September 13, 2015
I will apologize in advance for the lack of photos and the somewhat negative tone. I hope you get the same entertainment reading this post that I get looking back on it now.
The plan was to cross two borders in one day: From El Salvador through Honduras to Nicaragua. I knew it could be done. But I had no idea how frustrating it could be. I was about to find out.
Leaving El Cuco early, it was only an hour and a half to the border with Honduras at El Amatillo. At the previous border crossing into El Salvador, we had hired a “helper”. Not really intentionally…he just happened to lead us to the border and we were suckered right in. But in the end it proved to be a small investment and worth it. Nice guy, easy process, cheap. During that border crossing, he pulled out his phone and called a friend at the border between El Salvador and Honduras, then handed the phone to me. I spoke with Ronnie Garcia, and he said he would be happy to help with the crossing into Honduras.
So when we rolled up to the El Amatillo crossing, there was Ronnie, friendly and ready to help. And that was the beginning of the nightmare. After agreeing on a price, we started the process. Within the first 30 minutes, the scam started. First, he needed more money for his brother Jose who would actually do the paperwork running. The next scam was that my Texas license plate would expire within six months, and Honduras would not allow anyone in with a plate that would expire within six months, but for a “fee” they could fix this. This was the beginning of my irritation. I was only getting a three day transit visa. Honduras could care less when my plate expired, especially if it was after the three days. And I was going to be out of the country later that afternoon.
Then they wanted more money for the bikes to enter the country. More than what we had read on the internet was the official fee. With “helpers” it’s hard but not impossible to argue. You are standing in a parking lot. It’s not the DMV or Burger King. There is no posted pricing. What you say you read on the internet isn’t what they say. The smart thing would have been to go inside and talk to the officials personally. But in all honesty, this border crossing was so sketchy that I was uncomfortable stepping more than about three feet away from my motorcycle.
We literally stood in a dirt lot for almost four hours. Next to us were some of the seediest people I’ve personally been around. I had my first introduction to a real crack whore. She approached me asking for food, money, or cigarettes. I was afraid she was going to touch me. She was barely conscious, and she looked like she could spread numerous diseases within six feet of her. After I refused to give her anything, she walked over to a hammock about twenty feet away, laid down, began eating something I couldn’t identify, then began urinating while laying in the hammock.
And we still had another couple of hours to stand there.
I was told that the system was slow, that it was Sunday and there were less workers on duty, that the computers kept going down.
Eventually, Jose returned with the paperwork. And then they wanted more money for fumigation. I was overheated, tired, hungry, and fed up. We argued for a while, and another crackhead showed up when he heard money being discussed. I refused to pull any money out with him present. Eventually Ronnie asked him to leave, which upset him and he asked me what my problem was. It was definitely past time to go.
We eventually settled on a final payment, and got on the bikes and left, bitter and frustrated. By the way, there was no fumigation process.
In the future, I can definitely advise anyone crossing this border to avoid Ronnie Garcia from Houston, Texas at all costs. This border is no different from the others, and a helper is not necessary.
That brings us to the next border crossing and a whole new situation.
It’s only about two and a half hours across Honduras to the Nicaraguan border. I was heading for Somoto, a smaller crossing and near Cañon de Somoto. We rode faster than I had ridden the entire trip. It began to rain. Then it began to pour. Then the wind started. It got a bit exciting for a while (including passing the guy on the 125 with the guitar bag on his back, wearing a nice white shirt and dress slacks, in torrential rain).
The rain let up before we got to the Nicaraguan border, but I was still fuming from the previous scamming. I had already decided that I would immediately tell any helper “NO!” and we would proceed without help.
Sure enough, as soon as we rolled up, a guy walked up all cheerful and ready to help.
“No necessito ayudar. Gracias, no”, I told him.
He continued to stand there. The immigration official walked up and took my passport and documents. He told me I needed a copy of the document and that I needed to have the helper go make the copy. SERIOUSLY??
Yep. The immigration official and the “helper” were in on the scam together, and the immigration officer essentially refused to help me unless I hired his buddy the helper. Here we go again…
The guy on the Honduran side wanted money to exit the country, and tried to give me a Guatemalan quetzale instead of a US dollar coin. It went fairly quickly exiting Honduras but I was still irritated by the scamming.
We were then handed off to a new “helper” to take us through the Nicaraguan entry process. Finally, this guy was honest, straightforward, and helpful. No scamming, no inflated prices.
Beyond his control, or anyone else’s at that point, we encountered a new problem: it was raining again, and the power was out at the border. They were unable to process our paperwork until the power returned. We sat for about two hours. Finally, at a few minutes before six o’clock (closing time), we were asked to buy a gallon of diesel for Nicaragua’s official generator, and after another twenty minutes or so, we had backup power and documents in hand. There were definitely moments of concern: we were in no-man’s land, between borders with no admission to either country; it was closing time, there was no power, and the next two days were official national holidays in Nicaragua (Independence Day). If not for the willing officials and the gallon of diesel, we could have been camped at the border for three days.
Documents in hand, we rode the final twenty kilometers to Somoto in the dark. I swore I would not ride in the dark, but tonight there was no choice. The rain had stopped, and there were people walking along the shoulder of the road, and on bicycles and horses. Very hard to see.
The Nicaraguan border guard saw me looking at hotel offerings on my GPS, and recommended a hotel from the list. Nice guy. Upon arrival, we met two Germans who were in the process of booking a tour of the Cañon de Somoto. That’s why I came here. So at 8am the next morning, six of us were piling into a Honda Civic to head for the canyon.