"Isn't that Osama bin Laden over there?" A perfectly executed diversion tactic. It works a treat. That, and switching the passports for immigration. They examine the ticket and the passport separately. And there is no record of my nationality on the ticket. Easy really. I am sneaking my way into Colombia. Some might say that was unwise Simey boy. But what a rebel.
Retrieve my bike from the warehouse. The sweat I exuded on the road to the Panama Airport has been brewing quietly for three weeks. The jacket and helmet are covered in thick mould when I open the box. This discovery is made too late in the day. Dusk is decending. It is time to go. Everyone is looking. The bike's running. I swallow and stick them on. Yuk. I really am disgusting.
Bogota could be any town in southern Europe, just don't go out at night. I stay at the backpackers and hook up with the gap year boys. They get drunk every evening and spend the rest of the time planning ways to get coke. It occupies them for hours. They revel in the rituals. There are hand shakes, earnest nods and fists-met all over. Hard boy is Sebastian. There might be something almost endearing in their earnest rites of pseudo-adulthood. Or maybe not.
Every Colombian I talk to either tells me to be very very careful or not to travel at all. Too late now.
Fifth pull of the day. The carretera police. Of course they are going to: politely, more out of inquisitiveness than anything. These ones are very keen for the "seguro obligatoria". I hand over as many sheets as I can find, blunderbus approach. There're some pizza fliers in there somewhere. The boss looks at the paperwork with all the horror I had hoped for. He returns it fussily and goes through my boxes. He repeats "seguro obligatoria, seguro obligatoria". He is absent-mindedly turning my Collins mini Espanol-Ingles dictionary over in his hand . I smile more broadly at each request. This dumb tourist routine really is pathetic. I should have got the insurance back in Bogota. But it was too cold. I was too lazy. Too arrogant. I dunno.
They look at each other. They don't know what to do. Knife edge time. The dictionary is functioning as worry beads. It turns over and over. Don't read the title officer. It will help you way too much. Is the centime going to drop? He is agitated. He feels that I have taken away his role in life, his power. Imagine authority without language. Difficult isn't it? What to do?
As long as it doesn't occur to him that this is deliberate I will be okay; no one would be that duplicitous, especially not this pleasant adventurer. I am callously exploiting his generous worldview. He takes on a pleading tone, which must hurt a lot, "Seguro obligatoria, senor". Nope, definitely don't get it my friend. This is my moment, when they are completely at a loss. Before they find an English speaker. I start to pack up, avoiding eye contact. They can't say different. He replaces the book gently. I will pack it deeper tonight. They are non-plussed. I am away, but I can't do this pantomime too many times. It's all a bit demeaning.Posted by at January 14, 2004 05:04 PM GMT
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