We ended up spending about five days on the island of Utila before the sweltering heat and hungry swarms of mosquitoes finally became too much to tolerate and we decided to move on. Twelve hours of bus travel from La Ceiba to Danli near the Nicaraguan border, including a transfer in Tegucigalpa, went smoothly and without incident.
Arriving in Danli, a small town about an hour’s drive from the border we stopped to spend the night. The driver of our bus, a nice, older man, finished with work for the day and heading home walked with us the 2km into the center of town, directed us to a hotel and then asked if we would take him back to the United States with us, sadly I have a feeling he was only half-joking. Our conversation with him was one of the highlights of our time in Honduras. I wish I had more nice things to report, but unfortunately Copán and Utila were about the only two places that didn’t have us obsessively reaching for the hand sanitizer and even they do not make it anywhere near the top of our list of favorite places. And so we headed for Nicaragua.
We’ve come to find that there are generally two ways to go about crossing the borders in Central America. You can either pay a travel agent or international bus line to shuttle you across or you can put in a bit of extra effort, use local transportation and walk from one country into the next for about half the cost. Early on in our travels we used the shuttle services, which seem to be what the majority of travelers prefer. This time around we were feeling slightly more confident and a little adventurous and decided to give it a go on our own, which also meant we had to brave the chicken buses again.
Fortunately, it all ended up working to our advantage. Traffic waiting to cross into Nicaragua was completely backed up as a result of the swine flu outbreak and we were able to bypass all of it on foot. Having been pretty isolated on our little Caribbean Island for nearly the past week we hadn’t realized just how serious this swine flu thing had become. And so we joke, which will get us first, malaria or the pig flu?
Hiking up the hill toward the immigration offices, the border between Honduras and Nicaragua is a lot like what you might imagine a typical Central American border crossing would look like. A dusty, dirty and chaotic stretch of road lined with trucks belching out thick clouds of exhaust, people standing around and the occasional cow wandering through.
Upon reaching the border we were stopped by the Nicaraguan health officials screening for potential carriers of swine flu. Apparently there is yet to be any confirmed cases in Nicaragua and they’d prefer to keep it that way. But after reviewing our passports and the dates of our arrivals and departures they passed us through. Quite a relief since the possibility of being stuck in Honduras was almost more than I could bear to think about. As we departed the medical station we realized it was during that whole ordeal that our helper had latched on to us.
I like to call them our border crossing helpers, usually boys no more than 13 or 14 years old, they show up at your side and provide any assistance or information you may need during the crossing, whether or not you actually need or want their help. And even if you don’t it’s virtually impossible to get rid of them, they will simply follow you around in complete silence if you try to ignore them. We would have no problem navigating the border crossing on our own but we usually try to be friendly and let them help us out. I like the idea that they’re at least attempting to provide a service. They offer their assistance with the expectation of receiving a dollar or a few coins in the local currency for their services. In some cases we’ve actually found them to be helpful, generally more patient than the immigration officials and fun to chat with while we’re standing around or waiting in line.
After parting ways with our little assistant we took a bus about an hour into Nicaragua to the first major town with a transportation hub where we could transfer for Managua. Arriving about 30 minutes ahead of schedule we had time for a quick breakfast of Ritz crackers, which kids here commonly refer to as cookies. It didn’t take long before we were joined by two little boys who shared our breakfast and chatted with us about school and how they spend their mornings in the bus station helping their mother sell mangos.
The older of the two, just eight years old commented that he liked my watch and that, “he needed one just like it so he could practice reading the time.” Clever, and a nice try, but keeping track of the time is also pretty important to us these days and so the watch stayed with me. Before we knew it, it was time for us to board our bus so we sent the boys running off with the rest of the crackers and set off for Managua delighted with our progress and feeling fortunate that we weren’t trapped on the tourist bus that was most likely still sitting in traffic at the border. Ironically, it was just about this time last week that we had been wishing we were on the tourist bus.