From El Salvador I took off for Honduras. It was only a hundred kilometers from the beach town I’d spent a couple of days in. Of all the borders in Central America, Honduras has the worst reputation; apart from the chaotic paper trail required to enter, it is infamous far and wide as being a den of hucksters, swindlers and other assorted trolls and goblins that seem to infest the borderlands down here.
I was almost losing sleep at the prospect of this border crossing. Eventually I came up with a strategy to help me get through the crowd of helpers I was sure to encounter at the crossing. I needed to go on the offensive, I decided . I delved into the recesses of my mind and recalled my best high school Irish. Then I rehearsed all the Gaelic soundbites I could remember. The border helpers thrive on travellers’ confusion so I would try reverse psychology in an attempt to confuse them instead. I also locked away the tank bag so I could step away from the bike and not worry about my stuff being stolen. The bike being secured, I could focus my efforts in thwarting the helpers I would no doubt run afoul of.
A couple of kilometers from the border the helpers started appearing. One guy strode out on the road, looking all “official” and try to wave me down and stop. I’ve gotten a bit better at figuring who is a real official and who isn’t so I just blew past him. I looked in my mirrors and saw him jump on a bike in hot pursuit. Fine. Bring it!
I pulled up at the official exit point to hand in my paperwork and sure enough he skidded to a halt behind me. Then a few more helpers on swarmed me:
Note to readers: If you are not an Irish speaker this part will perplex you (try Google Translate). If you are an Irish speaker, it might still perplex you. Please forgive my appalling grammar.
Scumbag # 1: “My fren! where you from? habla Espanol? Spik English? Sprachen Ze Deutsh? I help you!”
Me: “Nil aon thintean mar do thintean fein! Trom agus eadrom!”
Scumbag # 1 to Scumbag #2: “Is he speaking Swedish?”
Scumbag #2: “I think so, or maybe Russian”
Scumbag # 1 to Me: “Yes, yes, I unnerstan! Five dollar I help”
Me: “Mna na hEireann!”
Scumbag #2: “Border very complicate! five hour! I help, only one hour!”
Me: An bfhuil cead agam dul amach mas e do thol e? Ta siad ag teacht”
And so on. I could have been speaking Klingon for all he knew but he wasn’t giving up. While this “conversation” was going on I’d been wordlessly handing in my import papers to the official. At some point in the confusion the bastard helper got his hands on my precious import permit. I ran over, grabbed the papers off him and screamed:
“TA AN ATHAS AGAM AN CORN SEO A GLACHANN!. AGUS ANOIS AN NUACHT!”
Then without warning I stuck the camera in his face and took his photo. Aside from speaking Irish I made sudden unpredictable moves like this. Other times I would stop what I was doing and silently stare off into the distance for thirty seconds, ignoring everyone around me. Or I would pretend to itch uncontrollably. I wanted to give off the impression I was slightly unstable (some who know me might argue that it shouldn’t take much effort). The whole objective of this tomfoolery was to not fit the profile of the confused and frustrated traveller.
I was even beginning to enjoy acting the incomprehensible, demented, blue-eyed devil. Eventually the helpers gave up on me, I got my exit paperwork and headed over the bridge to Honduras.
To my amazement when I got to Honduras side all the helpers had vanished and I got through immigration no problem and then went to customs to process the bike in. Another pleasant surprise here: the two customs officers were the friendliest I’d met anywhere, ever. Customs people aren’t generally known as being salts of the earth, but these two were courteous, efficient, hospitable, and there wasn’t a hint of corruption in the whole process. I’d relaxed enough with them to drop the crazy man act but in the back of my mind I kept thinking this was too good to be true. But no, they sorted out my import permit and guided me through the rest of the rigmarole of photocopies and stamps, and then pointed out the way out of the complex and bade me adios. Too easy.
A kilometer or so away from customs there was some sort of unmarked shack. An man stepped out from the shack and raised his hand for me to stop. I went through my mental checklist I use whenever I come upon dubious checkpoints:
Is he wearing a uniform? – No
Does he have any visible identification? – No
Armed? – No
Any signs telling me stop? – No
Any official signs of any type at the “ checkpoint”? – No
After assimilating this information the decision was easy. I just accelerated through the checkpoint, no looking back. A couple of clicks further down the road I came upon a much more official looking checkpoint with uniformed police so I pulled over. While we are going through the usual question routine an unmarked pickup comes up from behind, goes around the bike and parks sideways across the road and blocks me in. Out jumps the guy from the checkpoint I blew through back the road. He’s angry. And brandishing a pistol and a customs id.
I don’t mean to overdramatize this but it was nowhere near as scary as it sounds. The guy is super pissed off but even though he has pistol in hand, he’s not pointing it at me. It was an awkward situation, for sure, but I wasn’t overly worried given all the other antics I’d seen at other borders, and all the armed officials I’d seen on the trip so far.
He’s shouting at me why didn’t I stop for the customs checkpoint, don’t I realize it’s a serious offence to run a government checkpoint, etc., etc. Show me the papers now!
Oops. Sorry about that, chief!
I responded that sorry I ran through your checkpoint but since you are plain clothes and didn’t show any id, nor were there any signs approaching the checkpoint, I did the only sensible thing and not stop. There are a lot of “bad people” here and I need to be careful I added.
Meanwhile the two cops had been looking on at this exchange told Mr. Customs guy that I was right in my reasoning and why doesn’t he give me a break? Thinking about it afterward maybe I should have brought up with the cops how this guy was disrupting “their” checkpoint and their authority, but lets not push it.
Eventually the customs official calmed down and inspected my papers and left. The police told me that if I see any more unmarked checkpoints that I shouldn’t stop, so that was a vindication of sorts.
Anyway, finally, onward into Honduras. It was just a couple of hours to the Nicaragua border, but after all the border drama it was past lunchtime. I still thought I could make it but the road turned really bad. It was peppered with foot deep potholes. I had to slalom through among them which really slowed me down. If I hit one of the deep holes head on, at best the wheel would break, and I don’t even want to think about the worst case scenario.
The other problem with the potholes was that oncoming traffic was swerving to avoid them also so you had cars in both directions swerving into oncoming lanes. Every few miles I noticed cars pulled over with punctures after hitting the potholes.
Pothole dodging aside, the scenery was humdrum. I’d moved inland and away from the coast. When I could take my eyes off the road for a second the scenery was mostly hilly scrubland and a lot less tropical than El Salvador. There are a lot of brilliant places in Honduras, but I wouldn’t see any of them this time around. I was just transiting through to Nicaragua.
My risk tolerance threshold has certainly increased on this trip, but all in all it was not a very relaxing situation so after a couple of hours I pulled into a hotel and called it a day. Onto Nicaragua in the morning. Another day, another border!