Friday, September 30, 2011

Hotel Gran Imperial

I was crossing the border by bus, from one of those countries that you needed permission to leave.  We had gotten off the bus when we reached the border post and were now standing in line to get back on.  Our papers were being checked by a soldier.  Everything went smoothly until he asked where I would be staying that night.  I said, quite truthfully, that I didn’t know.
    This was not an acceptable answer.  He repeated the question.
    Why in the world should they care where I would be staying in another country?  Did they think I might slip up and say I would of course be staying at the CIA safe house?
    Attempting to appear both foot-loose and responsible at the same time, I explained that I planned to find a hotel when I arrived at my destination.
    The form he was filling out required a name or address.  He repeated the question.
    I was holding up the line.  Someone in the back called out “Hotel Gran Imperial”.
    I tried to explain that I usually traveled without a fixed itinerary.  I employed tenses and grammatical forms that I was not particularly familiar with.  Whoever it was in the back of the line called out “Hotel Gran Imperial”.  The soldier repeated the question, adding a note of irritation to his voice.  Soldiers nearby began to wander over.  The fellow in the back of the line, also possibly getting irritated, called out “Hotel Gran Imperial”.
    “Hotel Gran Imperial,” I finally said, having no idea if there actually was such a place.
    The soldier, plainly relieved to be done with my foolishness, wrote the name in the appropriate space on his form and I was permitted to reboard the bus and continue on my way.

The country was Nicaragua and it was back in the heady days of Sandinismo.  There was actually a great deal more nonsense involved than I suggest, but I am sure that is all a thing of the past.  As we drove away into Costa Rica an English fellow on the bus remarked that it was easier to get out of East Germany.

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