27 August, 2012

Day 54, 310km: Border gymkhana

Again I was the first at breakfast when it started at 6am. I guess it will become an habit anytime there's borders involved. Although I didn't eat much. The stories of mugging along the road, scams and hassle by the helpers when going into Honduras that I had read the evening before left a twist in my stomach.

The road towards the border itself (infamous border of El Amatillo) was from what I red dangerous, with frequent mugging going on. So I was rather anxious taking off from the hotel, on my way to the border between the two most dangerous countries in Central America (if not of the Americas).

It was only 6am when I left though, and I was thinking that thugs probably don't wake up this early. Still, I was extremely cautious on the road and basically raced to the border, my eyes scanning the bushes ahead and my mirrors for a potential pick-up full of thugs. It was a stressful ride. Maybe I was overly anxious but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Ridiculous amounts of paperwork
Arriving at the border, I felt I could go through the process without any trouble thanks to the excellent information written up by Logan and Briana. And I had another bullet, this one for the helpers. I found this thread on ADV with pictures of the crooked helpers (apparently some can be legitimately "hired" if you're careful enough).

Arriving at the border itself, same thing as the day before. Helpers waving and asking me to stop. I used the same "move or I ran over you" strategy to get without trouble to the Salvadorian exit. Again, they came along when I parked. Then it was a bit different from yesterday...

After a series of "no necessita ayuda", each more insistent and loud than the previous one, one of them looked at my plates. They are Canadian plates, remember I started the trip in British Colombia. Well the helper's geography of North America was lacking and he started telling his friends I was from Colombia.
I realized that they were thinking I was Colombian, and I (silently, for fear of letting them hear my lousy accent) played along and they quickly went away. I have stickers saying "Soy Frances" but I guess they were too dumb to notice.

The exit paperwork was quick and event-less, I made my way towards the Honduras entry.

El Amatillo border crossing
Well that place is a mess. Again, the scum of the earth welcomed me and waved at me to stop in random places. I knew where I was going and parked right in front of the aduana (customs). Now what's next was a fun moment.

Half a dozen helpers came along, all of them really had your typical gangster face. I didn't want to have anything to do with them and had to act quickly. I thought I recognized one guy from the crooked helpers photo I've seen the day before on the web board called ADV. So I pointed and laughed at him saying he was an internet superstar. It had the desired effect, the other helpers joined, and laughed at him with me. They didn't even bother offering their services.
The guy I pointed at looked pissed and walked away. The others were still laughing and asked me on which website we could see the guy's photo. I told them to go to www.ducon.com (you idiot, in French). Now that I'm checking they're is actually a company called Ducon, haha that'll confuse them.

A couple more helpers came shortly after and I told them I would make them famous on internet, pointing at my camera. That scared them and I was free to walk around the place.
A few minutes after I saw the actual guy who was on ADV and realized I was mistaken earlier. Laughed at him too, but he already knows he is famous. :)

So basically I was laughing at crooks at El Amatillo. But it worked, they left me alone. Still, I was regularly checking on the bike, you never know how they can react for being laughed at.

The customs bank, Banco de Occidente
I'm posting the photo above to help fellow travelers. This is the Banco de Occidente, where you'll have to pay the $35 fee for temporary import of your motorcycle. This is the bank for the Honduras customs at El Amatillo. It is located on the left of the blue building, so that is the opposite side of the aduana building. You will have to pay your fee there if you arrive during the week. The fee is to be paid in Lempira only. If you arrive on the weekend you can pay at the aduana directly in USD (they'll issue a receipt too).

El Amatillo immigration building, closed for renovation (August 27, 2012)
Again, the immigration and customs staff were very polite, honest and helpful. What an horrible job they have, processing paperwork all day long in the middle of crooks and thugs. I really take my hat off to these people.
I guess they have their own little commerce going on with commercial import, however.

Honduras Pan American highway, near the border with El Salvador
Then I basically raced across the country. World's highest murder rate, I had no intention whatsoever to stop nor visit any place. Maybe I was overly cautious, but again I'd better be safe than sorry. The only stops were for the one photo above and the one below!

Honduras Pan American highway, near the border with Nicaragua
I red the day before that for crossing into Nicaragua, the border of El Espino (CA-1) is a much better choice than Guasaule (CA-3). Well I can vouch for this. Very few people, clean place, modern buildings. The only helper who showed up was a kid.

Honduras immigration and customs building
So again if a fellow traveler reads this, go to El Espino. The Honduras border lady at El Amatillo was right when she told me this place is safe and hassle-free. Just know that the Nicaragua side is closed for lunch between 12pm and 1pm...! Since I arrived shortly before noon, I tried to get some lunch there. There was a single restaurant, filled with truckers waiting as well. The restaurant asked for US$6 for a plate of rice and chicken. Told them "no soy estupido, qual es el precio normal?" but they wouldn't serve me food for cheaper, probably because my accent was so bad, haha. So I didn't eat there...

Gracias senor
You need insurance to enter Nicaragua apparently (though the customs didn't ask for it). There were two kids selling it there, each from a different company. They both said it was $12 for 30 days. Asked what discount they were willing to give. One lowered his price to $11 and the other kept it at $12.
So I purchased the one from the kid who kept it at $12, thinking the two knew each other very well and the first one who dropped his price was being a dick.

Nested import, I wonder what the paperwork looks like for this
2 hours after arriving at the border I was free to go. (This seems to be a rather "standard" amount of time required for borders).

The rain welcome me in Nicaragua
A few kilometers after the border, I was stopped by the police. They were stationed on top of a long and steep hill and told me I crossed the continuous lane to take-over a pick-up (which I did) and that it was illegal (which it is). I had red on the French embassy in Nicaragua's website that the police here is safe and respected so I thought there was no point in playing games with them.

I recognized the infraction, gave them my permit and the officer starting filling his paperwork. He told me I had to pay 300 Cordoba (US$13) and that I should pay at the bank in town and come back to him to get my license. That might be true. I asked if there was any way I could pay here where I was stopped instead.
He got the hint, looked at his buddy (who nodded) and continued to pretend to fill paperwork until there were no cars around. Then the price was US$20, which would go directly into his pocket of course.
I tried negotiating the price down but he didn't agree. He had my license so I didn't have any leverage.

Lesson learned, Nicaraguan police isn't as incorruptible as my government says it is and I should start talking bribes before handing over any document.

After that I was back on my way to Esteli, somewhere in the highlands of northern Nicaragua where I'm now staying for the night.
That was a stressful day, I'm glad that the next border is with Costa Rica where I shouldn't have to deal with these sorts of things.

Have a great week ahead everyone,
Guillaume

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