• Honduras and Murray

    Posted by Murray on February 10, 2011

    “……. it was the lowest ebb of the trip thus far……”

    Some things in life have to be experienced first hand.

    Crossing a border, continuing through Honduras and crossing another border in one day on a motorbike is one of those experiences. During trip planning, I had read about Honduras, researched the do’s and the don’ts, pored over other people’s blogs and vivid experiences, memorised checklists….. and yet, still there was the shock and frustration factor that is difficult to prepare for or describe on a day in and out of Honduras.

    We left the beach stay shortly after 7am and spent the next 20 minutes negotiating badly deteriorated gravel roads, dodging small children, featherless hens with their respective broods of scrawny chicks, toothless men lugging humungous quantities of sticks, dogs that looked like 4 legged featherless hens and of course, the odd obligatory mangy young donkey and its grinning mother ambling along the track. Small sticks, leaves, smoke from burning plastic bags, hens feathers and dust swirled up behind us as we rumbled through tiny villages, locals staring at the small convoy rarely seen in their district. Twice, three times, four times we took wrongs turns and utilised the locals for directions. Just prior to hitting the main road, I was finally victorious in connecting my right foot with one of the many hyperactive dogs that are so intent on chomping on you as you harmlessly pass by.

    8:30am saw us sitting in a well presented modern cafe called “Cappuccino”. Both of us had been considering counseling for our lack of espresso intake so to find such a gem in these parts was a bonanza. We were anxious to grab a coffee, fresh juice and some food and get going to the border. The decision was made for us when we attempted to order from the modern and impressive menu. “We have no espresso, no cappuccino and no juice”. After calming Loren as he convulsed noisily on the floor, whispering to him to we WILL find a coffee soon, we chowed down a dense muffin drizzled in fake chocolate, listened to our filtered coffee being reheated for 10 minutes in the microwave and bailed out of the “coffee” shop for the border.

    Approaching a border is a dead giveaway in these parts. No signs, no indication of any formal setup, just a plethora of fixers, some running up the road, others standing in the middle of the road waving both arms like short circuited robots, some yelling “stop” in spanish/english/german/french/italian/russian (to cover themselves) and others preparing to sprint after us, knowing we wouldn’t stop. Over the radio “Looks like we are getting closer to a border mate, we are running over more fixers”.

    What is a fixer? He is the man! The guy that can speak all languages, a master of all border crossings, professional photocopier, counselor, your best friend, always has another career, holds degrees in immigration negotiation and philosophy, has the ability to repeat the same sentence 98 times per minute 3cm from your face whilst draping his arm around your shoulder and fondling your wallet. His motive? To spin as much nonsense to you in order to extract the most amount of cash from you using any means under the pretence they will help you through the painful process of crossing a border and importing your vehicle.

    9:30am Filled up with fuel just before El Salvador/Honduras border. Angelo shows up, yabbering on in good english how he can get us through the border in 1.5hrs when it normally takes 6-7hrs. Only $5. No problems. Don’t listen to all the other guys, they are thieves, can’t speak english blah blah blah, repeating this incessantly whilst grossly ignoring basic personal space rules. After initially politely declining Angelo, we eventually caved in and agreed to give him a go as we had 2 borders to cross that day and it may save some time. So off we went, Angelo and his skinny off sider hanging off the back of a sketchy ute and us following.

    As we approached the border, chaos ruled. The 2 bikes carved through the throng of fixers like molten metal through cold custard, their courage dismally deserting them seconds before being run down. Finally, a man with a gun, someone official. Brakes applied, select neutral, visor up…… bang, swamped. Amigo, amigo, I help you immigration, I have official badge, I am your best friend, me speak english, don’t listen to anyone else, they will thieve you, amigo, don’t listen to them, I have contacts. Some spoke good english, other fired rapidly in the spanish, no doubt saying they could save the world. After saying 15-20 times that we had a guy to help us and would not be required their services, the throng didn’t dissipate. Over the radio “Do you copy SH1, initiate Code 2″. I could see Loren itching to break out the bear spray and pave a way so we could at least reach the official guy that wanted to stamp our previous country vehicle permit as cancelled and point us on to the next of many many procedures.

    One corker, later in the arduous process was when an official lady suddenly appeared from another paint peeling unofficial building and instructed we remove our number plates. Pardon? Do you have a gun? Hmm… do we trust her? Will we ever see our plates again? Hang it, just do it or she may shoot us. 36C heat, motorbike kit and with sweat dripping in all unimaginable possible locations, our set of Allen keys and the Leatherman came into play to remove our number plates so the dear lady could photocopy them three or four times. Absolutely essential as merely writing down the number and expiry was unheard off.

    I won’t labour the point – needless to say, 2hrs and 50 minutes later (almost a 100% blowout on Angelo’s promise) we rode off into Honduras with an abundance of stamps, certificates, post-it-notes with immigration stamps, multiple photocopies of who knows what and of course, minus $127 US. This comprised $35 to immigration to stamp passports, $3 to some other official bloke, $70 to another official for “road tax” in Honduras, $5 to the photocopy man, $4 to a man for reflective tape for the bikes (you are allowed to overtake with your fully laden unroadworthy school bus on double lines but it is illegal to not have reflective tape pasted everywhere) $5 to Angelo the Man and $5 to his skinny offsider (go buy yourself a decent feed mate). After hotly disputing the alleged road tax in a dusty back office, Angelo and I marched off to Mr Plod the local cop and I enquired about this tax. “Si amigo, $40″. Angelo then slapped me on the back and said “See, I get it for $35 each because of my contacts”. Trusting the policeman, the cash was reluctantly handed over and a receipt requested. We later discovered that if indeed the road tax is required (I still don’t know, we were never asked to show proof), it is a maximum of $25. The cop was on the take and Angelo was greasing palms of officials to increase his profits for the day.

    2 hours and 30minutes later we approached the Honduras/Nicaragua border. In that space of time we were stopped 6 times out of 8 police road blocks. We found slipping up beside the long line of trucks and waving politely to the police whilst motoring on seemed to work ok. We knew it was a success when the harsh chatter of machine gun fire was not present and no bullets raked our backs. The cafe we stopped at midway had no food so we downed a coke, water and Gatorade each and pushed on, seriously battling to keep the fluids up in the humid heat.

    2:55pm Approached the next border. Sliced through another wave of fixers. This time we do our own thing. The temp had edged up to 38c so it was setting up for a lovely afternoon to be hanging out at a border. The first 4 or 5 procedures went remarkably well. Aside from the fact that I had gained another 2 best friends that clung to my sweat drenched body like love sick slugs, one tucked under each armpit as I strode from office to office to window to office to desk – one man telling me incredible facts such as “My friend, the money is different in this country, quieres cambia, quieres cambia, quieres cambia (you want change)”. He repeated this innumerable times, again way way too close to my face. The other dude incessantly ranted about passports and permits and as the chorus reached a crescendo, an old lady shoves her head into my fast diminishing head space trying to sell blobs of warm corn dough wrapped in a stained tea towel. In addition, just as another official lady is demanding to see my motorbike VI Number, another sweat beaded forehead appears millimeters from my face and says, “you want buy sunglasses my friend”. Whipping off my own sunnies off my head and shoving them in his face, I abruptly quizzed him why I would suddenly have a burning desire to purchase a second pair of sunglasses whilst trying to provide vehicle import information to a Nicaraguan Custom Officer. Looking puzzled, he wandered off, probably thinking how weird gringos are.

    4:10pm Finally we approached the final stage. Obtaining another vehicle import certificate. One line, one overworked lady behind a smeared glass window with a small circle cut out at chest level (well, head level for the locals) covered in stained masking tape with pencil holes punched through and 10 truckies lined up holding wads of paper.

    The line didn’t move for 45 minutes.

    The sweat trickled.

    Success! One truckie got his paperwork through and left. 9 to go. Until another truckie turned up and jumped the queue.

    Loren and I were tag teaming in the line and seriously weighing up our options. Trying to keep our fluids up and thinking our dense muffin was a long time again.

    I frequently tried the other officials that seemed to be sitting around while this poor lady battled the paper trail, enquiring if there were other options, we were simply tourists that needed a permit for our bikes for a few days. After an age, a white shirted official lady elbowed me down the corridor and started doing the upturned collar whisper talk thing whilst looking around her. Disgusted, I told her I was not interested in bribes and would rather wait all night in line than pay her to slip us to the front. She in turn would pay another official etc. etc. This happened 3 times, all of which was directly under a large sign berating corruption within the government. Unbelievable!

    As the sun disappeared, the mossies descended. I amused myself by squashing them up against the smeared window while waiting for the lady, who now was processing someone else’s paperwork because evidently they had bribed up. Out of interest, as I watched a fat mossie gorging himself on my left arm, I asked a young truckie next to me “So, is there any malaria around here?”. As I was getting munched by flocks of the pests, he imparted the warm and fuzzy news, “Malaria my friend, nah, but dengue fever is rampant.”

    7:00pm After waiting in line for 2hrs and 50minutes, we ride off after finally obtaining all we needed to be legal in Nicaragua. Breaking Rule No.1 again, we ride for 90minutes in the dark, eyes feverishly alert for stray cows, horribly deep potholes (which were innumerable) and groups of mad gunslingers looking for the golden goose. Conversation was at an all time low, as were our moods. The next 3 police stops became a blur and are so much a part of life that they hardly registered. We approach a town and proceed to get lost looking for a reasonable place to sleep. It is 9pm, still 32C and the 2nd piece of food for the day had been eaten around 5:30pm which was some tacos and cabbage from some lady’s tepid saucepan at the border.

    We needed to bunk somewhere and camping was out of the question in these parts. After doing battle with 4 hotel owners over price and bike security, we finally plopped down in a strange lodging which had shower curtains for garage doors and a night watchman that sat on the sheets and pillows before giving them to you. Weird!

    Upon reflection, it was the lowest ebb of the trip thus far. After a cold shower and 2 green jelly beans for dinner, the visions of the Honduras border crossings fast dissipated into zzzz land. Ha, that’s we why love travel :)

    (Have attached some other photos outside of Honduras to make it a tad more interesting)

15 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. trine on February 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    whoses guys that sounds like it was a tough day! love reading your stories…

  2. Mumma Pamma on February 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    How utterly frustrating for you both! Sorry to see Loren so sad looking…. Hopefully the boat trip will restore your spirits & your faith in human beings…..

    • Murray on February 11, 2011 at 4:39 am

      All part of the fun over here :) Have put a few more photos on that post

  3. Lachlan on February 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Lozza, how would a hearty Young Alfred margerita and a cold Corona go down? ha ha, there’s no hiding the pain on your face here!!

    • Murray on February 11, 2011 at 4:38 am

      Wasn’t all bad Lach, Lozza secretly loved the attention from the fixers – have stuck a few more happier photos on.

  4. Donna R on February 11, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I hope a relaxing day on the beach is in order after that rough day. I love your photos and am always looking forward to your next post. Keep Safe!

  5. Donna on February 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Loren, it’s eerie how much you look like Dale in the second picture. I’ve never seen it before… but you have the same lips, the same smile, the same eyes. (Well, not the same, as he has his own…)
    Great storytelling, Murray. Still getting a kick out of the lovesick slugs tucked under each arm!

  6. Mumma Pamma on February 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Despite the long frustrating hrs spent @ the borders,the Fixers,Officals & the questionable Mr Plods…..the people certainly show they love & value colour.The photos give us many lifelike imagines to reflect on. Amazing!

  7. Vic & Joan on February 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Great writing guys! And great photos to go with it. Keep up the good work.

  8. Gary Hill on February 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Great to have you guys in Panama! I can’t wait for the pictures! Thanks for the great laughs reading your blog
    All the best!

  9. Jaz!! on February 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Heyyyyyy Missss u!!! The little colorful things the kids were holding did u get one for me!? They looked soo cute! Lozza you look like a bush-tucker-man!! Lol!! xoxoxoxoxox

  10. Breno on February 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Fantastic blog guys! See by the tracker you’re out to sea on route for Colombia – hope that all went ok. Enjoy your ocean voyage. Tu español estas bien Muz para hablar con los nativos, mas discutir! gr8 photos, gr8 stories, time of your life. Que disfruten todo en Colombia. Breno

  11. Kim- on February 17, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Michael Short said you were trekking across the world – have a good trip and safe journey

  12. Bec on February 23, 2011 at 10:01 am

    What a great story, I laughed so much my baby nearly popped out! Loren that first pic of you is just despair, no coffee, low blood sugar, filthy heat and not really knowing what is coming up next.. glad to hear you made it this far alive xx

  13. Jane on March 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Groooaaannnn. I’m trying to feel the pain of the border crossings but Shenzhen just aint really all that bad now. That is horrendous. I’m mostly loving the deep cultural insights this journey has given you…..the pulling away of the ideological veil…..as evidenced by “Finally, a man with a gun, someone official”. You both write fabulously. Which big publishing houses do you have vying for the book rights? Of course, photos are also superb. Really look forward to your next update. xxxx