Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Road Blocks

Honduran joke: How do you know when a driver is drunk? - When he drives in a straight line...

Being a foreigner while risking the roads in Central America can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. When traveling in groups, usually with a driver or guide, there’s hardly ever a problem. Driving your own car can be a challenge, because a chele (pale faced person) means there might be some money to get.
Personally I have never experienced any problem because I don’t drive. The worst that ever happened to me using public transportation (besides the bus breaking down, roadblocks because of strikes, floodings or yelling evangelical missionaries in the vehicle), was when our bus was stopped and a huge bag of marihuana was found right above my seat. Everybody had to leave the bus while both police and militaries searched the bus. 
The police officer in charge asked whose seat that particular one was, and I confessed it was mine. So the weed was mine? 
No, of course it wasn’t. 
Well, but it must be, if it is above your seat?!
Do I look so stupid that if I wanted smuggle in a bag of weed I would actually store it above my seat???
No. That argument made actually sense to the officer. 
Next I saw a humble old lady  I recognized from one of the front seats discretely put some money in the officer’s hand and that was it. We were all, minus the marihuana of course, allowed to continue our travels. I saw one of the military guys arguing with the police officer when we drove off, but that was not of my concern.

But driving your own or hired car as a foreigner can be challenging or at least lead to some frustrating, dramatic but often funny stories. A gringo friend called me once, howling with laughter when he was on his way to the vet in San Pedro Sula. This was before he got tinted windows, so as usual he was stopped by the police. When all the paperwork appeared to be in order, the policeman noticed the two dogs in the back. So he requested the passports for the dogs.
Passports for dogs???
Yes, the officer said deadpan. All dogs in Honduras are required to have passports.
Then my friend remembered he carried the dogs’ vaccination booklets, since he was on the way to have them inoculated anyway. And the booklets happened to be roughly the same size as a passport. So he took them out and politely showed them to the policeman who awkwardly studied them.
Next time, make sure the dogs’ pictures are on it, was his comment, and my friend was allowed to drive on.

Not so long ago, that same friend went to the vet in Chiquimula, Guatemala, much closer by than San Pedro Sula for people and pets in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. The border had never been a problem, but my friend got stopped not far over the border anyway. He graciously showed the car insurance, driver license and of course the “pet passports”. This time it was the driver license that caused the problem. It was issued in Honduras and clearly said “licencia internacional”, but according to the police officer, it wasn’t valid in Guatemala.
Of course it is, argued my friend, here it says internacional!
No. that won’t work, according to the officer. Because international means: within the country.
No, it doesn’t. It means “within nations”.
No, it doesn’t.
This time it was my friend who was lost for words. In the end he didn’t have to pay a fine, but from now on he will always travel with dog passports and a dictionary.

Okay, just one more, even though this is an old one, but still so accurate from what I hear.
An American friend of mine drove her little Toyota all the way down from Washington State to Copán Ruinas to teach at the local bilingual school. In the weekends she enjoyed taking road trips except for the fact that she got stopped at every single police post along the way. Usually they couldn’t find anything wrong with her paperwork or the car itself, but then she would have to open her trunk and tadaaah!!! A fine for not having a warning triangle.

Now, it’s probably true that in Honduras you are obliged by law to have a warning triangle in your car. Not that I have ever seen one in the many years I traveled thousands of miles in Honduras and beyond, even though there are plenty occasions to use one. There’re enough of flat tires or horrendous accidents. But if so, people just cut a big branch from a nearby tree and place it at a short distance behind the vehicle. But a triangle? Never seen one.

But to get back to my Toyota friend, she got so sick and tired of the inquiries that one time coming back through San Pedro Sula she bought no less than three warning triangles. And of course she got stopped yet again on the way back to Copán.
But before the officer could ask for her paperwork she held up her hand, got out of her car, opened her trunk and took out one triangle after the other.
You see, she said in her bad Spanish, Triangulo, triangulo, triangulo!!!
She put them back in the trunk, got into her car and drove off, leaving the officer speechless.

Almost six months ago I made the move from Honduras to Guatemala. I loaded up a van with tons of stuff. There were two old mattresses and a bunch of paintings on top of the roof and inside my assorted house ware, tools, art supplies, two cats and a dog. I was pretty nervous when crossing the border (because anything can happen), but leaving Honduras was no problem. We got stopped while entering Guatemala and a border official asked me to open the van. He took a look inside and then called his supervisor over.
You better have a look here, there’s a lot of stuff!
I explained I was moving to Guatemala and the stuff was mine.
Oh, okay. But where were the permits for the animals???
I know there are no permits for animals, but I just played along.
Oh, those animals are not mine. We’re just going to drop them off at the vet in Chiquimula.
Okay then, have a safe trip!


About half an hour into Guatemala we stumbled onto a big truck with a flat tire. We were warned, because about a hundred yards before the parked vehicle was a warning triangle! And apparently it had just been run over because it was shattered into countless bright red pieces scattered all over the road.

Now at least I know why people don’t use warning triangles around here.

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