It was our own stupidity.
Every over landing website writes about avoiding using border helpers. They are legal in many countries here, and ate called ‘Tramitadores.’
We used one to navigate the crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador. We stayed with him and our documents very step of they way. After nearly two hours of helping us navigate the swamp of immigration, aduanas ( customs) vehicle importation permits, and pet importation permits – both for leaving Guatemala and entering El Salvador, he met us at the roadside and asked us for the whopping total of $25 USD. Pretty good value thought us.
So, when he gave us the name of a friend at the border from El Salvador to Honduras, we jumped at it.
The next man met us at a gas station. He hopped in with us. He had a tag like the last guy. He asked for our passports and then jumped out of the still rolling truck with them, disappearing around the corner of the first building.
He returned often, demanding vehicle papers, veterinary papers, papers papers and copies of papers. There were problems with the vehicle as the New Brunswick title looks like a photocopy. There were problems with the dog papers because there were problems with the dog papers. He would emerge momentarily then disappear for long periods of time. His ‘brother’ stayed with us.
After a couple hours in the hot sun, I complained that it was taking quite a while. Brother got on the phone, and the man emerged almost instantaneuosly, announcing that there was a problem with the dog papers but that he had fixed it with the government vet, who, ununiformed, was beside him.
The three men hopped in a tuk tuk and sped off, motioning for us to follow.
As we drove away from the border, we still hadn’t caught on to what was coming. Two minutes later, however, we were pulled over on the side of the road. The now four men handed us a billfor $245 USD!!! We said it was very expensive. They started making excuses, explaining that it is expensive and will be the same going to Nicaragua. We resisted a bit, then took a look at the true situation.
We were alone. We stood out. We were surrounded by men, and although we could not see weapons, it was quite possible that weapons were there. These people were local and connected, as was obvious by how they moved through the border. We had heard stories from their travellers of beatings and worse at this border.
We paid the money. The helper demanded another $25 for the dog! We paid. He then asked for twenty more, for his tip!
They had phoned ahead to the next border and had a helper ready there for us.
We got the hell out of there, and took the road to the more northern border. An extra fifty clicks, but worth the peace of mind.
We went through, without help, into Nicaragua.
We spent less than half a day in Honduras.
Nicaragua was clean.
We were raw after the border experience.
Finn killed a chicken.
We went on a spectacular swimming tour down a canyon.
We drove to the old capital city of Leon.
A school project volcano loose on the left.
We were on a long straight stretch. The was no oncoming traffic. A motorcycle was going maybe fifty in and eighty zone. A Toyota Hilux truck was behind it. We were behind the Hilux.
The Hilux signalled and went around. We did the same and followed. There was a police checkpoint maybe five hundred yards ahead. The Hilux stopped and was waved through. We stopped and were told to stay.
An angry policeman was yelling at me in Spanish about how I had gone over they yellow line and that it was an infraction. His was furious. He said that he would keep my license and that I would have to go into the city and pay at a bank, then get my license back. I argued that I had only done what the truck in front of me had done, and that they did not stop it. He kept yelling.
“Tranquillo, por favor, stresse no es necessito.”
He calmed down a bit, then called his friend over, who was wearing a traffic police badge.
He shook our hands and explained the infraction. I repeated my argument, and conceded that I had crossed the yellow line, following the truck in front of me that was not getting a ticket, into a two mile arrow straight oncoming lane with at least two wheels. The lane had no oncoming traffic whatsoever. This to go around a motorcycle doing half the speed limit.
He looked at my International Driver’s Permit. He said that I was Columbian. I said no, I am a Canadian, and that British Columbia is province of Canada, and is on the permit because I was born there.
I kept waiting for the bribe.
They kept pussy-footing around.
I decided to bring the game to a head and asked if there was anyway I could pay closer. The younger guy said no. I demanded that we go now, and that he would come to the bank with us and give us our licenses immediately when I paid the fine. The older guy kept yelling and pointing at the yellow line.
The younger guy asked if we were tourists. We said yes, we were Canadian tourists.
He motioned for Grumpy to give our license back.
He took the opportunity to give me one more lesson on the yellow line.
Three days later, we were on our way to Costa Rica after visiting Leon. Just outside of Managua, we came to another police checkpoint.
All the traffic was being waved through. We were told to stop.
We were told that we were driving dangerously – no guardia su distancia. Tailgating.
Same thing. Drive into the city. Pay ticket at a bank. Get license back tomorrow. Before Hell freezes over.
Now, I may not be the greatest driver on the earth, but I have a hang up about tailgating, so I knew that this was bullshit. I decided to take the advice of the Life Remotely website, and pretend that I neither spoke nor understood any Spanish.
It worked like a charm! The guy went on for twenty minutes or so trying to explain himself. This time, I handed a photocopy of my license. He said this was not good, and I, using Paula as my translator, told him that the border officials said it was adequate.
I persisted. I asked in English if I could go to court. He said this was not normal. I asked if he had a photo of my car tailgating, closer than the supposed three lengths it was supposed to have been. I explained in English that car lengths were meaningless for safety and that they should be using the three second rule for distance.
We stroked their egos. I asked Paula how to say ‘I am sorry,’ in Spanish.
“Lo siento. You are a good man.”
They let us go.
Again, no ticket was ever written.
Following are a few photos from Nicaragua.
Below: Leon Cathedral from the Gran Plaza. Note the figures holding up the bell. Leon was the main battleground of the Sandanista Revolution. The evidence is everywhere.