Friday, July 12, 2013

Making More Progress North

Wednesday

We left El Salto after a lazy morning and headed towards the border. We reached it after an hour or two. Again, we had to bypass lines of semis parked as far to the side of the road as they could get (which wasn’t very far), but the good news is that they didn’t start until we were about half a kilometer from the border.

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The Nicaraguan border was pretty simple. We were stopped at the entrance and asked for our vehicle permit, which was signed. The customs agent then told us instructions for the next several stops, which was the police (for a vehicle permit signature), immigration, and customs. They were all in a nice straight line. After the police inspection, we paid US$2pp for the exit stamp at immigration. Then the vehicle was inspected by customs and our permit canceled. We were given permission to cross to the Honduran side.

Despite what the guides and helpers tried to tell us, this was relatively straightforward as well, despite taking a while. There was a line at entrance immigration. Apparently, they take a while to enter all the information by hand. And, when they wanted our entrance fee, they didn’t have change, so we had to go to the bank next door to break down our bills. Then, per usual with customs, the agents worked and ignored for a while (at least five minutes) before asking what we needed. They wanted copies of everything, but fortunately, I already had them. Finally, they told us to sit down while they processed everything (again slowly—probably typing everything with one finger). When she came back out, she told us there was an error, something about the number already being used (maybe that is because we had already been in Honduras but they wouldn’t let us suspend our vehicle permit instead of canceling—just my guess, though), so she needed wait five minutes and restart the system. The problem with this is that they—and the bank where we would pay—closed for an hour at noon and reopened at 1pm. I told her we would wait—I figured we could eat lunch and rest while we waited.

After lunch, I went out and she had the bill ready for us to take to the bank. Taking the bill over there, I noticed that I only had to pay L676.14 instead of the  L700 she had quoted me. I think if I had taken up the option to pay her instead of the bank, I would have paid the L700. My guess is this is a service they are allowed to offer to expedite the traveler’s process and the agent gets to keep the change (which is only about US$1.20), but this is just a guess. After we paid, I had to make a couple copies of the permit and the Honduran passport stamp before we were finally issued the permit and given back our documents. After a final check when exiting the border, we were free to go.

Immediately, we noticed the Honduran roads were much rougher and worn than the Nicaraguan we had been on. Cracks, potholes, sinkholes where the road had completely washed away were common and frequent. We would also occasionally run across an enterprising local filling the holes with dirt and asking for tips. I am not sure how it works, but I figure they probably stand there with their pile and only throw a shovelful in when they get some cash. I was all prepared to write a post about the quality of different countries roads, and then all of a sudden, the roads turned nice, recently repaved, with lines and shoulders. There was often even an ascent lane. Next day, we even had four-lane, divided highways and passed some nice new interchanges with plenty of merging distance. I guess the Hondurans are really trying to improve their roads. Max speed was still only 80km/h, but at least it was quiet, smooth, and not as treacherous.

Within 30 minutes, we arrived at DanlĂ­, where we planned to stay the night. There weren’t many camping options that was aware of between Tegucigalpa and the border. Basically, I could stay at a hotel room with a fan for US$30 along the way, or stay at national park slightly out of the way on a secondary road for $30. We chose the hotel. It was on the noisy main road in town and had a large group of Teen Mania students there doing missionary work, culminating with the 1Nation1Day on July 20. All this led for a pretty noisy visit, but it was good enough.

DSC04622 I loved the blue doorknob.

Thursday

When we were ready to leave, Chuck was not. Jonathan turned the key, and nothing happened, just silence. He did it several times, and I asked him if he was doing that on purpose (he does testing or listening for random things sometimes) or if Chuck wasn’t starting. He replied with the latter. I settled in for some long investigations, however Jonathan pretty quickly determined it was the battery. We went in search of our jumper cables to get it started, but after a search, realized we didn’t have them. Last we remember using them was in Sublette, on Jonathan’s truck, so we thought we must not have gotten them back in the van after that. So much for that option. I went in and asked the hotel staff if they had a vehicle and jumper cables (though I don’t think they understood this term) to help us start the van. No success there, either. They did send out someone who pointed us to the nearest battery shop. We went to that one and the next, but didn’t see a battery that Jonathan thought would fit.

We decided to attempt to push-start the van. We tried to back it out and get it into position to get it moving. It wouldn’t budge. We checked for rocks and tried again. Success this time. Now the trick was to get Chuck moving fast enough to start it up within the confines of the parking area, as pulling out onto the busy street and pushing it would be awkward. Fortunately, there was just enough of a slope to the lot that with Jonathan’s initial push and my continuous pushing, we got it started with 20 feet to spare! I was immensely proud of myself to be able to push Chuck fast enough to get him started.

Earlier, I had found the location of a Napa Auto Parts down the road in Tegucigalpa, so we went there. I just hoped it was actually there. The GPS didn’t have it on file, but Google did, so who knew? Sure enough, it was and they had a large selection of batteries. We found one that would work, but when I went to pay for it while Jonathan installed it, I found out it would cost $150. Jonathan had told me it should be more than $60 and less than $100. So, I halted his installation process and asked the guy helping us what our options were. Since we wouldn’t be in Honduras, he said he could take off the warranty part of the battery, which dropped the price to $127. That was still pretty steep and when I said so, he mentioned that it was a premium battery. I asked him if there were any other options, and he found another that he quoted me for under $100. I was happy with that (at least compared to the $150), so we went with that.

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Chuck started right up. I think he is telling us that he is tired of travelling nonstop and wants a garage break. I think he feels neglected. Any type of mistress demands plenty of time.

Since we were in a major town, we decided to treat ourselves to a lunch of pizza, which I had been craving for a day or two. We went down the street to a mall and found Pizza Hut, then started driving the remainder of the way to the lake, enjoying the four-lane, divided highway.

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