Into Honduras

It’s finally time to leave The Surfers Inn at Playa El Sunzal, and even the Jeep is reluctant to move on – she has a flat battery from all the laptop charging I’ve been doing without starting the engine. A couple of the guys give me a push and we move off with no problems.

I drive way up into the mountains in El Salvador to the town of Perquin, where the government opposition force, the FMLN had their headquarters. The town itself is not much to look at, and with the help of an American in the peace core I manage to find a beautiful campsite on the side of the Rio Sapo, which has amazing swimming beaches and rock pools.

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The beautiful Rio Sapo

I’m up early the next morning anticipating a big day of travel – just how big it would turn out to be I have no idea. I stop for gas before the Honduran border and the attendants love the map on the hood and we strike up a great conversation. I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about the military trying to bribe tourists in Honduras, including Rupert who ended up in handcuffs. The guys here tell me the two most common scams are asking you if you have a fire extinguisher and a safety triangle to put on the road in case of an emergency. When you fail to produce them they bribe some money out of you on the threat of arresting you or impounding your vehicle. The gas station immediately before the border sells both and for $16 USD I splash out and purchase them in the hope of avoiding some conflict throughout the day. I actually wanted a fire extinguisher from day one, so it’s about time I got one and the triangle is kind of fun to play with for about 3 seconds.

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Camping in the mountains of El Salvador, by the Rio Sapo

Even at the gas station guys are trying to “assist” me with the crossing, saying it will take hours without their help and only 20 minutes with. I repeat “no thanks” about a hundred times. Driving up to the El Amatillo border I pass a very long ling of trucks waiting for inspection and pull over at the little shack to cancel my El Salvadorian Jeep paperwork. I need a copy of a form and as usual, an enterprising person has set up a stand with a photocopier just where it’s needed. The guy seems pretty proud of being able to charge the exorbitant fee of 5 cents a copy.

Moving along I arrive at the actual border, where I park and start the process. For unknown reasons the immigration guy spends quite a while typing in my info to the computer and clicking around just so I can leave El Sal. Then a guy wearing a uniform and with ID says I have to pay $3 USD to enter Honduras and he’ll give me a semi-official looking receipt. I don’t really believe him, thinking that the CA-4 stamp in my passport gives me free travel between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Knowing I’m going to spend most of the day arguing with people trying to take my money and that fact that it’s only $3 makes me pay it so I can move on.

I leave El Sal no problems, drive over a bridge and find myself in a dry, dusty, shady-looking town that is Honduras. Everyone says immigration is immediately on my right, which I don’t see and eventually circle back around and get directions into an unsigned plain white office building. Realizing I’ll have to spend a long time inside away from the Jeep I walk straight over to the security guard with the pump-action shotgun and ask him to keep an eye on things for some cash, to which he happily agrees.

The paperwork trail begins and I almost fall over when the guy asks for the receipt for the $3 I paid earlier – apparently that thing was legit and I really was supposed to pay it. I’m glad I didn’t argue for too long.
Before all is said and done, the following papers are shuffled.

  • 3 copies of my passport main photo page
  • 3 copies of the registration for the Jeep
  • 3 copies of my drivers license
  • 3 copies of receipt number one that I pay 135 Lempiras ($7 USD) at the bank
  • 3 copies of receipt number two that I pay 500.72 Lempiras ($26 USD) at the bank
  • 3 more copies of my passport, with a new stamp and the $3 USD receipt from earlier

A very brief inspection of the Jeep follows, I receive a very official-looking piece of paper and I’m free to move along, which I do eagerly.

Literally a hundred meters down the road three military guys wave me down, which is not unusual this close to the border. I intentionally stop in the driving lane, don’t kill the engine and don’t get out. In the first three seconds the guy wants my license and once he has it demands to see my fire extinguisher. I smugly produce it, still in it’s box and with price sticker clearly visible. Not to be deterred he quickly asks for my triangle, which I once again get out, still in it’s box, price sticker front and centre. He quickly pulls it out and is very happy to announce that I in fact need two of them, and one is not good enough. I decide to play another card and start replying to everything with “No entiendo” (I don’t understand) He goes on a rambling tale for five minutes about how I must have two triangles and I’ll have to goto the nearby bank to get money to give to him for the fine. I interject every sentence or two with more “No entiendo” and my best blank-trying-hard-to-understand look.

He starts to get frustrated and walks off with my license to consult his cohorts. He returns and asks if it’s a copy, saying he needs the original, to which I again reply many times with “No entiendo”, all the while smiling and trying my absolute best to understand. The three of them inspect my license very carefully and can clearly tell it’s a copy, but don’t seem to be able to make me understand that 😉 A truck is now blocking the only other lane, so we have a lot of traffic backing up behind us, which is too much for them so they give me back the copy of my license and don’t look at me again as they eagerly move to the next customer.

Another couple of hundred meters down the road I’m stopped again by a friendly guy who wants to see my shiny new paperwork for the Jeep. He needs a copy for his records, which I don’t have. I have three copies of the receipts and many more of all my other documents, but not a copy of the one he needs. I have no choice but to turn around, get stuck in the traffic trying to leave Honduras, get another couple of copies made and come back. As I drive past my military friends I intentionally don’t look at them and have no idea if they tried to wave me down or not.

I hand over the new copy and the guy waves me through, finally free to enter Honduras…


14 Responses

  1. George says:

    That’s pretty crazy, but useful information for everyone else! If you had had two triangles he probably would’ve said you needed a flare…lol

    • Dan says:

      Exactly right George. It didn’t matter what I had / didn’t have, he was going to come up with some reason to “fine” me. I’ve heard of tourists getting “fined” for all number of things – not wearing a t-shirt, not wearing shoes, only one number plate, not taking sunglasses off, driving too fast, driving too slow, etc, etc.
      I think I did pretty well by simply not negotiating at all.

  2. Kris says:

    Man you’ve got some courage lol.Id be more than a little nervous at all the corruption

    • Dan says:

      It’s funny Kris, although there is a lot of corruption around at times, it feels pretty honest and predictable. Not that I agree with it or condone it in any way, but sometimes, it kinda works.

  3. Konstantin says:

    This sounds so annoying! But its awesome how you always stay calm and manage the situations.

  4. Brian12566 says:

    Man, I hope you do not get arrested in a foreign country. Unlike here where you have to get arraigned within 24 hours, they might have different rules, or none at all. They can lock you up and throw away the key. Be careful.

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, that’s something to think about for sure. I really don’t think I have much to worry about there though – it’s obvious police and the like have been worded up on how to treat tourists. Sure, they’ll try and get some money out of me, but the chances of anything more serious are pretty slim I feel. I also haven’t done anything wrong, so I’m not worried.

  5. Richard says:

    haha you got off easy!

    i wound up paying some “helpers” $20 to get me and my bike through in a half hour. There were other people on bikes who refused to pay at first and wound up waiting 5 hours until they got a “helper.”

    complete chaos.

    …favorite crossing so far!

    • Dan says:

      Hey Richard
      It’s for sure the most unpredictable crossing of all.
      It’s cool you say it was your favorite.

      I just checked out your site… very cool trip. I assume you’ve seen WikiOverland, the encyclopedia of Overland Travel? It’s got all the info you’ll need to keep your trip going. If you find it useful, it would help everyone if you can contribute anything that has changed (like gas prices)… you can just click “edit” on any page or section and go for it.
      If you really like it, a link to WO from your site would help to spread the word too!

      Thanks Richard,

      • Richard says:

        Never heard of that site…but yea I liked it up, and yur site too.
        Thanks for the tip!

        • Dan says:

          Hey Richard,
          I created WikiOverland after I got back from my journey. I want to keep encouraging more people to get out there and see the world !
          If you can update any of the information that’s out of date, that would be amazing.
          Thanks again!

  6. Jay says:

    Just reading this a few years late but having traversed Honduras a few times I can offer you my tactics…

    1. If there is a lone guard waving me down, I just blow by him waving and smiling as if I think he’s just waving to be friendly. So far this has worked 100% of the time.

    2. When I am forced to pull over or at least slow down due to the “tumulos” otherwise known as great big speed bumps, I immediately pull out a road map and start asking questions before they have a chance to ask me to produce anything. This partially throws them for a loop and partially gives them something to do besides just standing there waiting for cars to pass. I ask about hotels, road conditions, places to eat, etc. Usually there is a nearby “pulperia” with a bunch of random food & supplies that is operated by a family or friend so I ask which pulperia I should go to.

    3. I drive at night. Now I know the vast majority of people do not recommend this but most of the guard posts are either unoccupied or understaffed after dark. You just have to be mindful of people, animals & potholes in the road — all of which you will encounter. The border crossings are obviously closed but if you get nearly there with no hassle, you’ll only be left with the border to deal with the next morning.

  7. Phil says:

    Your blog is awesome. So many great stories. Thanks for sharing them. I’ve always wanted to do a central-south America drive and you make me think it is possible!

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