Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chinandega, Nicaragua to Santa Rosa, El Salvador – April 9

Welcome to Honduras, don’t let the door hit your a$$ on the way out…

We were always planning to take the shortest route through Honduras, as the whole “coup no coup” problem was unresolved during the trip planning stages.  I had also read a few unflattering accounts of crooked cops shaking down tourists, and had those fears confirmed by a southbound American rider that I met in Penas Blanca, Nicaragua while waiting for import docs.  He had been stopped by bent policia 9 times in the 125km stretch from El Salvador to Nicaragua.

We left Chinandega at 7:30 am and rode around the base of the Volcan San Cristobal on the way to the frontier at Guasaule.  San Cristobal is an active volcano, with smoke and gas clearly visible venting from the  cone.IMG_1513The ride to Guasaule was uneventful, but as we entered the aduana area we were set upon by dozens of “helpers”, jumping in front of our bikes and competing for our attention in the hopes  that we might hire them as border agents.  The trouble is the whole situation is so unsavoury, you can’t trust any of them – many people hire a “helper” only to be presented claims for all kinds of extra or special charges for expediting paperwork etc.  We’ve had quite a bit of practice so far on this journey, and will continue to muddle through on our own, despite the complete lack of signage, unofficial atmosphere, and blatant collusion between so-called officials and “helpers”.

Our biggest challenge getting into Honduras was the surprise fee of $35USD per bike for temporary importation.  The trouble was, we’ve never been required to pay this much and we weren’t carrying enough cash!  Naturally, they only accept cash and the closest bank was 45km away.  Eventually, Petra convinced the officials to issue a permit for my bike, allowing me to make the bank run and return to pay the fee for both bikes.  It took close to two hours to make the run, including trying 5 cajero automaticos in Choluteca before finding one that was a) functional; and b) willing to recognize my card; and then racing back to the border.

We got away from Guasaule at 1:30pm, casting some serious doubt on our aspirations to enter El Salvador the same day.  We made it to the El Salvador frontier by 3:30pm despite getting stopped at 4 policia checkpoints.  We came away from the checkpoints unscathed financially, although one cop figured I owed him money for water since it was so hot out.  I told him that was what I needed the money for and he couldn’t have it! As he was thinking of a comeback I said “Gracias! Adios amigo” and we rode away!

At the next checkpoint we were asked to make a “donation” to an injured officer.  Petra stuffed a few Argentinian peso notes into the jar before they could tell what it was and we took off again!
The border at El Amatillo was a disaster, teeming with helpers, beggars, hawkers and the like.  We tried to find the aduana to get the bikes processed out but were told that everything was now dealt with on the El Salvador side.  This didn’t sit well with us, but the advice was confirmed by separate sources so we rode across the Rio Negro to El Salvador.  Even the El Salvadoran migraciones officials insisted that we didn’t need to deal with Honduras anymore so off we went to the El Salvadoran Aduana, 6 km’s away, only to be sent back to our original line-up in Honduras for an exit stamp.

Back at the El  Salvador aduana again, it was now almost 6pm and the sun was on it way down fast.  By the time our entry paperwork was complete it was long after dark and we were facing a difficult ride.  We agreed to take the first available lodging, that turned out to be a hotel off the main road in Santa Rosa.  We were sharing the room with a 2.5” long cucaracha before I put the yellow pages to him in an affirmative fashion – I think we’ll be sleeping with the lights on….but  hey, they have wi-fi!

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