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Crossing Honduras

   Jun 27

Crossing Honduras

Crossing the Honduras Border
It did not start good since beginning. My first impression of the Honduras’ Frontera: filthy, corrupt to the bones, and full of human misery (begging grandma’s and children). We did not find a schedule of official fees anywhere in this compound of multiple office buildings. I also found that the Central American Border Crossing Agreement of 2006 does nothing to speed up the process and did not introduce only one customs payment at the entry to Central America that is applicable to all countries. At least it did not in March of 2010. If someone is telling you differently ask for official proof. Lack of it means a scam.
There were not many people waiting this Sunday to cross into Honduras. Yet, the process advanced at snail speed, occasionally not at all.

For us the stories kept changing from Poto, alias Alfredo. Faxing ahead only meant he knew us, but did nothing to speed up the process. Perhaps this will be different other times. The explanations for the delays varied from the system is down to boss went for lunch, etc.

Border Crossing Area

Border Crossing Area

It took us 6 hours to get our permits to cross the country of about 100 miles. Poto was running around all the time sweating like a pig. If he had anything to do with the delay then he must have been a good actor. It was not obvious that he did. Many stayed waiting after we left the miserable parking lot in the midst of the border crossing compound.

Our permits to cross the country came with a condition: we had to exit Honduras same day to avoid substantial fines. It was cutting very close because it was already 6 PM when we finally got the documents. I do not know how it would be to get this permit without a broker like Poto, but it was very ugly as it was. Weighing our (Leonard, Dyala and I) options and risks Dyala was savvy to negotiate a travel companion (Poto’s amigo) to ride with us to the border with Nicaragua. A person would travel with us to make sure that we get the other side without problems. It did not appear this was the first time such an arrangement was made and thanks to Dyala it did not cost us anything extra. It appeared more like an insurance policy if something happens. Once on the road we realized the real value of this travel companion. More below.

In any case, if you wish to use the service of Poto and/or Raul call them ahead 503-775220714 for Raul and for 503-7566258 for Poto depending which direction you come. Keep in mind that for El Salvador there are no official fees and you can do the process all by yourself just fine. Tell Raul that you are a friend of Raivo and I did enjoy very much the hospitality of his family.

My initial impressions about rampant corruption turned out correct. The official schedule of fees was posted at the exit from Honduras, not at the entry. The official customs fees are (copied from the official posting in Honduras’s border with Nicaragua March 2010):
Fee for the car 135 lempiras ($1 = 18.9 lempiras March 2010) – $7.14
Car inspection $30.00 (collected in USD)
Total $37.14

The fee breakdown for a to transit the country by car according to Poto was:
The car inspection $35
The vehicle permit $80
Alberto’s broker fee $30
Payoff to officials $10
Total $155

Leonard had to pay many times over because he had trailer and motorcycle in the trailer as well.

When things are bad you assume they can not get worse. Well, they can, and they will. When we were ready to take off I could not find my truck keys. The ignition key and the key for the bed topper were gone together with the key chain Henry gave me as a present about 29 years ago. I searched everywhere to no avail. I had the spare for the truck, but not for the bed topper. Without the key I can not open it for any inspections, nor can I get to my clothes. Understanding that staying on the parking lot of the border crossing will not cure the situation, I took off with the spare key and the prospect of wearing the same sweaty and sticky socks, underwear, and shirts for the rest of the trip.

Driving through Honduras
The Poto’s buddy person turned out very useful. He knew a few shortcuts on the road (included in the trip tick) that saved us time and he knew how to talk to the local police. The Honduran police was harassing foreign travelers initially every street corner, later in every village. We avoided many long “inspections” and “searches for weapons” because Poto’s buddy said something to the policeman and they instantly pulled their “tail between the legs” and let us go. We never found out what he said.

My first encounter with a policeman was just a block from the exit of the border crossing area. He was not even asking for my passport and transit permit. Instead he was asking me to show him the emergency triangle and was very disappointed to see that I had one. Then he asked for a fire extinguisher. I did not have one and he was visibly happy about the big propina he will squeeze out of me. Too bad for him Leonard happened to have an extra and he gave me his. It was funny to see the police’s jaw dropping in disappointment. At this time the Poto’s amigo said something and he just went away.

We had to pass countless police checkpoints after that. Poto’s amigo was driving ahead of me with Leonard and the corrupt bloodhounds of Hondura’s police disappeared from my window without usual politeness’s as soon as he told them whatever he did. This was the first time during the whole trip I did not feel safe.

The people of Honduras look poor and hopelessness is clearly written on their face. Poverty is unimaginable. Few locals we talk to on the border crossing were unambiguously blaming the previous president (our Obama’s buddy) for their troubled situation. It is apparent that fixing his legacy will take some time and perhaps more violence and changes at the top of the country.

On the Road in Honduras

On the Road in Honduras

One difference from Guatemala and El Salvador is that Honduras’s agriculture is suffering from drought. We saw animals (cows and horses) dying on the fields with no grass and no water. They look like zombies with only skin and bone sticking out everywhere. Many houses are literally built of cardboard boxes; in the villages, people are cooking on the open fire having couple of cardboard’s tied up to a tree to cover them from sun outside, next to their shack. The road we drove is narrow, but pavement is in good condition. There wasn’t much traffic Sunday evening and we made good time despite frequent police checkpoints.
Last section of the trip through the country was a long and steep climb into the mountains. It got dark. Finally we were approaching the exit facilities. Despite late hours there are dozens of kids begging money or offering to watch or wash your car for a dollar because they have not had anything to eat this day.
We are out of Honduras quickly although fees are higher than elsewhere.
In addition, due to unexpected cost of Hondura’s border crossings I am running out of cash and nothing is open late Sunday night. Hopefully, I can find Monday a bank with ATM machine. Not a pleasant day.

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