I Attempted To Cross The Nicaraguan Border Without A Boarding Pass While Suffering From A Crippling Anxiety Disorder

image - Flickr / Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner
image – Flickr / Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” ­— Cesare Paese

Crossing the border from Nicaragua back into my host country of Costa Rica was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I had forgotten the essential tool for getting back – my plane ticket proving that I would return to the U.S. that December. That print out ticket – evidence of the fact that I was not planning on hanging out in Nicaragua for the rest of my life – was somewhere in my cozy, sized-for-a-5-year-old room back in San José, Costa Rica. And even with a passport, I was basically SOL. You would think that any intelligent person traveling between countries would never leave home without this essential item. Yes, any intelligent person would. But I was suffering from General Anxiety Disorder at the time, and my tendency to forget important details was stronger than ever. So I forgot the ticket.

After the most exciting four days of my life had ended, my friends and I started our 12-hour travel back to the lovely country of Costa. We get to the border crossing station, and realize the inevitable. Three of us had forgotten that return print out plane ticket. All of a sudden, anxiety gripped my heart and enclosed a tight fist around it. My breathing was short, practically nonexistent. And on top of that, we were all so hungry. I think only world travelers – not tourists, travelers – can truly understand the hunger that grips you when you are on the move. Traveling that day with a group hiked that hunger to a whole new level. We had left early, had not had time to stop for a full meal, and were all basically broke. I had borrowed money from my friend Jen to eat at a restaurant, borrowed some from another friend Selah to stay one more night in our hostel. And now I had just enough money to get me back home, but I couldn’t get home. And all I wanted to do was buy some gallo pinto (a Costa Rican specialty) and drown my sorrows in the goodness of rice, beans, and various sauces that is gallo pinto.

But I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think. My anxiety gripped my head, my body, and my stomach. Luckily, Selah was an extremely resourceful, levelheaded traveler and she walked me to a booth where I explained my story in broken sobs and broken Spanish. It turns out I had to buy a whole new ticket (yay more money to borrow from friends…) and everything would be just fine. My friends pulled through for me – was it Selah again? Maybe Drew? At this point, I no longer remember. Here is what I truly remember.

Post-anxiety, we finally get on the NicaBus that would carry us over the border and back into our host country. I collapsed into a chair and felt my anxiety start to evaporate. We were going home. My friends wouldn’t leave me stranded. Everything would be okay. And as soon as my head, body, and stomach relaxed, it hit me. That world traveler hunger. And I just wanted to break down and sob and scream “SOMEONE FEED ME NOW!” But I couldn’t and I didn’t. That’s when the miracle – literally, it was a miracle – occurred.

One of the Nicaraguan workers on the NicaBus pulled out two huge, black plastic trash bags. And from these bags, the most tantalizing smell was wafting out, slightly but surely. And that smell was pizza.

He opens the bags, and sure enough, there are about 40 pizza boxes inside. Individual sized pizza boxes. He starts to pass them around. My friend Drew and I look across our seats at each other. What? Wait, what? How much are they charging us now? A pizza box reaches me and I no longer care if it costs money. In my mind, I decide that I will figure out a way to pay for this treasure. I open the box, and then blackout. Okay, no I don’t blackout, but I don’t really remember what happened next. Because the dripping cheese, the warm marinara sauce, and that slightly burnt but not badly burnt crispy crust became my world. My proof – this photograph.

Photo provided by
Photo provided by Emilia Azar

This photograph does not fully reveal the emotional roller coaster I was on as I ate that (turns out free!) pizza. But it does show you the joy that Drew was feeling at that moment… joy that could only be understood by a fellow hungry world traveler.

And despite the obvious panic attack I had just experienced, despite the fact that I had shown up to Nicaragua ill-prepared, everyone was happy. No blame was placed, no “Emilia that was so stupid of you to forget your plane ticket.” And for that, I was and forever will be thankful to this group of new friends. TC mark

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