We made a break for the Honduras border, but didn’t miss an opportunity to sleep-in first. After a late breakfast, we drove through the nice town of La Palma and finally made it to the border at La Poy around 1 pm. Little did we know that the border officials take a lunch break until 2 pm.
Anyway, our papers were checked at the El Salvador border and then we drove up to the aduana and parked right in front of the oficina. The border guard followed us to the office and hand-delivered our paperwork to the official inside the office. This guy told us we had to leave the car right there and walk to Honduras and get our Honduras vehicle permit before we could cancel our El Salvador paperwork. Not the procedure we had read, but whatever.
I left Angela and Bode to take care of the bus and started walking toward Honduras. There were all sorts of officials and money changers, but I just kept on walking. Nobody stopped me. About a kilometer down the road I came to the Honduras vehicle permisso offices. It was obvious because of all the truck drivers lounging around, sleeping on the cool concrete sidewalks, watching porn on their cell phones and generally milling about. Here is where I learned that the offices were closed for the next hour. We all waited around and traded smiles. The truck drivers were seedy, but a jovial bunch. If you can laugh at a dirty joke you don’t understand, you’ll fit right in.
We wait and we wait and eventually a car pulls up the window. About ten minutes later, the driver gets out and it was the border official. She is in no hurry. She goes into the office and turns on the A/C, makes a few calls on her cell phone, and finally opens her window.
All the truck drivers make a mad dash to her window and shove their papers through the window, walking away with relief that their forms are on the stack. It’s comical, as 20 truckers try to shove their arms into a tiny window. Having no forms, I just watch.
Most of the guys walk away, confident that their permits are in progress and return to their naps on the shaded concrete. A few guys linger around the window, impatiently trying to influence the order of things. Most of the guys exchange greetings and give the familiar high-five and fist bump – they’re all regulars here.
Not really having a place here, I bide my time and try to get noticed by this woman with all the power. I work my way to the front and ask for the proper formas. She tells me to wait. Twenty minutes later, I assert myself again and ask if I have all the proper copies. She tells me to wait. Thirty minutes later, only one or two truckers have their papers, but finally she asks for my forms. I give her the copies of my title, registration (expired), license, passport, and El Salvador vehicle permit. She shuffles them around tells me to wait again.
Twenty more minutes pass and then something starts to happen. She closes her window and all the truckers come to their feet. She closes the office, locks it up, and one the the truckers I befriended points at me to follow her. She points me toward her car, and avoiding eye contact with the waiting truck drivers, I get in her car.
She starts ranting in Spanish – I get some of it – and we drive back to the El Salvador border. She gets stopped and inspected and she is incensed. Finally, my passport is checked. She can hardly contain herself when they want to search her car. She picks up the phone and calls someone and starts ranting more.
Finally, we make it back to the bus and she starts asking me questions about our car. What size engine? What’s the VIN? What color? Even though it’s right in front of her. All stuff she could have asked back at her office or copied from our title. Then, we go to the El Salvador office and she rants at these officials for while – they laugh. No actual paperwork or information is exchanged.
We get back into her car and I’m eager to point out that my family is waiting patiently, now that we are almost 2 hours into this border crossing ordeal. We drive back to Honduras and we talk about all the places to visit here like we are old friends. She thinks we should go to Tela and El Cieba. Roatan is just too expensive.
We get back to her office and the sleeping truckers spring to their feet. I hop out of her car and assume a position at the end of the line behind the truckers. She takes her time getting back into the office.
Even though the truckers forcibly define a perimeter around her window, she beckons El Gringo up to the front of the line.
This is not met with happiness. They all groan. One guy’s rant rises above the others and they all quiet to listen. “Fuck America.” He’ll burn it to the ground. Maybe he was going to burn me to the ground – my Spanish wasn’t good enough – but the message was received loud and clear.
There was some uncomfortable laughter in the crowd, but a few guys gave me a knowing shrug and I didn’t feel too worried. I loudly apologize since I didn’t ask for any special treatment, and made my way up to the window.
Thirty minutes. That’s how long it took her to fill out The Prize – a single small form that gives me permission to drive into the country. The few truckers that still had energy waited around the window with me, all of us willing her to write faster.
She made a few calls on her cell phone and then told me to go get copies of her form. Where? El Salvador.
I ask around for assurance and everyone agrees. I start the trek back across the border. It has started raining, but it doesn’t really matter. The tienda with a copy machine is actually a bit past the border officials and guards. For $0.10 a copy, I get lots of extras. I walk back past the bus – we are now almost 3 hours in – and I assure Angela that all is well. They are reading the Secret Seven and doing art projects in the bus.
I again walk a kilometer or so back to the Honduras immigration office and find that all the truckers see me coming and have formed a human wall around the window. Not wanting to get my ass kicked, I sit back and see that some of my new patient buddies have gotten their papers completed.
I bob and weave so that she sees me behind my patient brethren and eventually she calls me up front. More groans.
She takes the copies and again picks up her phone. Lot’s of talking and more going over the forms ensues. She need a stamp, but she can’t find it. Finally she finds it, but it stamps as a blob and she spends ten minutes cleaning it and testing it. It clearly hasn’t been used in a long time.
When it finally meets her standard, she stamps an entire page of my passport and fills it out – then adds her personal stamp – twice – and then verifies that everything is there again. With no small amount of pride, she then presents me with my vehicle permission and completed passport stamp (none for Angela or Bode) and all my new buddies grin.
One more thing. We have to pay about $35 USD in fees. She happily points out the printed amount on the forms and I manage to dig out just the right amount of cash. My buddies were clearly concerned when I was having trouble counting out the full amount. I’m pretty sure they would have pitched in if I was short. There was a sign indicating that I had to pay another $12 USD or so, but I was never asked for it.
Done. Walk back to El Salvador. Again.
Back in El Salvador, the official finally takes my forms and examines everything. This kills me – he makes copies and then spends ten minutes comparing the copies to the originals. Finally, he stamps it and we are done – he waves us on.
I hop into the the van and we are almost giddy. It’s 5:30 pm and we have no idea where to go, but we think we are done with this mess. We start the bus and drive about 100 m to a checkpoint. Not done yet, we have to pay $3 USD each to exit El Salvador and we have to pull over to park. We follow the official into the dark locked office and he struggles to find the right papers and we eventually pay our exit fee and get stamped receipts.
Back in the car, we pull up another 100 m and all of our papers get checked again. Like a miracle, it’s all correct and we area allowed to pass.
We finally drive up to the Honduras border officials. This is just a few guys, a traffic cone, and a gate. They agree that we have all the correct papers and stamps.
Vamos a Honduras. Once again, we leave a country with about $3 USD in our pockets – our magic number.
If you want to attempt the border crossing at El Poy, here are a few tips in hindsight:
– Be nice. It always helps. I don’t understand it, but I was put on the ‘fast track’ by a Honduran border official.
– Wait. Acting like an entitled arrogant jackass won’t help here.
– Try to speak Spanish. I’m really bad, but it helped. At least I earned the respect of a few pissed-off truckers.