Trip Start Dec 22, 2006
97Trip End Feb 10, 2008
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A few hours had passed since breakfast and we began to get a bit peckish. We walked around the food vendors until we settled on a chelena. This was fried dough stuffed with ground chicken and spices. The chelena was served hot with a smear of mayonnaise and then topped with coleslaw, cheese and a hot tomato sauce. Messy to eat, but delightfully tasty. We packed up from the market and hit the road to the border. It was still quite early and we only had a short distance to go.
There is a 17 kilometre stretch of land from the Guatemalan border to the Honduran border. Not sure why there was such a distance, but the local police presence every 2 kilometres suggested that it was Guatemalan land that needed some extra protection. We faced forward and drove just under the speed limit to avoid unnecessary attention. As we rounded a turn in the road, a massive set of buildings came into view. This was an obvious border crossing, which was such a contrast from the nearly non-existent border on the Guatemalan side. Since we were aware of the vehicle permit issue, our first stop was at Customs, which is called Aduana in Spanish. The Aduana officer was sitting on a chair in front of the building reading a newspaper and seemed rather laid back. Not a busy day for the Aduana we gathered. After exchanging greetings, the officer guided us to his office where he started pulling out paperwork and calling people on the phone asking them to come to his office to escort some people to Puerto Cortez. This was turning out exactly as we had been told. The Aduana officer finished with some arrangements and turned to us to explain. We needed to pay $27 USD for a custodian (aka: babysitter) to ride with us from the border to Puerto Cortez to get our vehicle permit from the Aduana office there. The custodian would travel along to ensure that we actually went to get our required permit and did not just cross the border and start cruising around elsewhere. The fee of $27 USD was non-negotiable and was paid direct to the custodian. The Aduana officer further explained that the price for the vehicle permit in Puerto Cortez did not have a set amount and we could expect to pay at minimum $100 USD. He wished us luck on our travels and in getting a permit. We were whisked out of his office and over to Migracion to have our passports viewed, but not stamped. We enquired further about the stamps and were told that no stamps are issued in Honduras or Nicaragua. This was confusing so we pressed further and were told that there is some new rule between the four countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Rumour has it that our initial stamp for Guatemala allows us 90 days to visit all four countries noted above. It was a shock to us to say the least. We have no idea what will happen if we exceed our 90 day limit, but hopefully the internet can shed some light on this. Not that the 'new rule' is a big deal, as we should hit Panama well before the three month time if we focus our travel plan. After paying a nominal entry fee of $4 CDN per person, the three of us jumped in 'Nilla and headed for Puerto Cortez. Geraldine sat in the back to make room for Oscar "The Custodian". Sounds like some sort of special agent that should have a movie named after him, but he was rather homely looking and did not possess any special gifts or powers.
The actual border crossing was concrete barriers on each side of the road with a pylon placed strategically in the middle.
The road to Puerto Cortez was relatively new and well paved apart from the sections of gravel that had yet to be completed. The gravel patches were few and far between and since Oscar knew where each one was located he gave Michael ample heads up to slow down for them. About half way to Puerto Cortez, Oscar grew tired of the scenery and asked us to play some music. It is understandable that he was not as enthralled as we were to gawk out the windows at the landscape that he no doubt must see countless times in a week, month or year working as a custodian. Music coming right up. Michael searched around and found some good ole country to play. Oscar's face lit up immediately and he learned toward both of us and said "I like country". We were glad. Oscar was a big fan of Kenny Rogers, but we had none of his tunes to play for him. Next time, we must add to the checklist of things to bring....Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits.
We reached Puerto Cortez without incident and Oscar guided use down some rather sketchy roads alongside the docks and main water terminal. The directions to this place escapes us as we made a few lefts, a right and then maybe another left before Oscar motioned for us to stop. We found parking on the street and then the situation go a bit frantic. Oscar jumped from the van with our paperwork, which included the original vehicle registration and ownership document. Taken back, we gathered ourselves and clambered out of the van to follow him. Oscar met up with a group of what appeared to be random guys standing on the sidewalk. Our paperwork was handed over and after the oldest guy reviewed it he asked for our license plate. This was a new one. Oscar pulled out his pocket knife and quickly got down to spinning off the screws and removing the plate. Geraldine and Michael were lost in the middle of this process. We simply walked back and forth along the sidewalk with the group of guys until we were finally taken to a somewhat official looking office. It was here that we realized that vehicle permits must not be an everyday occurrence. There were people everywhere running around with some piece of our personal or vehicle identification. It was like Keystone Cops. People were running up stairs, down stairs, along hallways, into rooms, and out of rooms. We were both tired from trying to get some sort of handle on what was going on and dizzy from trying to keep an eye on our documentation. Defeated, we wandered back to the only office that we knew everyone kept returning to. We simply smiled to hide our frustration at the situation and passed the time by chatting with the one lady in the office who appeared to have a good grasp of what was involved in processing vehicle permits.
From our perch in the hub office, we slowly started to realize a few things. First off we noticed that one of the men in the group seemed to do no more than follow the crowd...with a stamp in his hand. He made no effort to converse with anyone and made no suggestions as to how the process worked; we wondered why 'Stamp Man' was there. Next we noted that the youngest of all the fellows, we affectionately named 'Young Guy', looked like the only one who knew what to do with our paperwork. He would never take the paperwork from anyone and complete the task himself, he merely told all the others which office to go to and which section of the paperwork needed attending to. We began to like Young Guy. The remainder of the men in the group would all repeatedly take charge and then mysteriously disappear.
The biggest issue seemed to be that it was Saturday and the office was to close at noon. In the middle of the confusion, Young Guy asked us for a bit of cash for all of his help. We have been through this game before and told him that we would consider paying him when the paperwork was completed and in our hands. Well, by the time the parade of people were finished running around it was nearly 1:00pm. We had been at Customs for 1.5 hours and from what we could tell only one form had been filled out and Michael's passport was stamped for the vehicle permit. We wondered quietly to ourselves how it could possibly take 1.5 hours to fill out a small sheet of paper and stamp a passport. Realizing that questioning things would not help the situation so we kept quiet and continued smiling. The paperwork was picked up by one of the guys that helped earlier. We call him Mr. Orange. We were escorted by Mr. Orange and Young Guy from the office to the van. As we walked, Mr. Orange told us that the price for all the paperwork was $130 USD. What? We asked him to explain how he arrived at this figure and Mr. Orange simply replied that Customs was closed on Saturday and we needed to pay everyone that helped. We were not that na´ve. Mr. Orange got peppered with questions until we finally told him bluntly that we were aware Customs was open on Saturday and we knew that vehicle permits cost no more than $40 USD at other crossings. We also informed him that he would receive no more than $40 USD from us. He shook his head and refused. Geraldine started to take out money and handed him the $40. He would not accept it and kept telling us that all the people that helped us needed to be paid. Help? All we saw were tons of hands in the cookie jar fighting over the same cookie. Mr. Orange then explained that he had already paid Customs, on our behalf, to release our paperwork. The cost to him was 900 Lempiras. As we had been in the office when he had handed over the money, we accepted this to be true. Not familiar with the exchange rate just yet, we pulled out our currency converter and were delighted to see that L900 roughly equals $49 USD. We graciously threw another $10 USD at him and he begrudgingly accepted it and walked away sputtering some obscenities as us. Before any more could be said or done, we pocketed our paperwork, fired 'Nilla up, and raced away. We drove out of Puerto Cortez as fast as we could to avoid another run in with Mr. Orange and his sidekick Young Guy.
Our next destination was the small village of Omoa, which is located right on the Gulf of Honduras at the south end of the Caribbean Sea. There were no signs leading to the beach at Omoa and we passed the road at least three times before we eventually found it. Along the dirt road to the beach was a quiet hostel called Roli's Place.
We dined in the common eating area and met another traveler Amanda that was staying in the dormitory. Amanda, a native Californian, had been chilling out on the islands of Nicaragua and Honduras for the past 5 months finishing a Dive Masters course. We swapped stories until the lights on the covered porch went out. Oh no! We had read Roli's signs posted all over the hostel notifying that 10:00pm the lights are turned out and that no further socializing is allowed on the premises after 10:30pm.
Where I stayed