Drenched in soft rainforest drizzle, we roll up to the San Miguel border between Colombia and Ecuador.
Usually a quiet, small border crossing is alive with people, luggage, UNICEF workers, extra military guards, and police today.
Thirty or more people sit around the entrance into the immigration and customs building. Some wait patiently, sitting on their suitcases, soothing crying babies and fidgety kids. Some stand around anxiously, asking questions, asking for help, looking at the police officers and the door – the magic door that means processed papers and a visa stamp – the magic door that has a police baton through the handles so nobody can get in.
Approaching the entrance, we see Ecuadorian policemen dividing people into two lines. „Venezuelans to the left“, – they announce. „Everyone else to the right“.
„Everyone else“ is comprised of a Chilean motorcycle rider, a Colombian couple and us. Four people. Thirty-something in the other line.
As we wait, a woman shoves me hard as she pushes past, waving a document in her hand, trying to get the policeman‘s attention. „Come on“, – I mutter angrily. Why couldn’t she have said „excuse me?“ – why did she have to push me like that – I stop myself abruptly. I am in the Right Line, and I am irritated by a desperate shove?..
The policeman removes the baton and opens the door for us, holding back the people from the Left Line with his arm. As soon as we enter, the door is shut tight again. Everybody on the Left Line is waiting outside. The rain keeps drizzling on.
Inside the building, squeaky clean white floors and air conditioning, crisp uniforms and polite smiles. Five minutes in a line to stamp out of Colombia. Another five, to return the motorcycle import papers. Ten minutes in line at the Ecuadorian immigration counter.
Outside, the kids and the rain, ever so soft, and the soggy suitcases and sweatpants and passports and papers, held tightly.
As we wait for the Ecuadorian entry stamps, a woman behind me is chatting to her little daughter, trying to cheer her up. „Where are you from?“, – I ask her.
Soy Venezolana. They only give us a day to cross Ecuador, did you know? Just one day. We‘ll get the entry stamp and then we‘ll get on the bus. We have to get to Peru in a day… My husband lives in Lima.
No, no, I don‘t want to live abroad. I want to go back to Venezuela. As soon as it‘s better, just as soon as we can. But Peru – they will let us stay, not like Colombia, not like Ecuador.
Behind the woman is the Chilean rider. „And what about Chile?“, – I ask him. „Does Chile accept refugees?“.
He says, not any longer, not really.
„But you have so much space!”
Yes, he says. But we don’t have jobs. So Chile is changing its immigration laws. We’re not the welfare center for South America, you know.
All the while, the woman tries to smile at her daughter bravely. Just one day to get to Peru.
“Welcome to Ecuador”, – the immigration officer says politely, giving me my passport back. My EU passport. My Lithuanian passport: once almost equally worthless, now so precious. Now a ticket to freedom, anywhere in the world, anywhere at home.
“Good luck”, – I say to the Venezuelan woman. She nods, dreamily.
To get out, we have to knock on the glass door, once again locked shut by the policeman’s baton.
People look at us anxiously. UNICEF workers set up a table outside, just outside the magic door, and begin processing the papers.
There’s mineral water available.
As we put our helmets on and snap a few shots, I realize I have a bag of apples in my panniers. I’d like to give those apples to the Venezuelan kids. The apples are fresh and crunchy, and sweet. I don’t dare. What if the parents see it as charity and throw them away? I’m not sure what to do with my hands.
Another bus with Colombian license plates arrives. People spill out, pretty black haired girls rub their sleepy eyes, older women worry and drag their suitcases and the men look stunned, quickly, quickly, under the roof, out of the rain.
“This is my Tiger”, – the Chilean rider says, contentedly, pointing at his black Triumph. We shake hands and wish each other a safe journey.
I’m not sure what to do with my eyes.
We get on our bikes and ride away.