Friday, November 19, 2010

3 Countries in a Day

Daryll writes:

Well, we braved the gauntlet and crossed from El Salvador into Honduras and into Nicaragua all in one day.  A total of 265km and 11 hours later, we were in Chinadega, Nicaragua.  It was an extremely long, hot, wet and stressful day. 

It is well known on several adventure biker forums that the Honduras police are the most corrupt police in Central America and love to stop bikers to elicit some form of bribe and go to the extent of making up transgressions like not having an emergency triangle or not carrying a fire extinguisher on the bike for bribes.  Combined with the fact that we have a sailing for December 10th, we decided to skip the northern part of Honduras (the beaches and diving) and cross into Nicaragua the same day.  It was going to be a test of our patience and mental stamina.

A few kilometers away from the El Salvador/Honduras border, we pass a group of guys yelling at us.  As we rode by them, they all got into the back of a pick-up and followed us, again yelled at us as they passed us and sped off.  These were the helpers/fixers that aid one in the process of getting across the border.  They say they don’t charge a fee; however a tip of US $5 is expected.  As we approached the border, there is a long line up of trucks, which we by-pass and finally get stopped at the El Salvador customs guys and get barraged by all the helpers.  Two or three spoke perfect English and I guess these are the ones that get hired the most.  In Spanish, I told them that I speak Spanish and don’t need their help.  My schooling is starting to pay off.  They do persist though.  Once the bikes were taken care off and checked out of El Salvador, we rode another 3km down the road to get to the Migracion.  Again, the same helpers were there pointing to the window I needed to go.  I would have figured it out, as there were only 3 windows and most officials are really nice when asked for directions.  Again, I tell the helpers in Spanish that I speak Spanish and don’t need their help and not going to pay them.  By this time a few have faded off to their next victim and I’m left with one following me.  Onto the Honduras window and pay $3 p/p to enter, we ride over a bridge to do the paperwork to have the bikers imported.  This is the longest step.  The one helper that followed me till now, got the message and faded off as well.  It was still early morning and it was getting warm.  At the last 4 borders Ang has watched the bikes as I do the paperwork.  Most officials are happy with the fact that she is watching the bikes when I hand them her passport.  90 mins later, the bikes are imported into Honduras and off we go.

Welcome to Honduras
We only get a few minutes down the road when we are stopped at a police checkpoint and the 2 officers motion for us to pull over.  I know it is going to be a waiting game now.  My helmet and gloves come off and I take a drink of water.  They ignore us for a few minutes while they stop and check other vehicles and then one officer comes over and asks for our permit, registration and license.  I had him a copy of my permit, I had a few copies made at the border and our fake registration and a fake drivers license.  Worst case scenario, he wants a bribe and decides to keep our documents, we leave and still have several more copies to use.  Miraculously, all my Spanish disappears and I am down to sign language, gestures in my responses or a shrug of the shoulders to his questions.  10 minutes after we are stopped, he thinks that we just dumb tourists and lets us go.  I do ask for a photo before we leave though.  The stretch between the Honduras border is around 150km and we go through 8 police checkpoints; stopped at only 3 of them and get asked for our paperwork only 2 of the 3 times we were stopped.  So it wasn’t bad after all.  Guess the reports online of biker harassment is over exaggerated.  We didn’t pay any bribes and were let go a few minutes later when they realized that we didn’t have a clue when they tried to talk to us.

Friendly after all
We finally get to the Honduras/Nicaragua border and to our benefit, the heavens unleashed itself.  The helpers/fixers ran for cover and we didn’t have to much of a hassle with them.  A few money changers followed me around and pointed me in the right direction to get stamped out and into Nicaragua.  An hour later, we were done and had our bikes imported into Nicaragua.  Now with our rain suits on, we made the slow and tedious trek to Chinadega, only 50km away from the border.  It was now 4pm and with the rain, it was getting dark and getting dark quickly.  We have made it a policy not to drive at night; but had no other option as this was the closest town.  We rode really slowly, avoiding the animals on the side of the road and avoiding the several potholes, now filled with water, so you could barley see them.  We finally arrive at one of the hotels that was mentioned in the guide book by nightfall with the rain now easing up.  With the bikes secure, all our wet gear unpacked into the bathroom of our room, walk a few blocks to the town square to have something to eat.  It was the most delicious hotdog either of us ever had.  It was an eventful day and we were in bed early.

Angela's 2 cents:  At the border crossings I was surprised by the age of the pestering "fixers".  I expected them to be annoying little children but instead as Daryll mentioned, they were full grown men that chased us down the road in pickup trucks to the border in order to offer "help". At first it was quite alarming to see these packs of "vultures" several kms away from the border because we weren't really sure we were at the border yet and they were standing in the middle of the road waving at us. While Daryll was doing the paperwork and I was watching the bikes at the border, I actually saw another tourist guy go berzerk on a pack of  fixers following him as he yelled "ENOUGH ALREADY - F### OFF!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!".  I kind of laughed and it made me happy that we had kept our cool despite the heat and harassment.

As for the police checkpoints we crossed, I was surprised that they were established check points, where pylons were set up on the road. I had expected the creeps to appear randomly, come slinking from their hiding spots behind trees and have to make up excuses for stopping us but no, they was quite blatantly organized checkpoints. One strategy I found helpful was to pull up really close to the vehicle in front of me so that we were kind of hidden from the police sight upon approach to the stop point.  That way they were not prepared to stop the expensive motorcycles and we kind of just sailed past them before the dollar signs in their eyes could register..
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