On advice – and common sense – we drove right through the capital without stopping. Fortunately, this was really easy as the main highway just went right through. We haven’t seen this yet in Latin America. Almost every city is a roadblock and all highways turn into random surface streets. We were actually surprised when we cleared the city so easily.
It was a bit late to try the border crossing, so we drove to Danli for the night. It’s an unremarkable place, but it does have a few cigar factories. You can literally smell them a block away.
The next day we make our way to the border and find the expected chaos. Trucks everywhere and people walking around in every direction. We are assaulted by ‘helpers’ who are pawing on the car before we even stop. I try to find a place to park away from the chaos and helpers, but they follow me.
I hop out of the car and wave them off and they actually seem surprised. I walk over to the Honduras aduana and into the correct office on the first try. I explain I’m leaving and not returning and they cancel my vehicle papers with little effort. So far, so good.
I walk across (unchecked) to the Nicaragua side and start looking for the correct office, and again I’m followed and have to brush some people off. One guy is trying to sell me insurance (mandatory) so I tell him to wait, and he starts pointing me in the right direction. When I finally get to the correct window, there appears to be a huge wait and the guy in the office is sitting in front of a typewriter, tapping on the keys and manually assembling forms with carbon paper. Not good.
While I’m waiting, I buy 30 days of insurance for $12 USD.
I start talking to the guy patiently waiting at the window next to me and it turns out he’s a helper too. The difference is that he is really calm and pleasant. He has a bit of a speech impediment and talks very slowly, but this actually helps me understand him better. He says he can make things move faster for me, so I decide to have him help.
He knows everyone by name and dashes around to different offices looking for the right people and the right forms. This process seems even more confusing than entering Honduras. One person types up the vehicle paper, then someone has to inspect the car, then we need our personal tourist permits, then we have to find the payment window, then we get it approved at a another window, then return the vehicle window for the final paper. It takes an hour and half, but we skip around a lot and he seems to get us to the front of the lines.
The official fees for the three of us and the car total about $35 USD. I tip him $5 USD, leaving the magic $3 in my wallet. He sees it and asks for another $3. I give it to him – he earned it and it was worth it – and we drive to the gate.
The guy working the gate wants $3 for a municipal road toll (seems to be one at every border) and Angela digs out some money from her secret stash.
We wait at the gate long enough for our helper guy to come running up to tell us we have shorted the vehicle permit lady about 40 Cordobas (about $2 USD.) Why this is discovered now is a mystery, but I have zilch in my wallet. I wave him off and keep inching up a little further to the gate. One more guy here inspects my new papers. He says something into a radio and I can hear the person on the other end say something about a falto of 40 cordobas. I tell him I don’t understand and he walks off.
I keep inching up to the guy working the gate, who hears all of this, but shrugs and opens the gate. We drive through and are quite pleased to finally be in Nicaragua.
First impressions of Nicaragua? No topes. No tumullos. No vibradores. You can actually drive down the road without having to continuously stop for or be jolted by surprise unmarked speed bumps. What a great idea.
We make it to Esteli, which is our stop for the evening. Yet another mountain colonial town, and yet another place to rest while it rains. We were hoping to camp, but we decided to stay out of the mud tonight.
This is another cigar town – famous, actually – but we really aren’t into cigars. After walking around town a bit, we decide we aren’t really into this town either. It’s fine, but we are ready for the beach again.