Sunday, December 14, 2008

I hella hate Honduras


I know my opinion is very biased since we didn't see any of the highlights Honduras does offer. However, if your only experience with Honduras is driving through on your way to Nicaragua, you may find yourself feeling the same way. Our plan was to leave Guatemala and head to the Pacific coast of El Salvador for some surfing, and looking at the map we had two options. We could take a longer route driving south through Guatemala directly to El Salvador, or take the faster beeline from our location at Rio Dulce straight down to the Pacific. It sounds like a simple decision, except that the shorter route passes through a small stretch of Honduras for only 20 kilometers (15 miles). This would force us cross two borders in one day. “No problem!”, Kristin and I agreed. Borders can be a pain, but how bad could it be?

Semi trucks parked halfway on the roadway as we neared the Guatemala-Honduras border forced us to crawl along the pothole-choked road. We soon found ourselves in the middle of a dirty place of mayhem, with men sprinting after our car and crowding around us yelling to get our attention. The men in this welcome party want to “assist” you across the border. For a fee you get to hand over your passport, car title, registration and a wad of cash, then hope they return after an hour or so with your paperwork completed. Men banged on our windows while others stood in the parking lot trying to wave us in. To add to the confusion, very few of the government officials working at this border wear uniforms, making it hard to weed out the hustlers from the officials.

Getting our Honduran vehicle import permit turned out to be even more fun that we expected. We entered a dark, dingy room filled with cardboard boxes overflowing with old documents. There we spent an over an hour waiting for a T-shirt clad official to work on our paperwork, as he was interrupted every few minutes by a sweaty man handing him wads of cash. After finishing, he asked us for $100 US dollars for a processing fee, which caused Kristin to start yelling “that is not correct” in Spanish. One of the few uniformed officials overheard her complaints and told us that price was indeed incorrect, and we only needed to pay $40. I naively expected that the person attempting to extort us to be led out of the building in handcuffs. Instead, the crooked official walked us over to border guards, handed them our completed paperwork, and shook my hand. Just like the police who tried to squeeze money out of us in Mexico, once the gig is up, you are given a firm handshake and called their amigo. The grin he had on his face seemed to say “I almost got sixty bucks off you, but you caught me! You have to give me credit for trying through, eh?”

Our opinion of Honduras worsened when the police at a roadblock several miles from the border motioned us to pull over. After taking Kristin's driver's license, the policeman asked us if we had a fire extinguisher and orange safety triangle, which we did not. He then claimed that Honduran law requires all drivers to have these items in their car, and he would need to confiscate Kristin's license until we paid a fine. I did not catch the exact amount of the fine since the number was much larger than we were used to dealing with. I did hear the word miles, which means thousands, so the price was equivalent to at least one hundred US dollars. He quickly pointed out that all of this could be taken care right here by giving him $30 directly. At this point I got so mad I could no longer pronounce any words in Spanish, but through Kristin I insisted that we would be happy to pay any fine the next day at a police station, but would give nothing to the policeman himself. He dropped his “fee” from $20 down to $5, but we held our ground. I finally used the last ditch effort I picked up from Tom and Kelsey. I pulled out a sheet of paper and a pen, then asked him his name and number as if I was going to report this issue. It worked, and he grudgingly handed Kristin's license back, and we continued on our way. Luckily we are from the United States, a country with some clout. I did hear an unfortunate story from an El Salvadoran where he said that the police in Mexico handcuffed him, drove him and his vehicle to a side road, then searched his car until they found $500 USD he had hidden. The police in Mexico knew that the government of El Salvador would never have the resources to investigate into a missing five hundred dollars.

Crossing the El Salvador-Honduras border on our way to Nicaragua, we had to go through a different but just as painful process again. This border was located on a river, where women sat on rocks washing clothes while a pig rooted his way through garbage along the riverbank. On the Honduras side of the bridge we were stopped by a guard sporting a wooden stock automatic weapon that would look more at home in a museum. We parked our car in the middle of the bridge blocking one of the two lanes as we were told, and entered a small single room cement building that smelled like urine. The only furnishings in the building were 3 yellowed official looking documents taped to the wall and a rickety wooden desk. The official inside sat at the desk working on our paperwork in between what seemed to be personal phone calls on his mobile phone. I looked out the small window on the back of the building to gaze upon a tree covered slope filled with more piles of trash. Welcome to Honduras!

12 comments:

  1. No offense folks, but you'll need to relax and accept these kinds of things in Latin America. In fact, you can almost certainly expect much worse before your trip is done. Remember that you are driving a really nice vehicle through some really poor counties. You may as well be wearing t-shirts that say "Fleece me, I am a rich American".

    IMO, nothing that happened to you in Hondouras seems unusual to me; certainly nothing serious enough to qualify Honduras as hellish. Like you, I also had to learn the hard way to relax and expect the "bureaucratic" hassles that are typical in that area of the world.

    Learning to speak Spanish is the one important thing that you have done. The single most important thing, however, is to learn to identify with the cultural differences that you will encounter as opposed to resisting them.

    Just my two cents,

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having completed the trip, crossed 14 borders in North, Central, and South America over 16 months, I can say hands down that Honduras was by far the worst experience. This was far more than the usual bureaucratic nonsense and commonplace minor corruption. Has nothing to do with 'culture' - I think it's in fact insulting to Hondurans to claim that this has anything to do with the culture in Honduras.

      Delete
  2. hey guys...argh!!!! I am so not excited to try and cross the Honduras border, hopefully we look like surf bums so they won't hassle us too much. Did you ever figure out what you should have paid to get your permit?

    ReplyDelete
  3. PS glad the tricked worked out for you AND we love the new look...god you guys are so fancy ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. We did find a posted document the second time we crossed the border, the price was about $42 dollars. You can pay in Limpiras or US Dollars. We posted information on this at www.drivetheamericas.com.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My husband and I are planning to move from Cali. to Peru. I'm going to fly, he's going to drive with a friend in his truck. He's from Peru originally, so he's used to police and gov trying to take advantage. He's pretty excited about the journey, but I'm a nervous reck. I know there are some really dangerous areas on the way. Our biggest concern is the road conditions. Also, we can't seem to find any info about the roads that go from Panama to Columbia. Any advice?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think I have to respectfully disagree with the above comments on our experience in Honduras. While our other border crossings into Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua haven't exactly been fun, they were a breeze compared to Honduras. We have now met three other people who have had similarly awful experiences that were unique to Honduras. One person had someone back into their car, and then the police threatened to throw him in jail if he didn't just leave. The others felt similarly irritated by the crowds of people chasing them down the street as well as the extra-high level of corruption and graft they experienced from the border officials. And honestly, I think it's pretty insulting to the Honduran people to say this was a 'cultural misunderstanding.' We in no way think our experience reflects on the people of Honduras, just how poorly the Honduran government treats tourist (and probably treats their own population with even more disregard).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your husband is going to have a great time driving to Peru - we have had a wonderful time so far and the slight irritations of having to deal with corrupt police every once in a while are minor compared to how much fun we are having. We too were a little freaked out when we crossed the Mexican border, just because it was so different from what we had known in the US. But we quickly became comfortable with the road conditions and drivers. We of course are careful, don't drive at night, don't pick up hitchhikers, and ask locals about road conditions. The roads here are smaller and often aren't in the best of condition, but have been very driveable.

    As for your question about Colombia to Panama, there is no road. The Darien Gap is a 40 mile gap in the road. We will be shipping our car by container ship from Panama to Ecuador, and we think this will be one of the harder things we will have to do on our trip. There is a fair bit of paperwork and wrangling to be done. We should be crossing the gap at the beginning of March, so will post more information on this process when we have accomplished it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a shame that you have this view of Honduras. We drove the Inter American Highway the first time we drove to Costa Rica, and the border crossings were horrendous. But when we were in CR, we talked to another couple who had driven down several times, and they suggested taking the interior route. What a difference! It eliminates the two worst border crossings on the whole route, in and out of El Salvador. I have nothing against El Salvador, mind you, except for the traffic in San Salvador. But this way, we discovered the Ruins of Copán, where we were want to linger for several days when we passed through because it is such a lovely place. Driving through Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are not as bad as they sound, and sometimes going what looks like a long ways out of the way is the better path.

    Julie in Patagonia

    ReplyDelete
  9. oops - Reading a bit more of your blog, and the comments, my memory has been jarred, and it was the border crossings on both ends of Honduras along the Inter American Highway that were so aweful, not the one coming into El Salvador. However, we never had any probems at the inland border crossings at each end of Honduras. In fact, the one at La Florida, which is where tourists regularly come and go from Guatemala to go to the ruins, was alway a total breeze. There's just something about that coastal route - the heat, maybe?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the information about driving - we were in a bit of a hurry to get to Nicaragua to meet friends so we had to take the quickest route from El Salvador to Nicaragua: the coastal route across Honduras. We will add this really useful information to our wiki about driving in Latin America, Drive the Americas.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.