Jan 21-23, 2014photo

photo 5

At the El Salvador border crossing into Honduras, I allow two fixers in my car. They came recommended by Rocky, and I trusted Rocky, as much as one could trust Rocky. In the end, he delivered what was promised. In addition, this one border crossing seems to be a nightmare for a lot of overlanders; most blogs recommend paying someone $10, $20 to get through the logistical nightmare. I figure what’s the worst that could happen – I’d rather pay these guys than some kid, and be done with the crossing in half the time. Before I even get close to the border, they wave me down, which is funny, because I never told them when I’ll be passing by. When I ask, they pretend to not know how much it’s going to cost me, including what their cut is. One of them, Mr. Frisky, is pushy and tries to get in the car, but the doors are locked and I smile, and nod my head, and say not yet. The other one, Mr. Nice, tries to calm him down. Right away, my gut says ‘just go’, but I try to be logical and after 20 minutes of going back and forth on money, I let them in the car and we proceed to the border.

Soon we are assaulted by an incoming wave of people, aged anywhere from 6 to 40 years old, tapping on the windows and yelling to offer help for the crossing. Now I’m really happy I got these two fixers, and don’t have to deal with these hordes. 7 minutes and $40 later we are done and headed towards Honduras. Now I need to fork over another $45 for propinas to get the paperwork done quickly, plus the actual fees, $35 for the car permit and $45 for the visa (or vice-versa). Once the paperwork is done, we still need to pay off the police checkpoints. There’s three of them: fumigation guy, paperwork guy and final checkpoint guy. They each charge $15, but apparently for $20, they’ll let us pass without questions. So there goes another $60. At this point, I’m boiling a little and start complaining how the whole affair is already costing too much money. Both fixers shrug in utter humility. We pass the three checkpoints without as much as showing a passport or getting fumigated. I wonder what will happen if I’m ever asked for a fumigation receipt.

Technically, we are out of the border area, we’ve passed all the necessary steps, and now we are driving merrily along this empty, almost deserted stretch of the Pan American highway. All of the sudden, Mr. Frisky, who is crunched in the backseat in between Mexican blankets, rolls of toilet paper and water bottles, starts yelling ‘Problema, Problema!’. I pull over, and it appears, that although the car is from New York, it was entered as imported from Romania on the permit for El Salvador. Since we already left El Salvador, I’m not sure why this is a problem. Frisky gets translated by his partner, who says the problem is with the computers, and that they’re all connected, and that my file is not closed, and that I will for sure have problems later on, trying to exit Honduras.

I try to grab my passport and papers, but he snatches them away, and says ‘No, No, we need to fix this first, this is big problem, mucho grande fine, $1200 or more!’ You know the moment when something is jokey-jokey, and funny-funny and then something happens, and your smile turns into a this-is-not-so-funny-anymore-I-need-to-get-out-of-here? Well, this was textbook. But, BUT, the three guys that work inside Customs ‘with the computers’, can ‘probably, maybe, fix it’ for the low sum of $250 each. Losing my shit at the audacity of asking for $750 with nothing but a blank stare in return, as well as the refusal to give my papers back, I start running different scenarios through my head:

Scenario A: I stab Mr. Nice guy, Frisky runs with my papers, and I need to figure out what to do with the body;
Scenario B: They both run out of the car and leave me without papers;
Scenario C: They pull a gun/knife and I’m left without car or papers;
Scenario D: I play dumb, and smile, and say I don’t have any money;

I decide to go with D, although I’ve been dreaming about A the whole time. After about half an hour of bargaining and negotiating, we get the computer bribe down to $20, so I’m out another $60. Mr. Nice stays in the car and we chit-chat, as before, both of us in full knowledge that I know that they know that I know what they’re doing, but there’s not much I can do about it. Frisky leaves to ‘fix the computer problem’ in a pedicab that seems to appear out of nowhere. I just now realize it has been following us this whole time. In it, besides the driver, I see another guy, who looks like all his chickens have just died. I figure this has to be their minder. They come back 5 minutes later – computers must be really fast in Honduras – and they ask for their tip, for the amazing work they’ve done so far.

I’m so out of cash now, it’s not even funny, but somehow I still have $40 in my backpack, so I give them that. They both almost lose their shit when they realize that’s all they’re gonna get, and the guy in the pedicab starts walking over. He asks if for realz that’s all the money I have, I swear to the cross it is, and he points to the stash of quarters in the cup holder, and I say, sure, take it. Mr. Nice grabs them, and we say our goodbyes and shake hands and give fake smiles. Needless to say, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth all through Honduras, and when I get to the Nicaragua border 3 and something hours later, I’m happy as can be. Of course, before I even get to park the car in front of the Immigration office, I hear my name yelled by some guy on a motorbike. He’s insistent on helping me cross the border, so I roll my window down and tell him to fuck off – his friends helped me enough.

After I finish the paperwork at Immigration, I hand over my half eaten Little Caesar’s pizza to the gang of kids asking for money outside. They all leave me alone, but not before they insist on giving me high-fives. All in all, this is the fastest border crossing so far, clocking a little under 20 minutes.

photo 1

photo 5

I make my way to León, in Sandinista territory and manage to get lost on all the dark little streets entering town. I open up my guide book to see that I stopped on the one street that has the most popular hostels. They’re all booked, but I find a great little hotel for $40 a night, with breakfast included. I eat dinner and crash after a 12+ hour drive, and overall pretty shitty day. The next morning I sign up for a Volcano-boarding tour – this being the only place in the world it can be done. After hiking for an hour to the top of Cerro Negro (which is still an active volcano, and where if you touch the ground, you almost get burned, it’s so hot). I spend a quick 30 seconds on the way down, eating volcano dust, with my ass on a piece of sheet metal, flying at what seems to be, for sure, supersonic speeds.

photo 4

photo 3

cerro negro

Afterwards, we all get back to the hostel for a complimentary Mojito, and then we are taken in the bed of a truck to the hostel’s beach location, where we wash off the black soot in the Pacific Ocean. I make friends with a group of young, twenty-something Frenchmen, one of which is on leave from the army, after being shot and bombed at a few too many times in the deserts of Afghanistan. Among the many stories he tells – at least on the lighter side – is how bad the food is in the French Army. Anytime they visited the Bagram airbase, they would be in awe of all the food options available to the US Army, and so, would subsequently buy and take with them as many Pizza Hut boxes as they could carry. I’m starting to realize this is a trip of stories, not so much of landscapes.

photo 2

For more pictures and videos, follow @shipwreckrally on Instagram.

These are the personal views and thoughts of the author, and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally LLC.