we crossed out of the military zone, and I was left in a huge, dusty parking lot where busses stop, lined by thatched palm-roofed huts where all sorts of greasy food was sold. From there, busses would take me to Chinandega, a big commercial center where I could catch a bus to anywhere in Nicaragua.
Want to know just how much your money is worth in these different countries! Check out this website!
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