Retire Smarter

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Through El Salvador to Honduras

   Jun 22

Through El Salvador to Honduras

Crossing the El Salvador Border

One of the tramitors – Raul – spoke English. He had worked for years illegally in Los Angeles, but kicked out by INS recently. He was somewhat helpful translating the fast Spanish of the officials, but I did fine without him as well. Raul showed me where the visa window was and I was done in a minute. He showed me where the guy with copy machine was and again, I was done in a minute.

The officials were very friendly and accommodating once they understood that I am at a junior novice level in Spanish. I  walked to aduana (customs) office. Aduana officers were very busy and ignored me for an hour. Smelling infinite wait I told Raul to show me his service is worth paying for. He tried to get attention of one of the officers he probably knew, but did not have any more success than I did. Finally, the guy guarding the room suggested me to write my name in the log book, get the number  and sit down until my number is called. Ok thanks, how am I supposed to know how it works here!

While waiting my turn I started talking to other people in waiting line. A truck driver now working in Texas came back home in El Salvador for vacation. Two young car exporters from Costa Rica were on their trip back from Chicago with a bunch of small junk trucks. Canadian couple Leonard and his tica (Cost Rican) wife Dyala were on their road to Costa Rica and then Panama. I learned from Leonard that his motivation to choose Panama matches exactly mine likewise his motivation to leave Canada for retirement. Leonard is a year older then me. They had already taken a road trip down with their car and left it stored in Panama customs warehouse in David. They sold their house in Alberta and were driving down with a camper on a diesel Dodge RAM pulling a giant enclosed trailer with all their belongings they wanted to take with them. Besides regular stuff this included  a serious cruiser motorcycle, Italian furniture etc. The camper and the trailer were loaded to the brink and visibly heavy.

Leonard offered to drive together with them. It was easy to agree for many advantages this gave me. Dyala is a native Spanish speaker and appeared a person who gets things done her way. Also, they had recently taken the same route and were much more familiar with actual road and border conditions.

Once my turn came the rest went fairly fast. The lady did not care what is in the trucks bed, just truck itself. She filled up the form and some 10 minutes later I was handed the permit and good to go.

It took me 4 hrs to pass El Salvador aduana, but the border crossing into El Salvador costs nothing. Raul offered us to fax our documents to his buddy Poto on the next border so that Poto can prepare all documents and guide us through fast and painless into Honduras. For $10 it sounded pretty good deal and little to lose. Leonard and me went for this.

Driving through El Salvador

While waiting I asked Raul where can I find Internet connection. My last night in the Guatemala “love hotel” I had no chance to tell my wife I am still alive. Raul offered his house. I was done and Raul showed me the way on his bicycle. It was close. He returned to show Leonard to the same for us to continue together. Raul’s house is where I sent out one of the stories and did some other emailing until Leonard arrived with his giant entourage.

Raul’s modest but solid house is right on the highway. He lives there with his mother, three brothers and three pretty little sisters. Raul is the oldest. I was sitting on the porch and his brother handed me over the Ethernet cable from his desktop computer in the only room of the house. Raul’s mother was cooking something for the kids on the open fire while I was typing away on the laptop my son donated for my trip.

Raul had been driving trucks in Los Angeles for many years working for a moving company. Obviously feeding the family. He is thinking of trying to go back next year if the economy improves. I advised him to rather look into similar opportunities in Panama or Costa Rica where is knowledge of language would be an asset while dealing with the gringos moving down.

Everyone in El Salvador accepts dollars. Gas is expensive, but they measure it in gallons and the prices are posted in dollars. You do not need to exchange money to pass El Salvador if USD is your currency.

Roads in El Salvador are good. They go through the villages and towns and have some RV’s, but fewer. Frequently the shoulders are narrow. Traffic is not heavy, but it is restricted by the same sugar cane trucks with very tall beds pulling long trailers that are also tall. Like in Guatemala sugar cane trucks define the speed limit.

Crossing a Village in El Salvador

Crossing a Village in El Salvador

People are very nice, friendly and forthcoming. Yet, when you see businesses and hotels you also see armed guards (sometimes many) with shotguns at the entrances and around the territory of the business. It is obvious that not everyone is friendly and peaceful.

El Salvador Coastal Highway

El Salvador Coastal Highway

The coastal road we took reminds me of European resorts. The views from the road high on the rocks growing straight up from the coast is breathtakingly beautiful.
A View from the Coffee Shop

A View from the Coffee Shop

Probably not everything is working perfectly for businesses in this region, but like everywhere in the world people are infinitely resourceful working around the problems.

An Innovative Solution to Water Supply Problem

An Innovative Solution to Water Supply Problem

The coastal road is tattered with frequent tunnels as it is literally hugging the rocks growing steep out of the ocean.

Tunnels on Coastal Highway

Tunnels on Costal Highway

By the end of the day we reached close to the border with Honduras. We ended up driving into dark in search of the hotel. Leonard’s wife, Dyala is wonderful resource as she can freely speak with locals and ask directions. Nevertheless Leonard missed a turn in dark. There was no way for him to turn around on this road with the trailer, much longer than the width of the road. He had to back up the truck with the trailer quite some yards. I turned around and showed him the road with my lights. In situations like that it is very helpful to have more than one vehicle in the team. On one of the turns Leonard got too close to the curb and picked up a number of nails. His truck’s left front tire deflated in a few seconds. We had to stop at the side of the road with no lights and replace it with the spare. Again I turned around and pointed my headlights toward the work area for light.

Once road ready again Dyala got directions from the locals for a nice hotel 7 km from where we were. It turned out to be the La Union (town) Comfort Inn. We were greeted there by a team of dozen gunmen holding shotguns ready to shoot. It must be quite serious although no-one in the hotel admitted there is a problem. This way or other we felt safe and hungry. The restaurant was still open.

After the meal we were hanging out late in the restaurant. Dyala was a process engineer many years for Pfizer in Costa Rica. Her job was to measure and analyze processes for improvement. She is an expert in using computers for that purpose. Leonard ran handful of construction and insurance companies. He never experienced the value of computers for his businesses. Both, Leonard and Dyala have strong opinions and conflicting experience on the same issue. We ended up arguing until late night about the usefulness of computers.

With first light in the morning I realized how pretty of a spot the hotel is built.

Morning Views from Hotel

Morning Views from the Hotel

First thing in the morning Leonard discovered that one of the trailer tires had a nail in it as well and was almost empty. We had to fix the tires before proceeding to the border. It was Sunday morning. The hotel suggested to call a cab, take the wheels to a shop in town as the safest approach.
Fixing Tires at Hotel

Fixing Tires at Hotel

One of the hotel staff unmounted the trailer tire and an hour later fixed tires were ready to be put back to service. We headed toward the border with Honduras looking for Poto – the man Raul faxed our documents. The contrast of hotel garden and rural landscape of El Salvador for substantial and depressing.

Desert Like Landscape Approaching Honduras

Desert Like Landscape Approaching Honduras

Poto found us at the approach. He was one of the tramitors not an customs official like Raul introduced him. Possible, Raul had never met him. Our exit from El Salvador was painless and fast. With or without Poto’s help.

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