Thursday, June 18, 2015

3 countries in 1 day... Not as fun as it sounds

San Miguel, El Salvador (N 13°29.082 W 88°10.291). It's 6am and this thing we have become unfamiliar with called an alarm clock is blaring in our cheap-O hotel room. We've got our screen shots from multiple sources loaded on the ipad, we've done our research, all our documents and copies are ready, and we are totally not excited about what the day holds... It's border crossing day. Not any border crossing day either, today we have 2 borders to conquer. The goal is to exit El Salvador, enter into Honduras, drive 2-3 hours through Honduras, and enter into Nicaragua.

How NOT to have a fun day!

First of all, the exiting of a country part is USUALLY the shortest and easiest part of border days... Not today though. We approach the craphole border known as El Amatillo. Despite the appearance and reputation of this dumpster fire of a border crossing, all was well at first. Step 1: cancelled our temporary import permit at the import office. Step 2: filled out our customs forms, and got the very important little white piece of scrap paper from immigration stating that we could leave. Now all we had to do was Step 3: get through one last official guarding the bridge that connected both countries, we will call him Diablo, hand him the scrap of paper, and head on over to Honduras. Well, Diablo had other plans... And that plan involved making a little extra cash today at the expense of some gringos. He decided that since our vehicle permit did not state anything about the bikes on the back of the car, we would either need to pay him $40 or go pay a fine of "$500". Nice try buddy... We will go pay the fine. Diablo didnt like that idea, he insisted that it would be a huge hassle for us and that we need to just pay him, he will even be "nice" and just charge us $20. We held firm that there was no possible way we would give into his corruption, and we drove the mile or so back to the office that canceled our permit. They kindly took the permit, wrote a little note on the bottom saying that bikes were ok, stamped it, signed it, and sent us back to the bridge. However this time, the department of drug enforment decided we needed a car search before exiting... No big problem, just time and a really adorable labrador sniffing out our car. Back to the bridge we go, where Diablo takes one look at our paper and shakes his head meanly. He is bullying us big time, irritated that we took the initative to go through proper channels to call his bluff, he decides to not let us pass and basically just ignore us. We try to reason with him, ask him for rational, even just keep smiling and being nice, but nothing makes Diablo change his mind. He is full of pride and his sense of authority has gone to his head. We turn around yet again in search of the right signature to oblige Diablo. We drive back to vehicle import office for a THIRD time, hoping to find someone to get on board with our epic battle of attrition and patience against the evil Diablo. By this time everyone in the office recognizes us, so one of the senior officials grabs up the phone and calls down to another official down by the bridge. Excited that progress seems to be made, we hurry back to bridge and search around a bit for this person who must be the boss man. He politely tells us to drive behind him as he walks out onto the bridge. Diablo looked stunned to see us returning again, this time led by someone outranking him. The boss man promptly put Diablo in his place with a swift and effective verbal beat down and a schooling of how official papers work. We cheer as Diablo waves us onto the bridge sending us over to Honduras. What should have taken less than 30 minutes, took us over an hour and a half.

Our document plus additional nonsense of extra notes and stamps to allow the bikes and appease Diablo!


The bridge...
Friendly money changer posing for a picture.

Sure that the rest of the day will go smoothly, statisically speaking, we had our share of hold ups for the day. HAHAHA! Yea right! We accidentally pick up an unofficial border crossing "helper", who ended up actually being quite helpful. This border required 3 seperate trips to the hole in the wall copy shack... Official government offices do not have such machines in them, yet they always require many copies of paper they give you! The immigration part was easy as usual, but then came the vehicle import permit part, which had endless steps, and was continuously interrupted by short power outages. Needless to say, there was a whole bunch of standing around shooting the shit with the local border loiterers. Chris had a blast spending an hour dealing with the highly inefficient system going back and forth from bank to copy shack to import office to copy shack etc. We were at the point of needing some booze asap, but we poorly planned our finances this morning and had to conserve our last bit of precious money. Side note: approach new countries with more cash and rum on hand. We finished up, but before we could pull away from the Amatillo wasteland, our "helper" tried to convince us that we needed to pay him $22.50 to sneak around a 2 hour wait at the nearby fumigation station. "Just hand me the cash, and follow me!" he demands. We look at each other, sensing the aura of BS. Hand him a couple bucks for his prior assistance and politely tell him to take a hike and we'll go it alone. As we drive off, we discover there really was no fumigation or waiting of any form. Nice try "helper"! It felt good to thwart two cons in one morning.

The 2 hour drive through Honduras was uneventful. The standard people selling iguanas on the road side, many fruit stands, a few crazy drivers, and of course pot hole ridden roads. The holes were so gnarly and frequent that we wondered if this was the main highway or a missle test range. Fortunately we came across the occasional teen with a shovel, filling the holes in the road with sand, and motioning to us to stop to tip them for their services. We've got to admit, quite an industrious effort! If we hadn't been previously warned to not stop for the kids, we may have contributed to them, in the end we really did appreciate their work, even if it meant just a few less potholes to dodge!

Exiting Honduras and entering Nicaragua went smoothly at Guasaule, the normal unorganized process, but this time no hold ups! All in all, we had one very productive 10 hour "work day" and felt quite accomplished upon arrival to our destination in León, Nicaragua (N 12°26.234 W 86°52.560).



  1. So, el Diablo was not impressed with your brand new Spanish speaking skills. Carol & Lou

    1. Actually at one point when he tried to ignore us and make me talk to an unofficial helper, I (mallary) got out of the car and stood in front of him and looked him in his mean eyes and asked him exactly who and what he wanted from us pass! He was surprised i could speak a bit of spanish and was forced to answer me! Thank you spanish school!

  2. At least it is the terrible countries that are hard to get into. It would stink if you had trouble getting into the places that you actually wanted to spend time in.

    1. Haha, yea but also it was annoying that we did all that for just 2 hours in a country!! They are all always more difficult than they should be, but this storybwas exceptionally annoying! It was good that we started the day knowing none of it would be much fun, so we had pretty low expectations to meet!