Crossing the border with Nicaragua

Crossing the border with Nicaragua

This adventure began when my wife’s sister decided to attend a wedding in Nicaragua. We asked if she would be so kind as to bring a few little things that we missed here in Honduras. She graciously agreed to do so and gave us the local Nicaraguan phone number of a friend in Ocotal who had offered to hold the package until we could come pick it up. After a few weeks, we contacted the friend and agreed to come pick up the package the next day.

After a cup of strong coffee and roscilla, we set off for Nicaragua just after dawn. It was a pleasant drive through pine-covered mountains and winding roads almost devoid of traffic so early in the morning. We turned south at Danley, through the small town of El Paraiso and finally arrived at the Las Manos border crossing.

The first thing that piqued my curiosity was the long line of trucks. Dozens and dozens of lorries of every size and description were parked on the side of the road for at least half a mile. Nothing was moving and there was no driver in sight. The possibility crossed my mind that they might be at the border processing documents to enter Nicaragua, and given the large number of trucks waiting, it must be excruciatingly slow. My wife, her uncle and I agreed that it might be better to find a parking spot and walk instead of risking a long line waiting for a vehicle permit. We can take a taxi to Ocotal, a few miles further south.

As we approached the Honduran immigration office, we were besieged by “tramitadores” who offered to fill out the official paperwork and take us to the front of the line, all for a fee of course. After about three seconds of looking at the line, we agreed. It did cost us a few lempires, but suddenly we found ourselves in front of the immigration officer, a very attractive young lady of maybe twenty-five. I immediately felt better about the whole situation, but not for long.

My wife presented her ID, the girl stamped an official document and waved her off to the Nicaraguan side. Uncle presented her with his ID card, the same paper and stamp, and waved. I presented my American passport, she looked and immediately asked for seventy lempira. I asked why I have to pay. She very briefly said it was for permission to leave Honduras and if I was at the border trying to extend my re-entry visa she wouldn’t do it. It wasn’t a lot of money, so I just chalked it up to the “gringo special price” and left, feeling grateful that I wasn’t married to her.

I met my wife and Tio at the Nicaraguan immigration office. Now the Nicaraguan tramitadores insisted on producing the documents. They didn’t particularly want Lempira, but they took them anyway. The procedure was exactly the same for Ada and Tio. They presented their ID, received a stamped piece of paper and a hearty “Bienvenidos a Nicaragua.” I presented my American passport and the man at the window got a look on his face that would have made Mordecai Jones proud. Before even looking at any documents, he promptly demanded twelve US dollars. That’s almost three hundred Nicaraguan Cordobas. Again, not much, but it’s annoying when I’m the ONLY ONE in one of the lines paying SOMETHING! I heard about the Spanish equivalent of “For you, today only!”.

I explained to the Nicaraguan immigration officer that I had been living in Honduras for some time and had no US dollars. After consulting with two of his colleagues, he reluctantly said he would take Cordoba instead. I told him quite impatiently that I didn’t have Cordoba either, only Lempira. Being the obliging gentleman that he was, he directed me to a man standing under a tree about twenty feet from us, whom he said would change money for me. The money changer pulled out a huge stack of cordobas and said he would be more than happy to change my money – but only if I had US dollars!

While trying to keep my blood pressure up, I went back to the window and rather forcefully explained to the policeman that I had no dollars and could not buy Córdobas. I ONLY have Lempiras! Quite briefly, and with a disgusted sigh, he held out his hand and demanded three hundred lempires. He made pretty good interest considering that twelve dollars is about two hundred and forty, but I was finally in Nicaragua.

There were no taxis so after a wild bus ride we arrived in the sleepy little town of Okotal, picked up the package and prepared to head back. Mother Nature did her best to slow us down with a quick downpour, but that gave us enough reason to hole up at a local restaurant for a few cold Nicaraguan beers, which were actually pretty good. We then paid a taxi to take us back to the border at Las Manos and ended up at the same window again.

Again, Ada and Tio were quickly processed and waved through. When it was my turn, the immigration agent only asked for two US dollars this time. He obviously remembered me from earlier in the day and said with an irritated expression that he would settle for forty lempira. I gladly paid and was allowed to cross over to the Honduran side.

In the office in Honduras it was the same beautiful girl with the same bad attitude. After looking at my passport, she asked for seventy lempiras again, this time as a fee to ENTER Honduras after four hours of absence. I put the money under the window. My wife’s patience was wearing thin by this time and she started a heated conversation with the immigration girl in rather strong Spanish, most of which I thankfully did not understand. I was a bit worried because my passport was still on the other side of the thick armored glass and I had visions of never seeing it again. The immigration lady was obviously quite annoyed with us and after a pile of jumbled documents and rubber stamps, she shoved my passport under the glass and abruptly waved us on.

While waiting for my permanent residency in Honduras, I am required to go to the immigration office in Tegucigalpa every thirty days, pay twenty dollars and get a visa extension. I do this faithfully to avoid any trouble with the authorities, and as we head back to Danley I idly play with my passport just to pass the time. Then something strange caught my eye. Right there under my last visa extension was an officially stamped and legal ninety day visa! This is completely against the immigration policy of all C4 countries, but that was the way it was. Maybe the girl was so confused that she made a mistake, I don’t know. The bottom line is that I paid a total of about twenty dollars in fees and got a visa extension worth sixty dollars. A silver lining indeed! For the first time, I was quite pleased with my wife’s grumpy Latin American temper.

#Crossing #border #Nicaragua

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