Nicaragua. Beyond The Border.

Donkey Boy Nicaragua

The Honduran/Nicaraguan border at Los Manos was the busiest and most frenetic I’d encountered. Before I could pull my GPS off my trusty Touratech mount I was surrounded by young boys. One wants to watch my bike, the others are shoving immigration forms into my hand. I do the best I can to explain that I too have two yes and two hands and have much experience crossing Latin American borders. Known as tramitadores (helpers) these boys earn their living by walking documents through the immigration and customs offices at the border and obtaining the obligatory copies of passports, titles, registration and drivers’ licenses. They are looking for tips and in some cases hope to catch a foreigner who’ll pay them their quoted price and in the end an inflated fee gets split between customs or immigration official and the tramitadore.

I quickly learn I’ve got to change money because the Nicaraguan immigration office won’t accept Honduran Limpira. The boys tell me it’s going to cost the equivalent of $24 and I’ll need this in Nicaraguan Cordobas. Unfortunately, I’ve managed my Limpira ration quite nicely and don’t have enough to get me through. One of the money changers who wander and follow border crossers through the maze of paperwork agrees to change my lone bill of Costa Rican Colones, Soon I’ve got enough to get me through the border — per the tramitadore’s cost estimate.

But I handle the document processing on my own. One of the boys hangs in the balance and another constantly points his piece sign oriented fingers to his eyes indicating he’s watch my bike. I mimic the sign right back to him. “I’m watching you boy. And my bike.” It’s a little game. There’s no agreement and I tell them stories of other border crossings.

I pay my $2 fee to exit Honduras. I pay another $7 for a Nicaraguan tourist Visa, and another $3 is paid for something I still don’t understand. By the time I get to customs I’m ready to pony the $10 (plus or minus) for a tempoary vehicle import permit. While most of the truckers and other drivers stood at the window while Mr. Customs Agent completed the necessary documents, he asked me into his office and sat me down next to him and his typewriter. As he banged out my vehicle form in triplicate using traditional carbon paper he asked me the usual questions. In fifteen minutes I had my own copy complete with rubber stamped indicias and his very fancy signature and I was on my way. No cost. For my helpers I tossed 100 cordobas their way, without a full understanding of hte exchange rate. The other boys who’d been hanging around surrounded me. All of them looking for some sort of tip. One boy about 9 years old held his dusty hand out. His dark blue sNic Horse Boyshirt splattered with mud and the soles of his shoes were sown on with feeble twine. His younger companion held out his right foot for me to see. His ankle was swollen and the mud was caked around his dark eyes. My heart sank. I asked what’s wrong. His friend did the talking. “He has no shoes.” He spoke in Spanish, of course. What could I do. I wish I had a shoe store in my panniers and I could set him up. But no. And there were no shoe vendors in sight. I flipped my remaining loose change their way and moved on.

The road leaving the border and into the fertile valley east of Esteli Nicaragua was ideal: banked, curvy and smooth. Boys on horseback, men riding donkey carts and women carrying pcaks of sticks on their backs painted a primitive and rural scene welcome to these eyes. For the first time since entering Latin America I noticed buss stops that actually had paved pull offs and sheltered structures with benches. The memories of my mind drifting while whipping down roads of Mexico or Guatemala only to wake up to a bus stopped in the middle of the “highway”. In Nicaragua, this wasn’t going to happen. As I moved from rolling hills to the valley I notice rice fields and hundreds of workers laying out to dry the daily harvest. I passed through small villages and took a turn toward Matagalpa, eager to climb into the hills to the grand coffee plantation of Northern Nicaragua: Selva Negra.

Dark And Wet Delays.

I had hoped to make it close to the Nicaraguan border before sunset. Even the one-legged man at the gas station in Tegucigalpa assured me that I’d get to Danli before nightfall. In his sixties, he had an easy going demeanor for a panhandler. A torn and dirty baseball cap slipped over his mattet straw-like hair. I pretended to not understand him as he asked me to help him. But our conversation proved to me he was a man of above average intelligence. Keenly aware of his country and Central America. When I came out of the convenience I handed him a bottle of water. I’d rather give those looking for handouts something they could use. The hot sweltering sun had parched my lips. I figured his too.

Honduran Liberal TruckJesus President Honduras

The delay in my arriving in Danli can’t be attributed to getting lost in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Typically it’s easy to get lost in even medium sized cities in Mexico or Central America. The roads that go through these cities twist, turn and circle in unnatural ways. And if there are signs, they are not visible. But going through Tegucigalpa was cake. A nice wide boulevard with a pleasant median. I didn’t bother getting off the main road, though I could see the streets climb the hills of this colonial city. And the delay wasn’t caused by the upcoming elections for Honduras’ next president. Thought I did meet several campaign workers for the conservativfe party (Pepe) who assured me that they would win. Later winding my way out of Honduras I noticed that also running for the conservative (BLUE) party was someone rather famous (see photo above). The partiotism is remarkable here. Flags for red and blue are everywhere. From cars, on buildings and businesses.

Truck Fire DanliThree things got in my way today. Construction. A horrific accident. And rain. The road leaving Tegu, as it’s called by locals, is atrocious. But the only bad road I’d encountered in Honduras. But at least they were working on it. This of course caused delays. The accident? It was horrific. After sitting with my bike idling for more the 15 minutes, I decided to push on and drive down the opposite lane. I could see the dense dark plume of smoke rising above the tree line. Cruising down a steady incline, I arrived at the scene just as the road started making a turn to the left. And then I saw the tractor trailer. Tipped over on its side with flames bellowing from the cab and engine compartment. A trailer door sat mangled on the ground nearby. And as I moved slower past spectators who exited their vehicles, and good samaritans on cellphones, I spotted the driver in a pool of blood. His eyes closed and face drenched in red and his blue overalls soot black. I stopped. Looked. And thought for a fraction of second of taking a picture. But felt bad. He turned and opened his eyes and looked at me. Through my helmet my eyes communicated worry and hope. I waved. What could I do. There were a dozen men and women on phones. I’d only interfere. I moved on and then spotted another truck sans rear door. THen I figured what happened.

Our bloody yet conscious driver was cruising at a rate of speed perhaps just a bit too much for his truck and his load. Just as he’s going to round the corner another truck going slower is in front of him. His brakes fail. Or he simply just can’t stop fast enough, he tries to turn too quickly, plows into the back of the truck and as his truck rolls over takes with it the rear door of the other truck. At least nobody died. So I moved on.

Cafe Indio Honduras

The sun starts setting and the rain starts pouring. In Danli it takes three stops at motels to find a room. Soaked, frenzied and tired, I flop on my bed.

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Photos: (1) a pick up truck proudly displays his/her allegiance to the liberal (RED) party in Honduras; (2) Conservatives seem to be looking in higher places for their candidate; (3) Liberals are happy trolling the roads expressing their hope; (4) Nasty truck wreck on my way to Nicaragua; (5) While the indigenous people of Honduras could certainly be called Indians, I find it odd that the best coffee in Honduras uses an icon of the North American Indian complete with headress as its logo/image.

Stats: Tela, Honduras to Danli, Honduras

Moving Average: 41.1 mph

Moving Time: 5:53:30

Maximum Speed: 72.3 mph

Total Miles: 247.4

Tela. Oh Tela.

Tela Beach Sunset

ISleeping Guy Tela like Tela. It’s quiet. It’s on the warm water of the Caribbean. And it has a mix of Latin America and Caribbean culture. I’ve decided to stay here for a few days. My intent in coming to the Caribbean coast of Honduras was to visit Roatan or Utilia, two the islands that make up the Islas de Bahia. Known worldwide for their great coral reefs and therefore excellent snorkeling and diving, I discovered today that taking my bike and me on the ferry to either island and back will coast $125, a bit more than I can afford for just a couple days. Top that with a bit more for diving or snorkeling, I’m better served gazing out over the bay and taking a peak into the Garifuna culture that makes this part of Honduras unique.

The Garifuna people migrated here from the Caribbean Islands in the late 18th century, so their culture is a mix of African and Caribbean. Living in traditional thatched huts on pristine beaches on either side of Tela, they perform traditional drum-driven rhythms of Garifuna music in which you can definitely hear an African influence.

I met David and older man who along with his son run a boat and offered to take me to Punta Sal – the Parque Nacional Janette Kawas — a reserve of mangrove swamps, coastal lagoons, wetlands, coral reef and tropical forest providing habitats for an extraordinary range of animal, bird and plant life. A sturdy man with weathered skin, salt and pepper hair and thin gold rimmed glasses that frame his face nicely, I imagined him in a suit and hustling business either in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, or even New York City. Getting to Punta Sal is practical only by boat, but again going solo the cost is a bit prohibitive. But he later came back to the hotel where I was lounging and working on my journals and photography and was excited to let me know that I could share a boat with a german couple. So it was set. He’d stop by the hotel at 8 am and we’d wander to the boat launch and begin our day long journey to remote villages and pristine beaches.

Tela Beach Sun

An early 7:30am breakfast for me the next morning and I waited. And waited. At nearly 9pm I took a walk toward the boats. Other boaters told me they saw David leave earlier, but without passengers. Seems he was going fishing. I was bummed. And I simply wish he dropped by the hotel and told me that the Germans backed out — or whatever — and didn’t leave me hanging.

So I decided to move on. Once again pass the banana plantations and through El Progreso where I stopped at a gas station and was quickly surrounded by curious attendants, customers and eventually the elder owner of the station. We chatted for awhile in Spansih. Soon he brought his English-speaking son to the party and next I was handed a card and offered carte-blance a place to stay and an insiders look at the local area the next time I visit. So I guess this gets added to the list of places I must return. I do want to see Roatan and Utila. And perhaps a home-cooked meal by the good folks who own the El Progresso Texaco station!

———–

Photos: (1) sunset at Tela from porch of Hotel Sherwood; (2) taking in the Tela days, not a bad way? (3) Beautiful Tela beach and Garifuna villages on point in distance.

Hat Trick and the Banana Republic. Beach at last.

Doc Honduran RoadsideIn Many third or second world countries, organized public transportation is virtually non-existent. For major routes scheduled “chicken” buses depart from parking lots or sometimes in the larger cities and actual bus station. But for locals to shuttle from small towns to slightly bigger towns for market, visiting friends or simply getting around, transportation is handled by taxis, three wheeled moto taxis or some sort of makeshift “bus”. So pickup trucks, mini-vans, flat bed trucks and a collection of other vehicles can serve as the local transport.

As I rode through the fertile lowlands of the Copan valley along the Rio Copan, I started approaching a late model white toyota pick up truck. Speeding at about 40 mph. About 100 yards ahead of me, the bed was packed full of men, women and children. Some sitting on the floor the bed, others leaning against the cab and still others simply sitting precariously on the tailgate and sides of the bed. This is a common site for me on my bike. Sometimes it’s a small container truck packed with people, products and livestock. Other times, it’s simply a pickup. I usually try to make eye contact, smile and then pass as I watch the passengers try to shield their faces and keep their clothing from flapping in the wind. Today, several men are wearing white cowboy hats, and as I gain ground on the truck one flies off the head of a young man sails in the air and rolls to a stop in the middle of the road.

Honduran Countryside-1

I brake hard as the truck disappears around the corner. A young boy walking on the side of the road watches me curiously. I lift my helmet and ask him to hand me the hat. He smiles and obliges and I quickly accelerate hoping to catch the truck before it turns off into some obscure village hidden from view. And before it registers in my brain I spot a baseball cap in the middle of the road. But my speed is too much and while it is likely from one of those passengers, I’m eager to catch the truck. And I do just as it turns onto a dirt road. I pull off and follow. The gleeful and cheering owner of the hat tries to reach for it as the driver is clueless what’s happening in the back of the truck. Finally one of the passengers sitting against the cab bangs on the roof and the truck comes to the a stop and the hat is reunited with its owner and I head back to the pavement for the coast as locals sitting on the side of the dirt road stare, smile and wave.

The terrain starts to roll and I slowly climb as the river continues winding below me. Ironically, Honduras is the only country in Central America without a volcano. This is rich agricultural land and as I get closer to the coast the vegetation turns from fertile pastures and wooded mountains to more tropical. Bananas, pineapples, mangoes and more. Years after the Spanish colonial rule faded, it was the fruit companies that ruled Honduras. And perhaps Honduras IS the original banana republic.

Economically, Honduras is perhaps the poorest country in Central America. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821. But the country seems to have been bitterly embroiled in conflict between liberal and conservatives each taking control of the government back and forth for the past 175 years. In an effort to build infrastructure, bolster the economy and provide jobs for its residents, Dr. Marco Aurelio Soto, a liberal elected in 1876, set the tone for Honduras for many years. He believed that foreign capital was the only way to spur economic development. So he let foreign companies (primarily mining) move into Honduras on extremely favorable terms. They had to employ people and that was it. Meanwhile the government was saddled with the task of building roads, schools, ports and infrastructure.

Honduran Gas Station DoorThe same thing happened with the banana industry 50 years later. With government concessions in place that exempted foreign trade from custom duties , US fruit companies quickly moved into the northern lands near Tela and La Ceiba where I was headed. These larger companies pushed out smaller Honduran and other comapnies and competition was squashed. An ill-fated plan to build railroads in the mid-1800’s was resurrected by the Honduran governemtn with more concessions to the fruit companies. These companies increased their interests in land, railways, energy and telegraph companies and ultimately with government parties — on both sides.

Sherwood Hotel TelaSince Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998, what little economy existed was set back dramatically. Crime has increased, and though I’ve never felt in danger once during my journey through Mexico or Central America I was taken back by a warning sign and a very “Americanized” Texaco gas station complete with mini-mart: no guns allowed inside. I could have closed my eyes and opened them and thought I was in a California gas station. But two armed guards, one at the door and the other by the pumps, were a quick reminder of just where I am.

Passing mile after mile of banana trees and through La Lima, the headquarters of United Fruit (Chiquita bananas) and El Progreso, a non-descript town with a couple fastfood eateries and banks of ramshackle houses. Nearly an hour later I pull into Tela, a quiet beach town with white sandy beaches and a small river (Rio Tela) that runs through the small shabby town center. But I settle into the pleasant Sherwood Hotel on the beach. Scenic palms swing in the breeze and I quickly settle in gazing out over the ocean for the first time since I left La Paz in mid-October.

Honduras: Ruinas de Copán

Copan Street

With twilight sinking to moonlight I rode into Ruinas de Copán, just a few clicks from the border town of La Florido in southeastern Guatemala. I’m getting used to quickly adjusting to new currency and quickly calculating conversion rates. Complete with new faces of people from the past, denominations and colors, I made the mind switch from Guatemalan Quetzales to Honduran Lempira. Though I’m not sure exactly the derivative of most countries, I’m eager to learn. In Guatemala Quetzales come from the national, yet allusive bird, the Quetzal. In Honduras case it’s gotta be from the indigenous and charasmatic “cacique” (chieftan) Lempira. From Erandique in southwest Honduras, Lempira persuaded the tribes of the center and western highlands to rebel against the Spanish in 1536. He amassed “troops” numbering 30,000 or more. The Spanish had a hard time controlling the rebellion, which lasted for three years or more, but eventually lured Lempira out of the highlands for peace talks. then shot and killed him in 1539. Then the Lempira forces were easily overcome and Spanish colonial rule prevailed. A side note, on Christopher Columbus’ fourth and final journey he landed on Guanja, one of the Islas de Bahia just off the cost of Honduras – just a short distance from Roatan.

Yet rolling into Copán, I was at the same time excited and relishing in my regained freedom. For the first time I arrive in a Latin American city without riding partners. Sacha was surely taking in his last days in Antigua and Sacha liely was gazzing over the grand pyramids of Tikal. But here I am at Parque Central in Copán alone. Traveling alone has pros and cons. Most important is as a solo traveler you are more likely to engage in conversations with the locals. But perhaps more important, solo travelers seem more approachable to locals and other travelers. A few backpacekrs guide me to cheap accomodations, but a busload of German tourists beat me there and I’m off climbing the cobblestone streets for an alternative which proves simple enough to find. Later I drop into a restaurant/bar owned by a British ex-pat woman. She cranks up the volume and lip syncs hit songs from a previous era. Another ex-pat, an older man, hits on a local Honduran woman while yanking on the collar of his large dog to keep it from scarfing on my peanuts.

stela_copán

staircase_close_up Hieroglyphic Staircase

Not only does a visit to Copán make an ideal stop for the night before heading to the Carribean beach resorts and islands that have recently put Honduras on the tourist map, but a visit to Copán allows me to visit the only cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. A hotbed of Mayan culture, Ruinas de Copán are extremely significant for they provide a keen eye into hundreds of years of history with its Hieroglyphic Stairway, a 72-step stone staircase made up of more than 2,000 stone blocks, each intricately carved to form a glyphic sequence making perhaps the longest-known Maya hieroglyphic text. The stairway was built to record the history of several dynasties and the history of the city.

Without boring you with the details of the staircase, suffice to say that three generations of leaders, starting with Eighteen Rabbit in 710 AD, devoted time to recording the history of this grand Mayan city. Copán was once the most important city-state in the southern outskirst of the Mayan world. And while the site had been known to the Spanish since 1576, it wasn’t until the 1800’s when John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published their grand travelogue “Travel in Central America, Chiaps and Yucatan” did Copán come into the world’s eye. Shortly after, then aacting US-ambassador Stephens bought the ruins and ultimately succeeded in creating more interest in Mesoamerica from anthropologists and archaealogists worldwide.

Copan Temple 1Today, the ruins are in excellent condition, though the stairway has faded and a canopy of corrugate metal has been placed above it to protect it from the sun. Rumor has it that the staircase will be moved to a museum under construction and a replica will take its place as has been done with several stela. Also, thanks to its status on the UNESCO World Heritage List, an airstrip just 100 yards or so from the ruins that used to shuttle in toustis and archaelogists has been shut down, and work continues on renovating structures buried and tangled in roots in the jungle. My tour guide tells me that the Japanese increasingly show interest and invest money into restoring these ruins because they believe tthe Mayans to be decendents from Japan. The restoration we can see today, which is impressive, was funded and executed in part by Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Washington Carnegie Insittute, which helped divert the Rio Copán (Copan River) to prevent it from carving into the site. More recently the Instituto Hondureeño has been running a nubmer of projects with the help of the US, Japanese and others helping make Copán perhaps the most undrestood of all Mayan cities.

Leaving Copán for the Carribean coast, my departure is ironically timed as a dozen motorcycles speed by the entrance of the ruins and into a nearby gas station. I cruise to the gas station to meet my new friends from Guatamala who must returned from a 4-day jaunt to Roatan. They shower me with advice about Honduras, the roads and conditions and the BMW riders in the group tell me they had met a woman rider known by her handle, Moto Diva. It’s Anne Giardin, another rider on a bike similar to mine currently heading to Argentina. She had been in Guatemala City a month o f so back getting her bike serviced at the BMW dealer. Her name is familiar and I quickly realize she spent some time riding with Sacha when they both were in Alaska earlier this summer.

We quickly say goodbyes and I head to the coast.

Where Are Your Papers? Redux at the Honduran Border!

With Guatemala City fading in my rearview mirrors, I meandered slowly and surely through the outskirts. It was then when I swallowed hard. Gulped. Then gasped. And my mind spun wildly. I was screwed. Should I turn back? Battle my way back to the BMW dealer? It was surely closed. And it was Saturday and not opened again until Monday.

They still had my papers — the important papers.

With the border a little over 3 hours away, I pondered my options. I would likely be turned away at the border. Because without the Guatemalan temporary vehicle import document there would be no way for the customs agent to clear my bike. And without my bike cleared through customs, the Honduran customs office would not issue me a like permit for taking my motorcycle into Honduras.

Could I talk my way out of this predicament?

Otherwise, I would turn around and try to make my way through the maze of Guatemala City back to the BMW dealer. Even then, the likelihood of finding someone who had access to the service writers’ office was nada. I’d be stuck in Guatemala City for two nights. My mind was still spinning. These papers have caused me more anxiety and fear than anyone should have to go through. I was more worried about getting out of Guatemala and into Honduras than getting kidnapped in Mexico or robbed in Guatemala. After all, these ARE my important papers.

I decided to go for the border.

I’d been without my bike for a couple days. And with a new chain, rear tire and front and rear sprockets plus new plugs and a few other bonuses thrown in, my bike was running excellent. So as I passed hundreds of cardboard signs stapled to buildings, road signs and trees touting Everyready batteries, I ran through a number of scenarios in my head.

I could tell them I lost the papers. Then again, I could blame it on the dealer. There had been some heavy rains so the papers could have been destroyed and rendered unreadable. Hey, this is Guatemala and I could say they were stolen. Like Kasparov contemplating Big Blue’s next move, I calculated the potential responses. But this was just guessing.

Another idea I conceived was to just appear at the Guatemalan Customs office and act as if I just arrived from Honduras and pay my 41 Quetzales for a new permit. Then just spend the night at the border and go back through in the morning canceling it. Problem was the vehicle is noted in my passport. Then I remembered that the customs office scribbled information into my passport when they stamped me “in”. Though the document in question was completed on a 30 year old typewriter, I did see a computer in the adjacent office where I paid my 41 Quetzales. Maybe my motorcycle documentation was plugged into the computer.

Sure. As if there was a computer network linking this far remote border crossing into Honduras. I imagined that data was stored locally and updated monthly, if that. I crossed into Guatemala just over a week ago and it was doubtful that any record of my coming into this country would be on any computer — and doubtfully on one at perhaps the least crossed border in Guatemala.

The odds were against me. I was screwed. But I pressed on.

Just before the border my gas light popped on. At the gas station the attendants and all the customers surrounded me and my motorcycle. I had to handle the typical barrage of questions. How much did it cost? Where am I from? Where am I going? How big is it? Who makes it? I always have fun in these situations. I take advantage of practicing my Spanish while attempting to learn a few more words. Not a bad thing. But at this gas station I was bummed to find they had no premium gasoline. However, I was running on reserve out and at just before 4pm, I needed to get to the border before closing time at 5. Then I needed to get to Ruinas de Copan, just 10km from the border and secure a room before sundown.

Boy was I playing the odds.

Everything went smooth at Guatemalan immigration. After my passport was stamped and cleared, I asked “Is that all?” “Todo?” The agent said sure.

So, when I approached the customs office I thought I was speaking with Honduran customs officials. The gentlemen with the narrow boyish face, clear eyes and windbreaker looked more like a rejected soccer player than a customs official. He was more interested in my GPS unit than he was in doing his job.

“Where are your papers?” he asked handing my passport, title and registration back to me.

I realized this was the Guatemalan customs office. And I was hardly done with my Guatemalan border business.

“They’re destroyed,” I explained in my best Spanish. “The motorcycle dealer destroyed them,” I explained, reasoning that if I told him they forgot to give them back it was an open door for him to tell me to go back to the city and get the papers.

“Without the papers I can’t check you out of the country and the Honduras what let you in with your bike.” As he spit out the words in broken English I pulled on my ears hoping what went in was different than what I thought I heard.

“But the papers are gone,” I explained with a slight whimper in my voice.

“I know you told me this, but I can’t do anything.”

Time for fast thinking. I remembered the scribbling in my passport. “At the border of Mexico customs told me they wrote the number in my passport.” I was reaching.

“What number?” he asked as I was waving my passport in front of him. “There are no numbers for the document, I need the original paperwork.”

Shoving my passport in his face, I pointed to the Guatemalan stamp. His eyes squinted and he finally took the passport back, glanced at it and placed it back on the counter. “That’s your VIN number,” he sadly rejected my pleas.

“No. No,” I pleaded again. “This other number.. The border official told me this number is important” I was lying now. He grabbed the passport and stared blankly at the numbers.

“They don’t make sense to me,” he explained. I encouraged him to try and frustrated with my tenacity pulled a computer keyboard closer to him.

“I don’t think these numbers have anything to do with your motorcycle,” he tried to manage my expectations as he punched numbers into the computer. “You would have to be very lucky if there’s a record of your motorcycle here”

Playing the odds.

He asked me for my registration and license plate number. He kept pounding at the keys. I tried to decipher what he was punching in making sure that nothing was spelled wrong. He then started hitting the enter key. With eyes glazed over, he was intensely concentrating. More key punching. More enter key hitting.

Then he looked up at me. “I don’t know how,'” he said in Spanish.

“Do I have good luck,” I asked back.

“You are very, very lucky,” he said as he proceeded to go through the motions and clear me out of Guatemala and the sweat dried from my brow. It was 10 minutes before the border closed and i still needed to get import documentation from Honduras.

With a Gaugin book sitting on the top of his computer monitor, the Honduran customs agent had 10 or more years on his Guatemalan counterpart. He also had about 50 more pounds, too. Peering through thick glasses as he shuffled papers from the center drawer of his wooden desk. He then got up and left the office. Great, I figured that was it he closed. But 10 minutes later he came back with a notebook and scribbling. Seems he couldn’t find the VIN number on my motorcycle. He had left the office to examine my back, jot down any information he could find, then returned to the office and started threading papers in triplicate through a 30 year old manual Underwood typewriter.

Honduran Border OfficialA fan of Gaugin, he was studying his work in both the book and on the internet. He was more interested in me, my trip and my background than he was at answering my questions about his life. But soon he asked me for $35 and handed me my paperwork, passport and other documents, pounded a few rubber stamps on a slew of documents, handed me my passport and finally released me from the office.

My bike was parked within 10 feet of the border gate, a iron tube painted in yellow and black stripes. An elderly man with a Yankee baseball cap and only a few teeth was responsible for hoisting it up and pulling it down. He flashed his wrinkled hand in front of my face and showed me a few words scribbled in ink on his palm. “Tip”. Was the word he kept pointing at and trying to pronounce. I knew he was looking for a handout. “Oh. You mean trip?” I pretended not to understand and explained that I was in Guatemala and going to Honduras on a big “Trip”. He pointed to another word, this one in Spanish: “propina”, clearly the word for tip. But unfortunately I handed my last money to Honduran Customs. Not that there was a reason to offer him a tip. After all this was his job. But I reached into my Camelback pack and pulled out a tiny ceramic cup with a neck ribbon attached. The tourist office in Zacatecas, Mexico had given it to me as a gift. I’d been carrying it for a few weeks and finally found the perfect place to lose it. I put the cup and ribbon over his head and said “para mi amigo.” For my friend. He held it up, mocked drinking from it and laughed. Just as he was about to pull the gate up and let me through, my Honduran fan of Gaugin came running out of his office. Seems he forgot to stamp my vehicle information in my passport. Good thing I was detained by the man looking for a tip.

With a passport stamped with new info and the sun slowly setting, I rode through the border and into Ruinas de Copan.

Honduras at last.