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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
I’ve driven only a few kilometers into Honduras when I see some military guys stand up from the shade of a tree and wave me down, obviously waiting for a tourist to come along. I initially stop in the middle of the road again, but they are very forceful about having me move onto the shoulder, so I obey. The youngest of the three, who can’t be more than 17 comes over to the window and goes through the usual routine. First he gets my (copied) license then starts demanding a fire extinguisher and triangle. I immediately produce the fire extinguisher, but make him work really hard to earn my understanding of triangle, “triangular” in Spanish. I say “no entiendo” so many times even I’m sick of hearing it while he goes off on a big tale about how a triangle is used in the event of a flat tire, while kicking one to emphasize his point. I immediately light up and happily tell him in a horrible accent that I have 5 tires, grinning madly while pointing to the spare on the back.
I really am kind of having fun now and the kid knows that he has no chance at all to tell me what he wants. Finally he resorts to blatantly asking me for money, begging for it. He’s so young for a split second I feel like giving it to him, but still continue with my not understanding bit. Eventually he waves me on and in my mirror I see his buddies give him a hard time when he returns empty handed.
Driving across Honduras was by no means in my plans from the start, though lately it has just felt like the right thing to do. All the books I have read, and the travelers I have spoken to basically say the only reason to go to Honduras is the North Coast, which is only worthwhile if you want to pay to get out in to the Bay Islands. I thought about driving through the heart of the country to check it out, but my books said all of the towns are unsafe after dark and it would have meant a lot of back-tracking. I think it’s a bit of a failure to drive across a country in one go, without even getting out once or meeting a single person.
So be it.
This military bribery routine is repeated twice more, in more or less similar circumstances and always with the same outcome of me being waved through with all my money in my pocket. One guy tries to work the angle of me not having a number plate on the front of the Jeep, another wants to know if I have a jack. One of the stops has more of an official air about it and the guy very politely asks to see all my documentation, asks a few quick questions about my origin and destination and waves me through in less than 30 seconds. I gather this is the “authorized” checkpoint and the others are just military guys doing what they want. It’s extremely hot, dry & dusty here reminding me a lot of Mexico and the thermometer hanging in the Jeep holds at 40 °C (100 °F) for the entire day.
I turn off the main highway, aiming for the border crossing at El Espino and am immediately happy about my decision. The Pan American Highway here is excellent and has almost zero traffic, the convoy of enormous trucks having continued on to the much busier border crossing at Gausaule. The road immediately begins to climb and for 45 minutes I drive up a very impressive windy mountain road, without a single military checkpoint in sight. I thoroughly enjoy this part of Honduras, and briefly think about spending a night somewhere, though no hotels present themselves.
I roll up to the Nicaraguan border about 2 hours after I entered Honduras and am so surprised by what I find I have to ask someone if this is the actual border. It’s very clean and quiet and not a single person hassles me. I’m really happy I came up to this border, probably the nicest I have seen yet.
Here I go, aiming for country number three in a single day…