I’ve had some of the craziest moments in the last 30 hours. I left the finca and San Juan del Sur before all the chaos of Semana Santa.
I hitched a ride with my friend Justin so I could avoid all the taxi drivers in the city center yelling ‘taxi chica, rivas rivas rivas’. Justin was headed to Guatemala, but I only wanted a ride to Managua or Leon, final destination Leon. After taking hours longer than we thought, turning around for forgotten items, I decided that instead of 4 hours to Leon, I would take the 8 hour trip to El Salvador. 8 hours versus 4 to go to a new country and pass back through Leon on the way back sounded like a great idea.
4 hours turned into 6, which turned into 8, which turned into 27. Tired, sweaty, weary, we’ve finally arrived in El Tunco on the pacific coast of El Salvador after 27 long hours in a car with 5 people and bags.
Border crossings here are not as easy as other places, especially if you have a car that wasn’t in your name the last time you passed through.
Leaving Nicaragua wasn’t without surprises. Justin passed a truck around a straight yellow line, and committed an ‘infraction’. Just as I had heard the stories, we got pulled over and we were told that we would have to pay a fine of $50 and go to the capital city while the police held his license until he could pay the ticket. Impossible. I ended up acting as the Spanish translator and realized pretty quickly that this guy would accept a bribe to let us go. A final negotiation of $7 passed discretely through the window and we were on our way again! Woohoo.
Seeing as things were going well, we decided to stop for a full meal just before the border to Honduras, where we would spend the next few hours or so. After a great meal and a couple of drinks, laughs, and excitement to get into El Salvador hopefully in time to get a good night’s sleep.
When we got to the border we discovered that Justin’s car permit had expired a few days earlier. A fine of $100 dollars we were told or we would have to wait until the morning. Thinking this was another bribe, we slipped a $20 then a $50 under the window to no avail. Again acting as translator, I argued for 2 hours why we shouldn’t have to pay, asking the customs agent to show me the law, explain it, and talking to two other agents, we finally just caved in and paid $100. On our way….. for 200 meters… until the border to Honduras.
It was now past midnight and as we were all struggling to stay awake. A ‘propina’, a licensed guide that helps people at the border for a negotiated, sometimes surprise, fee, approached us. He entered the locked office and woke up the night agent.
The night administrator randomly decided he didn’t like the wording on Justin’s documents that proved the car was sold to him by his earlier travel companion. Stamped, notarized, and valid in Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, it was not valid here. If the word ‘obligation’ had been ‘rights’, according to him, he could approve it as valid. Are you kidding me? Another hour goes by negotiating with the officer, who again won’t take bribes.
Finally, Justin found another unarguable piece of paper that showed the title in his name, plus another bill of sale that apparently had wording that would pass. Whew. The other option was to sleep at the border. After another hour, making copies – where we finally negotiated the price down to $5, paid the propina $5 to his dismay, we finally were able to leave. Yes!
Being the navigator, I was told to watch for logs or any obstacle in the road that seemed ‘strange’. At 2 am we might be safer, but generally there are gangs ‘bandilleros’ that will throw something in the road to force you to stop and then proceed to rob you, probably at gunpoint. As Justin said ‘no matter what, we’re not stopping’. Alas, we eventually made it across the border to arrive into El Salvador’s border crossing around 5:30 am.
A much quicker process, but still tedious paperwork and waiting for the shift change to occur at 6 am (ish), we finally got approved and headed into El Salvador! No bribing, no gangs of robbers, we drove through the beautiful country headed to the beach south of San Salvador. The only thing to look out for is Central America’s largest and most notorious criminal gang, M-18, but we should be safe.
After a few wrong turns and several stops for better directions, we finally made it to El Tunco around 4 pm, an amazing little beach town on the pacific coast, to stay for Semana Santa. Found a great hotel with wi-fi where I can write this post. Spent the rest of the day body surfing and doing some boogie boarding a few short miles away from some of the best-known surf breaks in the world!
As I sit here I was just offered a tiny shot of El Salvadorean Rum mixed with herbs and spices. Cheers! Off to eat some pupusas!