How NOT to cross a border…

Perhaps we were getting too big for our britches, perhaps we had one too many drinks the night before, and perhaps we did not bother to sit down and seriously study the Honduran/Nicaraguan border crossing. But here is a lesson on what NOT to do.

I went back and forth on sharing this story…  Primarily out of amateur overlander shame and secondarily out of scaring the crap out of our parents. But here at Home on the Highway we like to share the UPS and DOWNS of the adventure. So here it is!

NOTE: There are no pictures to this post. During stressful times the last thing running through your mind is, “OH I SHOULD SNAP A PICTURE!” Sadly, once you look back these are the times you wish you had documented it via photos.
We arrived at the “El Espino” border from Honduras into Nicaragua. We had glanced over some border crossing info the night before but feeling confident enough with our Spanish and our prior border crossing experience we did not bother to study. We roughly calculated it would cost around $50 to complete the crossing and had that amount in Honduran Lempiras. Mistake #1. ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA CASH AND CLOSELY RESEARCH FEES BEFORE HAND

We arrive to the frontier road and find a chain strung across it. A government official sits lazily in an old run-down shack nearby. We are instantly bombarded by touts (border helpers) but we are prepared for this and ignore them. I grab our paperwork and make a beeline to the government shack.

I hand over our paperwork over to the government official to check it out, he, in turn, immediately hands it over to some random dude in a T-Shirt who proceeds to run off with it.  Mistake #2 NEVER LET YOUR PAPERWORK OUT OF SIGHT

I ask the government official, “What the hell?”

Government official explains that I must to use this guy to get the process done…

Sensing the worst, I immediately run after him to find our paperwork. I find him in a another dirt-floor shack that has been rigged up with a copy machine. T-Shirt guy is happily making copies of all our paperwork.

I demand it all back from him, he refuses explaining that he is the official in charge of this process. Not exactly wanting to get into a brawl at the border… I reluctantly pay the copy man $5! for a fistful of copies and we go back to government official in the shack whom I apparently need to get a stamp from to cancel my Honduran import permit to move on with the border crossing process.

The entire time I am yelling about getting my damn paperwork back, so now T-Shirt guy and government official are both perturbed that this gringo is rocking the boat. They start running a scam demanding some bullshit receipt we were supposed to have from purchasing the original car import permit into Honduras over 3 weeks ago.

I told them we received no receipt and obviously we have paid since we had a legitimate car import permit.

They explained that if I did not have the original receipt then I would have to pay again…. $40 (Originally it was $25 when I paid crossing into Honduras from Guatemala…)

Realizing we are now deep into scam territory I start some scamming of my own…
I explain… “Ummm… OK I am happy to pay for the new receipt but I do not have enough cash right now.”

I told the government employee that I needed his official stamp to move on with the process, to the next country where I could use an ATM. He reluctantly agrees and stamps our paperwork. He tells his T-shirt buddy to stay with us to make sure I come back and pay him. Great… a new friend!

I jump back in the truck, Lauren who has been listening to all this going down, gives me the “What the hell are you doing!?” look…

T-Shirt guy runs ahead of the truck with our paperwork. By the time I catch up with him he has had our passports stamped out of Honduras (I pay his friend $10 in bribes… for this) It is normally free and I know this but I am all flustered and not thinking clearly at the time.

After checking out our passports T-shirt guy goes to check the car import permit out of Honduras. For this he actually did come in handy since the office was closed for lunch, I guess he knows the people that work there since he banged on the door and someone came and got him. They went inside for a few minutes and came back with our stuff. The import official wanted a bribe as well, Worrying about my dwindling bankroll, I told him I didn’t have enough money but would come back later to pay…

We were now officially checked out of Honduras (Owing at least $60 in back-pay bribes) but now needed to check into Nicaragua.
At this point I now have T-shirt guy and 3 other touts following me around like sharks. I have screwed up. I am now a mark…

To enter into Nicaragua you are required to purchase car insurance and pay a per/person check-in visa fee. I needed to change my Honduran Lempiras into Nicaraguan Cordobas (Again, We did not check the exchange rate.. and lost about $5 in this process)
I pay the Nicaraguan customs guy for our visa stamps. He was actually very friendly and yelled at the touts to leave us alone.

We get our passports stamped and now our bodies are official in Nicaragua but the truck is still in limbo stuck between the 2 countries.

We need to buy insurance and get it inspected by customs to get the truck legally into the country.

Problem is after all Nicaraguan entry-fees, various bribes,  and getting screwed on the exchange rate now we REALLY are tapped out of cash.

We do not have enough money to buy insurance AKA We cannot drive into Nicaragua.

This is when 3rd world shadiness comes in handy. I search around for a dude who sells insurance who also happens to know the Nicaraguan customs guy. I explain to him I do not have enough cash to buy insurance or pay for customs inspection. I need to get into Nicaragua to use an ATM and if he could help me I would pay him for his services.
So shady insurance guy writes us up an insurance policy and gets his customs friend to inspect my truck.

I tell shady insurance guy and customs guy that I will pay them for the insurance policy and bribes once I get some money.
OK. So now we have a Nicaraguan insurance policy, the truck is inspected and signed off by Nicaraguan customs. Our passports are officially stamped into Nicaragua. I have a long-line of people who are demanding payment for their “services”. Everyone involved is pissed off and I still have no money.

I talk with Shady insurance guy and he assures the angry mob (lead by damn T-Shirt guy from Honduras!) that he will go with me to the ATM and come back with money for everyone. He wants me to go on his motorcycle into town and leave my truck at the border.

I say “Screw that, You get in my truck and we will go into town together”

Lauren who is all kinds of pissed off at me and this whole situation now has to climb in the back and squeeze between all of our crap. The shady insurance guy gets in the front-seat of the 4Runner and we drive into Nicaragua…

We are are now driving in Nicaragua, the closet town with an ATM is about 20 miles away. Lauren and I are talking in English to each other trying to figure out if we are 100% legit in Nicaragua. I am wondering if maybe we need some other paperwork at the border.

We determine we do not need anything. If we were to kick this dude out of the car we would be 100% legal and all those other border scammers could go pound sand.

Now Shady Insurance guy was really the only dude who really helped me out, he fronted the $12 for insurance out of his own pocket. I did not want to screw him over completely.

We finally get to the ATM. I pull out cash, jump back in the truck and drive back down the road. We are headed back to the border. Shady insurance guy is totaling up all the money I owe the other scammers, It totaled up to $85, plus $12 for insurance.
Somewhere in between the border and the town I pull over the truck. Give the guy $20 and tell him to get out. He gives me a confused look and starts asking for more money.

I tell him that is all he is getting. He argues for a bit but then gives up and gets out of the truck.

We are finally 100% legal and alone in Nicaragua.

What a fuckin’ day.

Mashin’ the Miskito Coast – Part #2

We camped out on the beach and did not a see a soul for most of the next day.

Later in the afternoon, 2 young guys came riding up on horses. We started talking and it turns out that one guy was from Belize (and spoke english) and the other dude was Garifun from the village just up the road. We shared some beers and became instant friends.
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Mashin’ the Miskito Coast – Part #1

We had seen the movie “The Mosquito Coast” with Harrison Ford a few years ago that described this very remote undeveloped area of the northern Honduran coastline. We forgot all about it until we saw the name again in our Honduras guidebook. The Moskito Coastis described as the least developed area in all of Central America. With minimal roads, no services, and no tourist infrastructure. It sounded right up our alley.

We heard about a 4×4 trail that hugs the coastline out to a small Miskito village named “Pueblo Nuevo”.  They said it was rough going, lots of beach/sand driving, river crossings, and no support out their if something was to go wrong. SOLD!

Winding through the hills towards the coastline
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The hits keep comin’ in Honduras…

ATM disaster dodged, Corrupt cops deflected. What else could go wrong!?

We are climbing through the mountain passes of Honduras and I can tell the 4Runner is losing power. Not exactly sure what is going on I do what any proud Toyota owner would do and simply ignore it. Hell… She still runs don’t she?

Eventually we are coming through a construction zone near the top of a pass and I lose all momentum/power. The truck basically cuts out. The accelerator pedal pins flat to the floor and doesn’t come back up.

We are smackdab in the middle of the construction zone. Huge dumptrucks and bulldozers battle it out with the mountainside all around us. It is at least 95F, hot, dusty, and LOUD.

We are stuck blocking the 1-lane of the passable highway with gigantic buses and semi-trucks all honking and trying to squeeze around us.

I jump out of the truck and pop the hood. Chaos everywhere. Tons of dust, huge loud tractors, people honking like crazy at us. I check the throttle cable and its all screwed up, sagging from the throttle body like a limp noodle.

I try to jerry rig it quickly. No go, It wont retract. Something is jamming. I pull out my tools and take it apart in the middle of the highway with people passing everywhere.

No wonder it wont retract… Line is frayed and jamming inside the throttle cable housing.
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Finally! The moment we have all been waiting for… Corrupt cops in Honduras!

Stocked up, fueled up, and ready for adventure! We hit the road to the Moskito coast.

The directions we had were shaky at best and we ended up taking a wrong turn into a small sketchy neighborhood. Before I got a chance to turn around we found ourselves smack in the middle of a police-checkpoint in this barrio.


The checkpoint was manned by 6 young fellas. They see us coming and pull me over. Young guy asks me the usual paperwork questions and then says he needs to search my truck… OK. We haven’t been asked to search our truck yet in Honduras so I thought it a bit odd.

Then he asks me to get out of the truck. Again odd, I haven’t been asked to get out in quite some time either.

So I get out and he puts me up against the truck and gives me a crappy cursory pat-down. The first pat-down I have received since leaving the U.S. Obviously he wasn’t looking very hard since he doesn’t notice I have a damn buck knife in my pocket. He starts asking me if I have drugs, where we are from, did we come here to buy drugs. We are conversing in spanish, I am telling him… No we are just lost, we are tourists bla bla blah.

He continues to search the truck, I roll down the rear-window, he opens the cooler and comes back around to the front of the truck. He then tells me “Having a cooler full of beer during Semana Santa is illegal…”

I say… Por Que? (Why?) and he says because the police say so…

So from this point on we know this guy is trying to take us for a bribe and we mentally shift gears.

As sick as it sounds… We have been preparing for this moment now for so long we are almost excited to get a chance to have a go at some corrupt cops. The game is a-foot!

He rechecks all of our papers and tells us our vehicle import papers are only good for Guatemala (which is bullshit. Why would Honduran immigration give me an vehicle import document for Guatemala?) so I call him out on that in spanish. Surprised by our confidence. He moves on.

Then he says I need a front plate. I explain to him you do not need one in the United States and they do not issue you a front Honduran plate at the border, in spanish. He moves on again.

He starts saying I have drugs in the car, since I am from California and Californias love drugs! (I see our reputation precedes us…) I tell him we do not have any in spanish. He moves on.

The cop just keeps coming up random crap hoping we cave and just offer him cash. I keep calling him on his B.S. in spanish. He is almost smiling at this point, unable to keep the con alive and remain serious.

Eventually he just straight up starts asking for a bribe/regalo (gift). That is when we start playing the fool and immediately forget all the spanish we know….

Everything he asks now is met with a “no entiendo” (I dont understand)

He asks Lauren something, she replies “No entiendo”

We go back and forth for 10 more minutes with him asking me for a regalo and me saying “no entiendo” and talking to him about random nonsense in rapid fire english which really confuses him.

He keeps saying in frustration “You don’t understand my language!?”. Guess he forgot about the 1st half of our conversation that took place entirely in spanish…

Eventually he calls his buddy over who just tells him to knock it off. Young Cop #2 takes our paperwork from Young Cop #1 hands it to me and tells us to get going.

Home on the Highway-1 Honduran Corrupt Cop-0

While every case dealing with the police is different…we have found, as have most others, if you play along with the cop long enough, waste their time, or just downright confuse them. You can get out of most bribery incidents without paying a nickel.

NOTE: This was our first bribe attempt in over 5 months of travel and 20,000+ miles covered. The majority of police/military we have encountered have been friendly and helpful.

PS: He never did ask about our reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, or reflective tape!!!