After eating wonderful food in downtown Danli and going home in a food coma, we woke relatively early. We grabbed two shot-sized-free coffees each from the Hotel parking-lot coffee pot and left Danli. We were on the road and headed to the Las Manos border to cross into Nicaragua. Honduras has numerous checkpoints throughout the country and there was one on the road outside of town. We were stopped by the police (which is rare) and asked to pull over. A Honduran National Policeman came up to the window and asked for our permission to drive our foreign car in the country and a driver's license.
Just Outside The Las Manos Border
Understanding Honduran Permisos To Drive
When we entered Honduras at the Corinto Border with Guatemala, a Customs official gave us a "permiso" to drive in the country. It was good for 3 months and expired in December 2014. Once we got to the island we realized it would cost too much to ship our car every 3 months back to the mainland and over an international border to renew it and searched for a way around it.
Las Manos Border
Driving "Sin Placas"
In Honduras, you cannot import a car and get local Honduran plates if your car is over 10 years old. Being that the Jeep is a '98 the only way we could get around it was to get drive on the Island without plates. We spoke with a very reputable guy on the Island who said that his cook in his kitchen could get us "temporary permisos" because of a loophole in the law. The law allows for you to drive a car without license plates due to the fact that the country wasn't producing license plates at that time even though we weren't going to be able to import it, we could still wait for plates.
We paid a lawyer to draw up paperwork to allow us to drive in Roatan and Honduras without plates which should replace the "permiso" that was given to us at the border. We paid about 25 dollars every two months to an agency in Roatan who dealt with transportation paperwork, and everything was legal up to the point when the National Police outside of Danli told us that the paperwork wasn't right.
The Honduran Police Problem
The policeman got another two officers to come over and check my back license plate, and my paperwork and stated to me that the paperwork was most likely false. I talked with them and explained what the lawyer did in Roatan, and how the paperwork was a loophole to drive without a proper "permiso". They took pity on us, gave us back the paperwork and after a nice 15 minute chat about life in Honduras, American attitudes, and tourism, and we were on our way. It got us wondering what problems we might have a the Las Manos Border Checkpoint.
Immigration Las Manos
Arriving at Las Manos Border
We got to the international border checkpoint at Las Manos, Honduras and pulled up to the immigration shack. Now... anytime you drive to a border, there are people who swarm you with offers to "help" you through the process of crossing the border. We have found that these guys are simply locals who do for you what you can do for yourself by just standing in line and waiting like everyone else. With these guys, they ask for a tip, it's a scam and you can do it yourself without their help.
I declined any help and made my way over to the immigration office to get stamped out of Honduras. The process was easy and quick. The Hawkers were standing around us waiting to change money and "help" us carefully watching and waited like vultures to come to your aid when the time is right.
The Customs Shack
The Customs Debacle
Next stop the customs area. At customs, we had an issue. The paperwork was indeed not the right paperwork and the guy at the customs office informed us, that the old "permiso" had to be canceled by the end date of 3 months. We were in Honduras for 7 and a half months. He told us we needed to pay a fine. The fine for overstaying our permiso was $330 USD. I began to get heated and pleaded my case that the paperwork was not false and that it was legal what I was doing and that it was a loop-hole. He stated that since it was Labor Day, that the main boss of the customs wasn't there. He stated that he had to account for the non-cancelled permiso, and if we wanted to, we could wait until Monday when the boss got back to work. It was Friday.
This wasn't an option and reluctantly we paid the enormous fine after almost 2 hours of fruitless pandering, sucking up and begging to let us off easy. Staying until Monday wasn't an option due to the fact we would have to get a hotel, and when we arrived back here on Monday it could be a bigger fine or the same anyway. We would then waste the fine and a hotel for 3 days instead of just paying the fine.
Two hours later we made our way to Nicaragua. We hopped in the Jeep and drove to the fumigation post. Fumigation happens at each border. Some you drive through a "car wash" of DDT and other times, we get out and a guy with varying degrees of masks (some giant gas masks and some small little painter masks) comes over and sprays the outside of your car. At this checkpoint, he wanted to spray in the car. I argued a little about this. I have no idea what he's spraying in our car. He states "it's harmless" and it will just be a "little puff". I didn't buy it, but had no choice but to let him do it. If the gas is harmless, why does this guy have a gas mask on?
Getting High on Bug Spray and Customs
Holding our breath we got back in the Jeep and drove about 100 yards to the immigration shack to begin entry into Nicaragua. All things considered, we weren't all that angry about the 300 dollars Honduras ripped off, and we were in good spirits heading toward the shack. Maybe we were high on bug spray.
We get to the customs area where we check in the car and there are about 10 people in line ahead of me. I figured that wasn't too bad, and stood in line while Shelly went to immigration to get stamped in. About a half hour later, Shelly came back and we had taken care of 2 people out of the 10 ahead of me. I began to do the math in my head and realized I would be in this line for at least another 2 hours. About 2 hours later I arrived at the front and presented my paperwork to the only person working the customs office that day. Oh yeah... Labor Day.
Why do we always cross borders on holidays thinking that since there is less commerce running, that it will be quicker. Maybe it is and it would be longer on a regular day, but never again. 4-5 hours later we left the border after getting stamped in and the car registered and paid for. All in all, not a great day at the Las Manos border... in fact it was pure Hell.
Animals In The Road
Making Our Way to Leon
We were happy to get on the road and head toward our destination which was Leon. By this time it was afternoon, and our debacle at the border set us back. The roads however in Nicaragua are AWESOME! Big lanes, smooth roads, guard rails along the highway, curbs, you know.... real roads. We noticed however, that no matter how nice the roads were, they weren't without dangers. Animals seemed to live in the road. We saw pigs, horses, oxen, cows, chickens, and dogs just wondering around in the road. We also noticed many more horse and oxen drawn wooden carts being pulled around as a mode of transportation. It became evident how poor Nicaragua really is.
Police Checkpoint Number Two
We were making great time after joining up with the Panamerican Highway, and in an effort to hurry our way to Leon due to our debacle at the border, I tried to pass a car going 40 km per hour, which is about 25-30 mph. I came over a rise after passing the cars and realized a police checkpoint was ahead. Checkpoints are always a little nerve-racking as you are really at the mercy of the policeman at the checkpoint. We found Honduran checkpoints to mostly hassle Hondurans and some curiosity as to who we were and why we were that far into Central America in a car from the USA.
Getting a Ticket!
The policeman waved me over and asked for my paperwork and license. I handed over the information and after he checked our plates and paperwork began to say, he had pulled me over because I passed on a double yellow line. In all honesty, I didn't realize it was a double (or in Nicaragua one solid line) line. I said it was dotted when I passed but, the cop wasn't having it. He said I would have to keep my license and I could go to any bank in Estali (the Sandinista stronghold of Nicaragua 20 minutes further up the road) and pay the fine and get my license back from the police station once I show my receipt.
On The Way To Leon
Talking My Way Out Of It
I explained to the cop that I was only in transit and was on my way to Costa Rica. He wasn't having it. He chastised me for passing on the solid yellow and said maybe I could make it to the bank today before it closed. I knew the banks were closed... it was Labor Day!!!! So, I offered him a bribe which he declined to take. I then pleaded with the cop and pleaded ignorance. I explained the terrible day at the border, being late to Leon, not wanting to drive at night, having no money to pay the fine due to Honduras taking our cash on hand, etc. etc. etc. The cop took pity on me, handed my license back and chastised me again for driving poorly and stated I needed to not rush, and sent me on my way.
Eating Poor Street Food in Leon
We got to Leon around 5pm right before sunset, hungry and looking for a place to stay. Leon is a colonial-style dirty city full of Catholic Churches. That's about it. We weren't impressed with Leon and really didn't get a good feeling being there. I had read some blogs that said that the street food in front of the large Catholic Church was incredible and we stopped off in front of a church with street food outside. We realized that finding a hotel or hostel here in town with parking for our Jeep without unloading it, would be difficult to find. Leon wasn't a place we really wanted to stay anyway. We bought a plate of food. which was pretty much horrendous for street food, wishing we had just stayed in Danli where the street food was excellent and the hotels cheap.
Heading to Las Penitas
After eating then spending about a half hour talking to some other gringos who were traveling around Central America about the diving in Roatan. We also talked about what there was to do in Leon, which helped us decided to get out-of-town. Leaving Leon, we headed to the Pacific Coast and find a place to stay in Poneloya and Las Penitas, 2o minutes away. We drove around thinking we were going to find cheap accommodations near the beach and found it more expensive that we thought 50-70 dollars a night and also without secured parking. After driving up and down the beach road, we finally found a great place called Las Rocas in Las Penitas which was 40 dollars a night and had a great parking area with a gate, right on the beach. We checked in and got a beer and listened to the waves crash on the shore.
Las Rocas Beach Bar
Sipping Beer With Our Toes in the Sand
All was well in the world again after a crazy day of checkpoints, borders, dirty colonial towns, and bad food. We sat there on the beach with our feet in the sand sipping our beer and talking to a hippie backpacker who lost his wallet in town after being drunk or on drugs a week ago. He was staying at the hotel until his new debit card made it to him the mail. We wondered if he would ever get it. He then tells us he made $25,000 in savings while working in Canada on the oil lines near Calgary and that he was just traveling for the first time and enjoying life.
We realized how "green" the Canadian backpacker was from his opinions of the Nicaraguans, getting drunk and losing his wallet and traveling. He was not a typical traveler, however we could still see and hear that he had a lot of "travel growth" to go before he would be able to do it well. After countless stories of his self-deserving misadventures, we left the wasted-Canadian Hippie and retired for the evening in our room.
Change In Perspective
We reflected on the day and realized how much we had grown from traveling and how our perspective has changed. We realized that even on a bad day like the one we had, we could still enjoy ourselves, marvel in the beauty of the country, enjoy the drive and simply be glad to be in one piece, well fed, and safe with our toes in the sand.
When traveling, it is important and necessary to not let problems like the border fees, cops pulling you over and bad food change how you feel about a country. We meet many travelers who put down an entire country for the problems they experienced. This is where the perspective comes in. As travelers, we learn to not let the inconveniences and problems we encounter, taint our view of a country or people on a whole. We have developed a world perspective that the Hippie Backpacker hadn't quite grasped yet. We don't mean to judge, however it easy to see the difference between those that are experienced and have changed their perspective on life, and those who are still working on it. Where do you stand in your perspective?