Oscar M. Rodríguez

Journal to my trip to Central America (this is NOT a blog!)

Day 20, 2008.6.5 (Thu) - A suspicious crossing into Honduras

Origin: Managua, Nicaragua

Destination: San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Distance: 616 Km

Duration: 12(!) hours on the Ticabus

Food: Various local foods, all with tortillas

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I was woken up, not by my GPS, but by Ingrid knocking the door. Oh Xue! am I so late that they had to wake me up? Didn't I hear the alarm on the GPS? No, actually it was still 10 to 4 when they woke me up. I'm so sorry, Ingrid and mom! I don't mean to disturb so early in the morning!

I took a lively shower and took off for the Ticabus terminal. When I arrived, there were two lines, but I didn't know which one to take. One seemed to have people with bags, and the other one with people without bags. Since I had a bag, I made the long and slow line. Right about when there were like 4 people ahead of me in my line, some Ticabus guy came over and said this line was for El Salvador, and the other one was for Honduras. Oh great! What a great way to start my day...

There were some 4 clear tourists as well as an eastern asian-looking guy on my line as well. Let's hope this guy is japanese so I can practice with him...

As I boarded the bus, the driver's helper, who will be called "Fat dude" from now on, asked me about my return ticket. As I explained him that I'd cross the border on another place not covered by Ticabus, he seemed quite relaxed and told me it would be cool to explain that to the border guy once we got there.

So, with no return ticket in hand, I went into the bus. I got right next to the asian guy, but he was sleeping so sound, I didn't want to disturb him. I set up my GPS by the window and went straight to sleep.

3 hours later, as we were getting closer to the honduran border, Fat dude went seat by seat collecting the passenger's passports. As he picked mine up, he told me it might be difficult to cross the border with my situation, and if I didn't want to make it long, it might be good to give the officer 100 dollars as a bribe (the bribe thing wasn't mentioned, but as a native spanish speaker, I can assure you this was what he was on about). I told him I'd wait and see what would happen on the border.

When we stopped at the border, and everyone got out of the bus, Fat dude came over and told me I was required at the immigration office. Getting ready for another 3 hour marathon like the one in Panama, he told me I'd really want to consider giving the guy 50 dollars (wasn't it 100 before?) to make things go fast, as he didn't want to make the other passengers wait (if he was the one interested in not keeping the passengers waiting, why didn't he give the money to the guy himself?, I wasn't in a rush, and I was definitely not going to mind making everyone wait as long as it would take). I told him I wanted to know what the problem was, as I wasn't going to fix any inexistent problems.

The immigration officer told me I needed a return ticket so he would let me in. He seemed quite interested in the bribe as well, because as I said I was planning to take another route out of the country, he started on like this:

Him: You need to have a vaccine against the yellow fever (hoping I didn't have one).

Me: Here you go, I'm fully vaccined.

Him: You can't go through this border, as many people use it to illegally go to the USA.

Me: I'm not interested in going to the USA, but even if I were, it wouldn't be a problem, here you go, I have an american visa.

Him: Um... You need to show me enough proof that you're able to move on. I need you to show me that you have at least 3000 (you read right, three thousand dollars) in cash to move on.

Me: Are you out of your mind? Is that even a real requirement? do you think everybody on that bus is carrying 3000 dollars, and on top of that, in cash?

Him: erm, well, but you don't have a return ticket.

I have to agree he got me there. I didn't, and even though nobody else was required to show one, it was a legitimate reason. I told him I could buy a Ticabus ticket, but Fat dude, who was standing right next to me all the time, told me that would be impossible.

For the first time on my trip, I was facing possible rejection into a country. I firmly stated to the officer that I didn't want to stay in Honduras, and that I just wanted to visit, but if it were really impossible for me to go through, I'd certainly wouldn't mind going back to Nicaragua and skip Honduras. I kept on insisting that I could buy a Ticabus ticket, but Fat dude kept on insisting that it would have to come from an office, and it could take several hours.

He then took me out of the office and told me I'd be better off paying the bribe. I went and stated very clearly that I was not going to pay any bribes. On one hand, I didn't want to, mostly because my trip is legitimate, and I don't have to do shady stuff when my trip is legitimate, but also because in my country, when you pay a bribe, you face possible incarceration if the guy chooses to reject it. He then told me this was Central America, and he would guarantee me that it would be okay.

No, I won't pay any bribes. Going to Honduras is not important whatsoever, and I'd rather face rejection, or even deportation (depending on which country my passport said I was in), than incarceration. I almost told the guy to call the colombian consulate in Honduras, but Fat dude started implying the officer that he wanted to bribe him.

I forcefully took fat dude out of the office and told him I was going to stay in Nicaragua, and that I'd wait for the Ticabus on the other direction to go back to Managua. He then told me that he might have some blank tickets and he could write me one back out from San Pedro Sula to Managua for 35 dollars, which was the same price it took the other way around. He miracleously found the tickets and wrote one for me, which seemed to convince the immigration guy. All is calm now, and welcome to Honduras!

Back on the bus, I found this story to be a great way to start a conversation with the asian guy, who actually was japanese. I even used stronger words to mention this whole story, and I didn't care, because nobody else spoke japanese on that bus, and he clearly had a very limited spanish.

After some more talking with him for some 2 hours, I thought some more about what I had just gone through, and in my mind, I think that there was no bribe at all. Everything Fat dude wanted was for me to buy the ticket from him, and then he'd keep the change! That's how he managed to lower it from 100 to 50, and then go as far as saying he could guarantee the bribery would go okay. I now think that the immigration guy was just doing his job, and he might have gotten provoked by Fat dude about me being a colombian. He might have been a little rough, but I think he was just doing his job, especially when he seemed to back off when Fat dude hinted that he wanted to bribe him. Also, for some reason, I didn't get a stamp on my passport as proof of my entry to Honduras. I don't mind, because neither the japanese nor the european guys (who were actually british) did, and Fat dude also said they didn't put stamps on passports at this border, on any type of passport.

So basically, my worst case scenario is that I wasted 35 dollars on a ticket which might be non-refundable and non-changeable, but I'm still happy that I've never done anything remotely illegal in my life. And now that I think it through, I think I did what was best. In case the guy wouldn't have had the tickets, or if the situation had a different development, I'd rather gone back to Nicaragua to where I have a friend, and at least a place to stay, than into Honduras with the fear of having paid a bribe.

Now, the trip was quite pleasant, but the bus toilet had some heavy bad odor due to somebody not tolerating the curves in the first half of the trip. I couldn't bear it anymore, so I opened my window for the whole second part of the trip.

After eating at a surprisingly clean place (actually the cleanest mid-trip stop I've made on the whole trip), we got into this huge highway that runs for the last 150Km into San Pedro Sula. I have to admit: Colombia aside, this is the only industrialized country I've seen on the whole trip. They seem to have a much stronger economy (still dominated by the US dollar, though) and pushing industry than any of its neighbors. To be honest with you, I had never even heard of this country before as a pushing country!

12 hours after we departed from Managua, at 5 PM we arrived into the bus terminal, which was actually quite large for a small city like this one. More positive points for this country.

We were still quite far from the city and its hotels, so Keiji (the japanese guy) and I took a taxi driven by an extremely friendly guy who, even after having his fare negotiate to less than half of his original price (by me ^^), he went with us to like 4 different hotels so we would see the rooms.

Keiji stayed at a smaller $12 hotel, but I went to a better and cleaner $20 hotel. I then gave the driver an additional 10 Lumpiras (the local currency, about $1) for his excellent service.

The room is nice, has AC (thank Ra), and TV with, I'm not kidding you, 208 channels including two arabic and even one korean with chinese subtitles.

I tried to go out to the streets and get soething local to eat, but even at 7 PM, everything is closed, and there are very few lights out on the street. Add to that the confidence the city gives me when every hotel has a heavily armed guard (this hotel's guy has a shotgun!). I decide not to play anymore on these deserted streets and eat at the hotel's restaurant, which was chicken with rice and beans, with tortillas. These tortillas are great, and pretty much every restaurant in this country seems to serve things with tortills.

So after a marathon of keeping up to date with these writeups, I go to bed exhausted, because my travel continues tomorrow at 6 AM back in the terminal.


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© 2007, 2008, Oscar M. Rodríguez. o-rodrig [at] rapapaing [dot] com