Several years ago, I visited the U.S. for about 30 minutes with a process that’s called “Flag poling” – where you in essence cross the border, touch the American flagpole, and hop back into Canada. The reason was to take my nephew who had to re-enter Canada to validate his student visa… which requires entering through some specific port of entry. You can’t do it from within Canada.
The idea was to just drive down, do a U-turn, and come back and do the paperwork. It’s all on the Canadian side; the U.S. doesn’t care at all. Or, shouldn’t.
When we got to Peace Arch, there was a long lineup (this was a Saturday morning) – more than a 90-minute wait… backed up well-past the Duty Free on the right. Which got me to thinking… let’s just walk. Walk into the U.S. enough that we can turn around and walk back into Canada with a little piece of paper proving where we were.
We parked the car in the Duty Free parking lot and set off on foot. It’s not a long walk… and, it’s kinda cool. We did the “haha you’re in Canada and I’m in the States” nonsense and took some pictures. Then, we kept walking, and, as we approached the U.S. border control from the “wrong” side, there was border guard, with a big gun, standing with his back to us. He was staring to the south and couldn’t hear us coming, but the last thing I wanted to do was “surprise” this guy, so… while still walking towards him, when we were about 20 meters away, I coughed loudly. He spun around quickly, both hands on his automatic weapon… which, fortunately, he didn’t point right in our face.
“What are you doing!!”, he screamed at us. I explained.
“You’re doing it wrong!!”, he screamed. Yikes. Welcome to America. OK, noted for future reference… there’s a right way — and a wrong way — to walk into the U.S…
Our wrong way took us not just past the actual Peace Arch but, of course… if you’re there already, you walk through it.
The Peace Arch itself is exactly that, a monument to peace between these two great nations, celebrating the longest unprotected border in the world. Attached to the Peace Arch are some iron gates, and several inscriptions:
“Children of a common mother”
“Brethren dwelling together in unity”
And, of course, the famous “May these gates never be closed”.
Technically, those gates will indeed never be closed; they can’t be, because they’re not hinged… and, they’re solidly bolted onto The Peace Arch. It’s purely symbolic. But the spirit of it is well-understood… and, of course, since last March, they’ve been very-much closed. For how long? Every month, that closure gets extended… currently, till at least Feb 21st… but it’ll be a lot longer than that. On that note, there’s an interesting anniversary coming up in September… when The Peace Arch will turn 100 years old; it was in September of 1921 that it was dedicated. There should be a good party on that lawn that day… weather-permitting. And pandemic-permitting. But for now, it’s as closed as it’s ever been… including, as of today, even more-so to travellers from Mexico and the Caribbean.
As exciting as walking into another country can be, there’s one better… on my to-do list one day is to cross from Spain into Portugal via… zip-line! Yes… from a little hill in Portugal, you can zip-line over the Guadiana river, straight into Spain… a 720-meter ride that takes less than a minute, at speeds up to 80km/h. You even get to cross a time zone. Maybe not for everyone, but it’s better than being yelled at by an American border guard.
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