Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 71 (376km): Thieves plus one fake license lighter

The day started out well. Our hosts made us a delicious breakfast (eggs toast, cheese, fresh banana, fresh avocado...). It was so yummy. Afterward they gave us a tour of their property which has over 25 different fruit trees. It was amazing. Sadly we had to leave but we wished we could have stayed longer. We dropped by the University to say goodbye to Fernando before heading out of town and to the border.

It was a nice ride and we made good time to the border (Las Manos), though we didn't know we were at the border until there was a rope barrier. As we were approaching the border, for the last kilometer, there were semi-trucks parked all over the place (in both directions). It was weird. Only enough room for one lane was left. Also the other weird thing was that the border was at the crest of a hill (not the best parking situation for our bikes).

First stop was checking the bikes out of Honduras. This was pretty straightforward and completely painless. Then we drove up the hill and went through a chain gate/barrier. We were now in the Nicaragua zone. Some fixers tried to harass us but Alberto quickly told them to take a hike. First we sorted our bikes out to enter Nicaragua. Again this process was more or less seamless but kind of slow since it involved too many different people having to check the VIN# and sign-off. Then the real fun started: trying to get ourselves into Nicaragua.
Getting things sorted out

First we had to leave Honduras. The Honduras window is right beside the Nicaragua window. Once at the Honduran window Alberto was told he needed a piece of paper from some other window about 30m away (Alberto was taking care of all the paper work since it was a chaotic border. I guarded the bikes). So off he goes to get some random piece of paper. When he returns to get our passports stamped out of Honduras we find out that we have to pay for the privilege of leaving Honduras. WTF! I call bullshit, but I've heard of other people having to do this and the lady gave us a receipt. Our only line of defense is to get an official receipt after that we are at their mercy. Then he got us stamped into Nicaragua, which costs 12 USD each. Again we were a little pissed about that price. They gave us a cardboard token that we needed to keep safe and give at the exit and were told we would need to pay another 1 USD to leave. We bought our mandatory insurance (which sucks cause we're only going to be in Nicaragua for a few days) so we were another 12 USD lighter (each). After that some guy asked for our 1 USD we were told about (some municipal tax for the privilege of using the border) again we got a receipt. We had to go to the police station, the final bureaucratic stop, to show our insurance and vehicle documentation. Thinking we are free I put everything safely away. As we approach the rope gate to leave another boarder guy appears from nowhere and asks to see some document. He was pretty sketchy and unclear which document we had to show so Alberto is producing all the random papers we had collected by this point. He is eventually satisfied and we make our way to the rope gate, where we produce our priceless cardboard token. Yes we are free even though we felt like we were robbed!! I was ready to punch someone in the ovaries by the end of it because every time Alberto would go up to the migration window they'd tell him he had to go somewhere else to get a piece of paper. It was a terribly organized border when compared to Corinto which looks like Peace Arch! 

Anyways so we were free but I was pretty angry after the 2 hrs of border shenanigans. So we were on the road but needed to make up time because we were headed to Granada (~4hrs away). Thankfully the roads were amazing; so smooth and with plenty of straightaways for passing. We had approached a line of cars stuck behind a chicken-bus so we worked our way past them. There was a car, then us and then the line of traffic. Ahead was a toyota pickup parked in the middle of the road. Not giving it a second thought we went around the parked vehicle and I commented how unsafe it was to park in the middle of the road (with no brake lights on!) when people are traveling at 80 kph or more. Anyways about 100m down the road there was a police stop. The car ahead of me went through, we were stopped and the vehicles behind us went through. Hmmm I guess they wanted to ask us where we were going. I directed them to Alberto.
If only the border sucked less

The policeman asked for his paperwork and specifically his driver's license. Apparently we had broken the law when we crossed the solid yellow line to go around the parked vehicle on the highway. At first Alberto was calm and tried to explain there was a stationary vehicle in the road. When the policeman didn't seem interested he started to get angry and asked him if he expected us to crash into the stopped vehicle instead. Long story short (since we were there for probably 30min) Alberto gets into a rage which involves him going ballistic on the cop who has his license, to the point that his partner quietly went over to the police car to get their machine gun from the trunk. He didn't do anything with it it, he just put the strap over his shoulder and came over to talk to me. I think he was saying that they were going to keep his license, and since I was pretty unimpressed by the situation I just spoke to him in English knowing he'd lose interest. Alberto thought the cop was threatening me and went even more crazy leaving cop1 who he was talking to and getting all up in cop2's face. I think he threatened cop2 and then went back over to cop1 to lecture him on how keeping his driver's license was illegal and that it was his property. After Alberto had said his piece we left, ticket in hand and one fake license lighter. The condemning part of the whole situation was that cop1 didn't even try to give me a ticket or write any of Alberto's personal information on the ticket. It was a blatant attempt at extortion.

I was already still angry with the border shenanigans and now I had got into the kind of fume only Devils can get in.

What do these cops do with all the photocopies of licenses they take from Westerners? Does anyone ever go back for their license? What really pissed me off was the infraction the police gave us. I would have been satisfied with a speeding ticket, since we were speeding, but crossing a yellow line? It was pretty lame. After getting through Honduras without a single issue with corrupt cops I was pretty disappointed with Nicaragua.

The stupid police fiasco was another delay we didn't need and now we were really falling behind. The good thing was the roads were so great we could drive really fast. We made one wrong turn near the end of our journey because there were no signs. Luckily we had a suspicion that we had missed our intersection so we stopped and asked for directions. We found the right way and low and behold there were some signs en route once you were clever enough to find the intersection. The approach to Granada was probably the prettiest of any city we've driven yet. It was raining a tiny bit and getting a bit dark (my low beam had blown, again, so we were desperately trying to get to our hotel before dark) but we made it into town and followed the directions Daryll had given us to get to Hotel Oasis.

They had been stalking our SPOT and came outside to find us. We got the bikes settled and a room and went off to dinner. We had not had lunch so dinner and some liquid was very welcomed. We hung out at the Hotel/Hostel when we came back. It has very nice common/social areas, plus free tea!

Honduras Final Thoughts:

Navigational Signage was excellent in Honduras. We didn't once get lost  while we were there and we were getting lost almost daily in Guatemala. However there were no distance signs (you know, the signs that tell you how many kms to the next town). There are distance signs in Nicaragua but navigational signage is poor. It seems as though you can have one but not both.

I found myself saying “What the F*ck?” with regards to driving more times than in Mexico and Guatemala combined. Honduras was a serious step down in the driving food chain. People were just totally brainless on the road. They would try and lane split with you cut you off when passing you. I was in disbelief most of the time.

Honduras has every American fast food chain you could imagine. Not that I eat that much fast food when I am in Canada, but it was kind of comforting after a long day to be able to turn to some familiar food.

The Caribe was amazing. We would have liked to spend more time but a combination of time constraints and rain cut our beach time short. It was a must see in Honduras though for sure.

We were not stopped at a single police checkpoint in Honduras.


  1. Its funny I have read a few motorcycle travel blogs. And I'm a motorcycle head also with a few trips. At some point we all start treating our bikes as a living thing. "We got the bikes settled"
    I love your blog what a great trip your on

  2. Hahaha yes we treat our bikes like family :)
    Glad you're enjoying the ride report!