Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Go Big or Go Home: (Or back to El Salvador) A Two-Border Crossing Kinda Day

(Sorry it's taken me a couple of days to get this post up... it took a bit for me to want to re-live (through writing) all of the "fun" we had at the borders.)

After a lot of thought, we made the decision not to ride around Honduras. Not because of so-called dangers perceived by our governments or the media, because we don’t really pay attendant to these things. (We don’t use drugs. Hence we don’t buy drugs. And so we have nothing to do with drug lords or cartel members. And we’re certainly not going to join a gang. Just like if we were in the US or Holland.)
Our reasons were that 1. We would be making the “detour” to visit Copan… another nice, cool city with interesting ruins. Quite frankly, we’re a little citied out. 2. The coast of Honduras, particularly the islands are nice to visit (I've been to Roatan before for diving). And right now, we don’t have the money to treat ourselves to a dive holiday, so we’ll save Utila for the “someday” when we win the jackpot.

Of course, we did need to ride through Honduras to get to Nicaragua. So, this is going to be another border crossing blog… If you're interested: read on.

If not… suffice it to say that it was a 14-hour day. The “rule of thumb” for overland traveling is to account one day for each border…. We were keen to get to Nicaragua and so we were keen to try to make it across both borders in one day. Two borders which are supposed to the “worst” in all of Central and South America…

We met David at the border and were immediately surrounded by helpers. They told us, “You need me because:
-It’s Sunday and the bank is closed so you won’t be able to pay and get through on the other side… BUT, I can make it happen and get you through.”
-I speak Spanish and English. (So do I, sorry buddy.)
-The copy machines on the Honduran side might not work because of power outages, but I will be able to get copies made for you.”

We eventually convinced them that we would not pay anything and they went away.

1. We needed to have our motorcycle import document cancelled. The very helpful guy who did this told us we needed two copies while the lingering “helper” told us we needed 5 copies.
We made 5 copies and only wound up needing 2 after all. (Sorry trees :/)
(BTW, LOVED the El Salvadoran border crossings - nice people and super helpful. And the crossings themselves were free :) )

Roel in line at the El Salvadoran Aduana

2. We rode down the road and where it split off to the left, there were fortunately two truckers who waved us to the left (no signage for Aduana) and eventually we found the Aduana and got in line with everyone else. There, they checked the stamp in our passports and gave us a little papelito to hang on to. At this point, we took the opportunity to have what was the WORST coffee in the world from the comedor across from the Aduana. Seriously, it tasted like it was made with fish brine. BLAH.

These papelitos make me crazy. How am I NOT supposed to lose this?!

The best thing about these photos is David's face post-shotgunning the WORST coffee in the world!

I made friends with the money exchange guy for about 5 seconds. Who says money can't make you happy?

3. We rode across the bridge to the Honduran side. Parked the bikes. And David and I went up to the counter of Migracion and handed over 2 copies each of our passports, licenses and titles (again, registration in my case), along with the originals.

4. We then had to go to the Aduana for our tourist documents. You have to fill out a small slip of paper and give them $3 to pay for the handling fee. They stamp your passport.

5. We headed back to Migracion and gave him our freshly stamped passports and he completed our bike documents and put a stamp into our passports. We payed $35 per bike in cash and he gave us a receipt.

6. We had to head next door to the copy shop and have 5 copies made of the bike import document and two copies made of the stamp in our passport.

7. Back to Migracion and our friend there stapled everything together in nice little packets. We kept the originals and I think one copy.


In the meantime, Roel had made friends with some nice Honduran Harley riders who gave him a Honduran flag for his bike. Unfortunately, no stickers, though

Two other bikes and three riders showed up: A couple from Belgium on a Transalp and a Kiwi on a 1200 GS. They had a helper and it appeared that they would be through quite a bit faster than us.

David waited with the bikes while I repeated the process with Roel.

Honduran Border Crossing: CHECK!!!

Once Roel was finished:

8. We rode away from immigration and the aduana and came to a post where there was a guy waiting to take the copy of the bike documents.

El Salvador -> Honduras Border Stats:

Arrived at 7:50am. Departed at 10:00am
Cost: Es Salvador: $0 Honduras: $38 USD accepted but change was given in Lempira (Honduran currency)
Overall: Nice people and rather helpful. Especially on the El Salvadoran side.

We rode into Honduras and gassed up right away so we could also check the maps and get our roads right. There was a weird thing at the gas station where they had to charge us double what the pump read because there was something wrong with the programming of the pump. The price made sense given how much fuel we needed, but in case anyone happens to stop at this gas station… fyi.

We stopped at a KFC in the Choluteca, the only major town we would encounter between the borders. Sorry for my penchant for Western Fast Food shops, but I NEEDED an ice cream and a clean bathroom. And really, I needed an ice cream. It was at least 110 degrees. Bleh.
While there, the BMW and other Transalp caught up to us. Their first question was how much we paid at the border.

Party at the KFC in Choluteca. Ice cream and clean bathrooms are necessary sometimes.

Their “helper” had told them the bike import fee was $60 per bike. And he charged them $5 each for handling. Ouch.

We continued on the the Nicaraguan border, having a good feeling about doing this crossing as it was only 1pm and we were only 40 kilometers from the border. There were A LOT of potholes between the town and the border, though. Potholes that you could bathe a toddler in after a good rain. So we didn’t get to the border until about 2pm. By the time we were in line on the Honduran side, the BMW and the Transalp had caught up again. So we all went through together.

1. We waited in line to have our passports stamped out of Honduras. It was hot and sweaty and we could have been in China based off of how people were queueing, or rather, disregarding the queue.

2. Then we waited in line again to have our bike import paper cancelled.

The Aduana/Migracion on the Honduran side of the Honduran->Nicaraguan border

3. We proceeded to the Nicaraguan side where our bike first had to be fumigated. There were a couple of helpers around, mostly children. The guy in uniform doing the fumigating made very clear to us that fumigation was $3 (like, make sure you don’t pay any more).

Paying for the fumigation. Lines do not exist here.

4. We then had to go to what I guess was the trailer of the ministry of health. There was no sign. We had to tell her that we didn’t feel ill, have a fever or stomach issues. And then had to stand in front of a camera which supposedly did a body scan of some sort. Hmmmmm. Right.

5. We then had to have our Passports stamped into Nicaragua and I think this was also where the tourist visa cards got into our passports. We waited first in line for a while watching the guy we needed to work with look at some list while the woman in the window next to him filed her nails. Once he did have our passports and money in hand, he seemed to enjoy multitasking… taking others documents and passports and handling them in between dealing with ours. We needed to pay $12 here and the guy was pretty clear that he would not be giving change. He was kind of grumpy though, so may not be a problem if you go through and get someone else. This probably accounted for 45 minutes or so.

6. We then needed to have our bike import paperwork taken care of. Here, we only had to provide originals of our passports, licenses and titles because they would immediately enter all of the information into the computer and scan the documents. Bravo Nicaragua! Way to save some trees! You’d also think this would be faster… WRONG.
First, the two women who were sitting there reading the newspaper in front of clear windows did not want to deal with us because it was not their job. The guy we needed was nowhere to be found. But we waited. And waited. And then eventually one of the women took pity on us and began to process our documents. Until she got David and Roel confused and the guy we needed came back and she gave it all to him. He was doing alright, albeit slowly, until he got to me. He added a “4” to my VIN that is not there. And I love when you tell an official that they got something wrong and they give you this look like “Stupid white girl, are you kidding me? I get NOTHING wrong.” And then they get all bashful and apologetic and things are nice and smooth from there on. So smooth in fact, that he didn’t even check my or Roel’s bikes. I guess he figured that we were checking the VINs so he didn’t need to ;)

7. We then needed to buy $12 Nicaraguan insurance for the bikes. The Belgians and the Kiwi were not pleased about buying this as they apparently have insurance that they say covers them in most countries, including Nicaragua. When I asked if we needed to all buy this, the girls selling the insurance (from private companies - and not all from the same company and also not all wearing official shirts) said “this is what the police will want to see.” Nuff said, as far as I’m concerned.

8. We rode off thinking YIPPEEEEE!!! Here we GOOOOOO! And then hit customs. The guy began gruffly asking for some paper, the name of which I didn’t recognize. I handed him everything I could think of and he only kept getting more and more annoyed. He eventually went in and got a customs document and handed that to me. In the 4 hours we spent between Aduana and Migration, no one had given us this paper. We pulled the bikes off to the side and filled out the customs declarations. By this time the sun set, and I think the guy just took pity on us… He didn’t want to see anything on the bikes and let us go right away. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Everyone hastily filling out our "surprise" customs declaration documents with the sun setting in the background. 

Honduras -> Nicaragua Border Stats

Arrived: 2pm Departed 6pm
Cost: $27 (Paid in USD)
Overall: Sucked hard. Splitting headache hard. Note to selves, regardless of how nice they are, NEVER cross a border with 6 people, unless you have to. But fortunately everything eventually went fine but it did take a bit longer than it would have had we just gone through with the 3 of us. That said, the Belgians and Kiwi did wait for us as our documents had gotten shuffled and we wound up being the last to get our bike paperwork back.
The border officials themselves were mostly grumpy, but I can’t really blame them… the heat there was unreal. Once I got the Migracion guy to see his mistake, he was a lot more friendly, as was his co-worker. And once I gave the Customs officer a cracker he even smiled at me.

We rode as the sun dropped behind the volcanoes. It was a stunning landscape and I’m sure we all would have loved to stop for photos. But, we wanted to make it to Leon so we rode into the dark, dodging more nasty potholes as we went. It was the first time in Central America where we have ridden at night and I have felt powerful and sure… For that, I was grateful to have 3 more bikes with us.

When we arrived at the hotel, it was such a huge relief. Seb and Kim, of Wandering Souls, had reserved a 4 person room for us and it was LOVELY. I took a delightfully cold shower and began to feel human again after a slice of pizza and a Toña… my first Nicaraguan beer :)

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