El Salvador to Nicaragua in a day

20 May

This is not a typical “day in a life of Skyhorse” post. Actually, we did everything we NEVER do on this particular day. We never leave later than 9am on big travel days. We never drive through a country without seeing it first. We never pick up strangers (I freak out). We never drive at night. And these days, we rarely have a full day of driving. But on May 9, we broke all our travel rules and drove from El Salvador, through Honduras and into Nicaragua.

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Our day began at the mechanic outside of San Miguel, El Salvador. They had replaced our rear brake pads, coolant thermostat and air braking system the day before and finished late so we didn’t get a chance to test everything out. At 8am we left the mechanic, headed towards the Honduras border, but didn’t get very far. Brakes were fantastic but the engine was really loud, louder than it had been. So we returned to the mechanic only to realize our muffler hose had busted and the muffler was hanging on by a thread. Super. Surprisingly, all was fixed within 2 and a half hours and they only charged us for parts (mainly because we had been parked there for 2 night and I think they just wanted us to go).

We got on the road at 10:30am and arrived at the Santa Rosa de Lima, El Salvador/El Amatillo, Honduras border at 11:30 to see this:

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back to back standstill of semis. I can’t even relive the annoyance of the 2 hours we spent trying to leave El Salvador but we accomplished nothing in the first hour, except I was told to make like a hundred unnecessary copies. We even had a “helper” which I never use because I find they are more of a hinderance than help. While Helper Jose walked-ran back and forth between where Hani was parked and the start of the line (about 1km), I followed, sweating profusely. At the front of the line was a camper with Florida plates. Turns out Mr. Florida was from Miami and went to my high school (small world). His traveling companions, backpackers from New Zealand, had been traveling with him for the past few weeks. We spoke only briefly because the stress of a border crossing is not conducive to any kind of meeting or lasting friendships. That and Helper Jose had walked away yet again with all my documents in hand. (Don’t ask why he was still holding them–I felt rude and grabby asking for them back, but eventually did).

At the start of hour two, I nearly lost it and told Helper Jose that if he got us out of there within the hour, he would get a big tip. All the sudden, at the mention of money, things started rolling. We walked/sweated back up to the front of the line, I waited and Hani appeared with Skyhorse. Helper Jose pushed to the front of the line and got the border guy to cancel our vehicle permit while all the other helpers stood by. After checking our VIN numbers, our documents and inspecting the outside of Skyhorse and the motorcycle (another 30 minutes), the permit was cancelled and off we drove to exit El Salvador.

It was a confusing 10 minute drive through a town before arriving at the point where they check your passports and you actually exit.

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Then, yay! We arrived at the Honduras border…only to be told that we couldn’t enter there because we have dualies and this entrance was for passenger vehicles only. We had to go back through El Salvador and exit where the giant parking lot of trucks was lined up. I was so upset after the previous 2 hour ordeal, in my blabbering and begging I missed the part where the guy said he’d make an exception and let us pass. This confusion went on for a while until some lady translated for us. Oops.

With assurances that the entrance process into Honduras would be so easy and fast, a border agent handed my stack of paperwork to a lady who turned out to hate me as much as she hated her job. It took 2 hours to enter Honduras, mainly because this lady was so incredibly slow processing the vehicle permit. So while she did whatever she was doing with my paperwork, I got our passports stamped, paid for visas, and paid the dog fee. $87.10 for all of us plus vehicles to enter. For the day.

What was most annoying about this border was the runaround. Nothing was streamlined. The visa lady (in one building) accepts dollars but for the dog and vehicle permit (2 other buildings), you have to pay in local currency. And the bank, where you pay for the vehicle permit, doesn’t exchange dollars. Luckily there are skezzey men (aka money exchangers) everywhere you turn with rates that would rival a traditional bank.

The guy who collected the dog fee needed copies of the pups outdated vaccination forms (which are still the ones we left Key West with) so I pretty pleased my way into using their copier for free in a nice air conditioned room.

When the lady was finally ready with our permit paperwork, I was told to make 6 copies of this, 4 of that, then 2, 2 and 2…. My dog fee guy said “don’t work, be happy” and let me use the copier again. As I made the hundred or so copies, we sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and I impressed him (and myself) by knowing all the lyrics. Then he asked “sabes 2 Live Crew?” and laughed when I told him I was from Miami and starting singing. He put on “Oh Me So Horny” and we jammed in the room while I made my copies. This was definitely the high point of the day!

Finally in a good mood, I proudly went back to the lady with everything paid, receipts, and all the copies she asked for. And that stupid B told me she forgot to give me a form that I need 4 copies of. Ughhh. Seriously?! Thankfully my dog fee buddy was still close by.

An hour and 30 minutes later, we were driving to the entrance of Honduras where they asked for a copy of our vehicle permit. A copy for him?!? Of course the B never mentioned THIS copy. After unsuccessfully trying to sweet talk our way out of it, we had to turn around, drive back to the border madness and make that damn copy. I made 2, just in case.

By this point, it was around 4:00 and we had JUST driven into Honduras. This stretch of Honduras (the pacific side) doesn’t have much to see. It’s the main highway trucks and tourists use when driving the PamAm, so it’s noisy with speeding semis and not great for boondocking. Since everything we want to see in Honduras is on the Caribbean side, we opted to drive the 2 hours through to Nicaragua without stopping. Otherwise, we’d be in for a noisy night parked off the highway.

An hour into the drive, we saw our Florida friend pulled off to the side of the road. He had an accident and his camper was undriveable. So we loaded all his stuff and the New Zealanders into Skyhorse and continued to drive with a packed house.

Exiting Honduras at Guasaule was the polar opposite of our entrance. We arrived after dark (around 7) and outside was super quiet. No money changers. No helpers hounding you. Everything was clearly marked WITH SIGNS! It was unbelievable. One building held everything I needed–one window (with no line) for our exit stamps and another window (again with no line) to cancel the vehicle import. I was amazed. No copies. No one came outside to look at Skyhorse or the moto to compare VIN numbers to make sure we were canceling the right vehicles. In 5 minutes, we were out of Honduras. And really out, not held up somewhere down the road showing the vehicle cancellation papers.

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Arriving at the Nicaragua border was magical as well. In around 40 minutes we got fumigated, bought mandatory insurance, paid for visas (where they accept dollars or cordoba), got our passports stamped and vehicle permit. There were no lines. No money changers or helpers anywhere in sight and they certainly were not needed. I didn’t have to make any copies and it was free (thank god) to get the vehicle permits. No one looked outside at Skyhorse to see if the permit I was requesting was for an actual vehicle.

By 8:30, we were all safe and sound in Nicaragua. It was a very long day but I guess the moral of the story is when you are thrown off your rhythm, good things happen. And cross borders at night. They are less stressful and much more enjoyable.

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