We're on the move again. Today we are going to ride through the Honduras, tackling both borders in a single day. We've absolutely enjoyed riding around Central America - the people, culture and geography here are wonderful. The only exception - that Twilight Zone between countries, where a deluge of helpers, documents and stamps, money changers, photocopies and queues threaten to spoil all the good impressions we've had so far.
Neda is not one to be Bullied around on the road!
This is our second time through, having done this same crossing at the same place just 7 months ago. That time was under great duress - we were in a rush to meet the Stahlratte in Panama, I had a full-blown flu and was running a high fever while on the bike, and we were bickering and arguing at each border crossing. This time around, we're going to use all our lessons learned from the first time and try to make this crossing more enjoyable.
"I am not a crook!"
Most important lesson: Be prepared. Give yourself lots of time. Get to the border early. Have all your photocopies ready. Avoid Hanger (Hunger+Anger) Management Issues: arrive on a full stomach, bring lots of water and snacks.
We approach the west border separating El Salvador and Honduras around 9:30AM. It's already hot and we're thankful that we've brought a lot of water. About a km away before the actual border lies the El Salvador Aduana booth, where we have to cancel our vehicle permit. Dozens of people come running towards our bikes, looking like some angry mob. But they're not angry. They want to help us cross the border. For money, of course...
We know the drill by now, the helpers urge us to pull over, motioning to the side of the road. We make a game out of it, swerving around them like pylons. Some of them start to chase our bikes, like paparazzi stalking Justin Bieber. When we pull in front of the Aduana booth, they launch into their spiel: "This is the hardest border crossing in the world!", "Is impossible! Cannot cross without my help", "One does not simply ride into Honduras"...
First stop: Get El Salvador vehicle permit canceled
Neda strides purposefully to the Aduana booth, using her superhuman Spanish skills to stymie the helpers swarming around her. Concerning all matters regarding the Espanol, I am the sidekick: the Robin to her Batman, the Watson to her Sherlock Holmes, the Wilson to her Castaway... Neda has given me the UberImportant task of keeping guard over the bikes while she attends to business. This is the action-movie equivalent of being told to stay in the van during the exciting fight scenes.
So I devise a way to amuse myself while she does Superhero stuff. I am going to document step-by-step how to cross one of the most frustrating borders in Central America, if not the world. And I'm going to take lots of pictures. Because I do that anyway...
Aduana completed, we head to the Immigration to get our passports stamped out
The "helper" industry is big business. Although you wouldn't know it from the prices they charge. Some offer their border crossing services for $5. Ignore them long enough and they lower the price to $1. Before you go thinking that's a great deal, the reality is that the helper will broker all transactions between you and the officials, so if a fee actually costs $3 USD, they will tell you it will cost $15 and pocket the extra $12. And there are many transactions to complete at the border (some are even no-cost, but your helper won't tell you that). Officially, it should only cost $38 USD to cross the border with yourself and a motorcycle. However, I've heard horror stories of travelers paying $150-$200 *MORE* than they should have at this border crossing! Big business.
They mainly target non-Spanish-speakers. Often they'll point to fancy (and some not so fancy) laminated badges that they wear around their necks implying that they are officials of some sort. If you look closely at some of the badges, you will see that the pictures printed on them might not even match the face of the badge-wearer! LOL!
After getting stamped out of El Salvador, we've got to get stamped into Honduras
Another species of border dwellers are money changers - CambioGuys - who roam around with big wads of bills in their hands. They provide a foreign currency exchange service and their exchange rate is very good. Very good for them. Not for you. They are all in collusion with each other not to compete for rates, so don't bother shopping around.
Some of the more unscrupulous CambioGuys carry large calculators which they will use to calculate how much money you will get at today's exchange rate. Except when they hit the "=" button, the calculator is rigged in their favour to short-change you. To avoid being scammed, ask them the exchange rate, then use *YOUR OWN* calculator.
I heard another great tip: If you haven't planned wisely and still have a lot of the local currency when you hit the border, don't use a CambioGuy. Instead, try to find another traveler coming from the other direction and exchange money with them, since you'll both need the currency from where you both came from and you can use the official exchange rate to both your benefits.
Assortment of helpers and CambioGuys stare helplessly as Neda completes Aduana (customs) by herself
Between pestering Neda for information on what she has just done at every stage so I can complete my How-To document, I am given a new task: Waterboy. I really have to pick up this Espanol-language thing if I'm ever going to make it out of the van...
Finally, after two hours, the Holy Grail of overland travelers: Temporary Vehicle Permit for Honduras
Familiar sight at border crossings: food stalls and photocopy places
Finally we cross the border, and we run into the Iguana Motorcycle Club from Honduras!
Riding the Pan American highway through Honduras
200 kms later, we reach the eastern border of Honduras
There are not a lot of helpers at the Honduras/Nicaragua border. You can always tell how difficult and complicated the border crossing will be by how many helpers swarm you.
I like how all the border crossing buildings are colour-co-ordinated!
Every picture of Neda I have today is of her lined up at some booth!
How nice of the fumigation guy to Armor-All our tires... :(
Yay! We're in Nicaragua!
If you are a planning to travel through Honduras with a vehicle, you can view the step-by-step write-up on how to bypass the helpers and do-it-yourself (even with little or no Spanish) in our Questions section here: