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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Before crossing the actual border I decide to mingle with some Hondurans and so sit down in a little cafe for lunch. I order tacos, which turn out to be the delicious rolled hard kind with cheese, onions and tomato. I immediately order another round. Striking up a conversation with the locals is pretty fun and I can’t believe how far my Spanish has progressed. For the entire day, with all the borders and bribery attempts I’ve understood about 99% of everything said to me. The week of lessons is paying off ten fold and making life a lot easier and more fun.
At the border I have to cancel my Honduran paperwork for the Jeep before exiting the country. The guy at the final check looks in my passport and tells me about four times this is absolutely the last thing in Honduras, and I won’t have anything else to deal with. He slips in that I just have to pay $10 USD and when I ask why and ask for a receipt he instantly bows his head and waves me through. Can’t blame the guy for trying I suppose.
In Nicaragua I walk up to the immigration window and am told I have to pay $7 USD to enter. Again I question this, thinking my CA-4 stamp gives me free travel. Apparently this is not the case, so I pay and move on to more paperwork. I find it amusing the official fee between two countries is in US dollars, considering neither country has that as their official currency.
The paperwork for the Jeep is fairly run of the mill stuff, and thankfully free. It turns out I did have to pay that $7 fee and need my receipt. The police guy does a thorough inspection of the Jeep, making me pull most of the stuff out of the back. I have to exchange my money for the second time today and have no idea what the exchange rate is, having never looked it up. The guy offers me a rate that I barely even listen to before immediately saying I want a better rate. He bumps it a little. I pressure hard and he bumps it a little twice more before walking away, saying that’s the best he can do. OK. I’ll take that.
The border here is extremely quiet and not a single person hassles me or even begs for money. This is my cleanest, quietest, friendliest border crossing yet.
Driving away from immigration some enthusiastic people come up and I have to pay $3 USD for something I don’t entirely understand before they’ll lower a rope and let me pass. The military guy standing right there says it’s legit and they give me a receipt, I think it’s some local municipal tax thing. The guys run their eyes over my paperwork and passport and I’m free to drive into Nicaragua.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve picked up some horrendous driving habits since crossing the border into Mexico. Road rules simply do not apply down here and more often that not it’s safer to ignore them anyway. I honestly have not even looked at a speed sign in months, couldn’t care less if I’m at a give way or stop sign and completely ignore double lines on the road. Extremely slow vehicles are a common occurrence and I zip around one on the outside of a somewhat blind corner, over double lines, doing about 90 km/h. Two police are at the bottom of the hill and wave me over, looking very official.
After taking my license it becomes obvious they are going to fine me for all of the above, about a $20 USD ticket I’m told. The catch is they are going to hang onto my license while I goto the bank to pay the fine, and they’ll give it back to me when I return. I was absolutely breaking the law and caught red handed, so I’m happy to pay the price. The problem comes when they want me to back-track about an hour to pay the fine, with the sun already very close to the horizon. After talking around the problem for a while we figure out they need some money for gas, so I give them 100 Cordobas ($5 USD), literally everything I have in my wallet. After this they are my best friends, forgetting all about any ticket, giving back my license and they happily give directions to my destination.
Only the second speeding ticket in my life, and I bribed my way out of it.
I like it
It occurs to me that maybe Nicaragua is a little more strict with road rules and I should watch it more than I have been. That lasts for all of about five minutes before I fall right back to my old ways of doing as I please.
I seem to have over-estimated the distance I would cover today and I drive through dusk for quite a while before it’s completely dark. Horses, bicycles and children materialize out of the darkness every couple of minutes, making me work overtime on concentration. I remember why I avoid driving at night now. On the outskirts of Leon I pull in to a gas station and am surprised to see such a familiar sight – it’s extremely clean, bright and even has the requisite junk food & fast food joint attached. The top 100 music in English helps finish the picture.
Finally, at 9:30pm I climb stiffly out of the Jeep, safely parked in front of the Big Foot hostel in Leon, after driving about 500km across three countries in fourteen and a half hours.
A cold shower and beer put me right to sleep.