Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Honduras to Nicaragua border… How hard can it be

Honduras: 1: Immigration and Customs, 2: Photocopies,
Nicaragua: 3: Spraying Pesticides, 4: Payment spraying,
Immigration, 6: Customs, 7 Customs Inspector,
8: Insurance and Police 
The border to Nicaragua is notorious. All we had read about this border was negative. It takes forever, is expensive and complicated and the 'helpers' are a pest there. The plan had been to find a camp spot just before the border and go early the next morning. As the restaurant that apparently offered camping options was closed and we couldn't find another possibility, we ended up at the border early in the afternoon… Jeanette then noted that she hadn't prepared anything and didn't have the necessary copies of passports, vehicle registrations etc. Hmmm arriving in the afternoon and unprepared at the most difficult border of Central America…

We crossed at the Las Manos El Paraiso into Nicaragua. As soon as we arrived the 'helpers' jumped at us, like vultures on their prey. A couple of decisive 'no' sorted that out. As there were too many people around the various border buildings, which to a westerner look more like ramshackle shacks, I decided to park the bikes opposite where the trucks were parked too. The 'helpers' jumped at us again. The problem with borders like this is that it's hard to ascertain who has any authority here and who is only pretending to. When a Honduran Policeman said we had to park the bikes somewhere else though it was pretty clear we had no option. 

Aduana Honduras, return of temporary import permit is done here
Immigration Nicaragua
We waved the vultures on and proceeded to the first stop: Immigration to get the necessary stamps that we had left the country, costs L70,- per person. It is of vital importance at all borders to make it very clear that you are going through to Panama. Normally they ask for this but if not then still let them know. From Immigration we went to the Aduana to let them know the motorcycles were leaving the country again. The Aduana needed copies, which can be made just around the corner for a small fee. Looking for the right 'shack' I popped my head in one of the shacks to find both a copying machine and a smooching session in process between two colleagues… :-) She straightened her skirt and made the copies quickly! Back to the Aduana we filled in the required forms, handed in the 'lovingly made' photocopies and were done. Exiting Honduras is as easy and painless as entering it. All the officials were friendly and helpful, even the ones we interrupted!

Now the hard bit started. Nicaragua! Entering is literally riding over a chain on the ground…! Turn left to the fumigation, where the bikes will be sprayed and pay for the privilege in the office above. We have no idea what they charge per bike as 3 bikes costed us 115 Cordobas which can't be divided by 3, presumably we got a family rate. Next stop is the Immigration. Unlike the other countries so far Nicaragua does not stamp your passport but gives a separate piece of paper (don't loose it!). Pay the fees (something in the order of 300 Cordobas.). Then walk back to the Aduana and make sure you're in the correct row (the window displays a sign 'tourist cars').

Here the process becomes somewhat complicated. The paperwork for your motorcycle takes time and you will then be issued with two pages with an old fashioned carbon copy sheet in between. You need to take these to the Aduana Inspector. He checks the paper against your registration document and asks where you are from. Like I said, now it becomes difficult… the difficulty was explaining the inspector where Australia is… :-) Is Australia in Europe? No, it's an island. 'Ahh, Next to Francia?' 'No It's an island below India.' 'Ahh. in Africa?' 'No, no Next to New Zealand.' 'Ahh, Portugal? Si, next to Portugal… we answered to stop this potentially endless conversation. Totally happy that he worked it out he gave us the papers back with his signature on it… Take them back to the Aduana who will process them. All this happens with no charge at all… well, or they forgot to ask us for it?

Next stop is the compulsory insurance. This will cost you US$36,- per motorcycle and is an easy process. Armed with that you will need to go to the Nicaragua Police who require a photocopy of the registration papers and a photocopy of your drivers license and wish you welcome to Nicaragua.

Normally you then ride up to the actual entry gate and show passport and insurance documents etc. In our case the officer checked our paperwork while we did the insurance so that we didn't have to stop again. Nice guy!

Nicaragua Customs Inspector who will check your motorcycle against the Aduana import permit you have been issued
Vehicle spraying
All in all the whole process Honduras and Nicaragua took us 2,5 hours for 3 persons and 3 motorcycles. Just like in Honduras, the officers are friendly and helpful and try to help you all the way. Just ask and they will tell you how to do it or point you where to go. Of course all these processes are pretty archaic and seem designed to keep a small army of people employed. But if you forget that and just concentrate at what need to be done then it's an easy process really.

Vehicle spraying office, payment in 
the yellow building, first floor
A couple of things to remember. At each and every office, make sure you get everything back like drivers licenses, passport, registration documents etc. They won't hold them on purpose but these places can be quite hectic and mistakes can easily be made. Behind the window of the Nicaraguan Immigration is a row of identity cards that people left behind… imagine arriving at the next border only to find out you have to go back…

Aduana for vehicle permit
Insurance office and behind it the Police
Also; check all the paperwork for writing or typing errors. VIN numbers are long and again mistakes can be made. If so they can be easily corrected now, but not when you are at the next border. Do not get angry or frustrated. Remember that while you have to do this only once, the officer you are getting angry with has to do this all day and every day… imagine how frustrated he must be :-) Also, if you're not an American then make that very clear, otherwise they just assume you are and give you paperwork stating you are an American (which may cause heaps of problems later on). Finally, make sure you have plenty of water before you enter, these places can be quite warm, and have plenty of cash preferably in US dollars.

Armageddon? Nope, this is what they used to spray vehicles...
We have 3 bikes and there is always one of us with the bikes. When it's an absolute madhouse, like at the Honduras part when we arrived, there are two of us with the bikes. We have, so far, not seen anyone even vaguely attempting to steal anything. But you only need one set of thieving fingers… When traveling alone, be sensible and 'streetwise'. Park the bike near a police officer, or the Aduana inspector for instance. With the benefit of hindsight the Honduras police officer simply directed us where to park so he could keep an eye on them.