Surviving the Honduras/Nicaragua Border Crossing

by Hannah Hughes

Crossing the border between Honduras and Nicaragua can be a stressful experience for a solo female traveler — here’s how Hannah made it through (more or less) unscathed.

As a solo, female traveler transiting the often unpredictable region of Central America, there are certain things that common sense shouts not to do. Like don’t go out alone at night. Or don’t hang out on street corners. Or don’t talk to strange men. And definitely, don’t do all three things at once.

My taxi abandoned me, gathering up a trail of dust as it sped down the street. It was 4:45 a.m. and the road was dark and empty. Stray dogs sniffed at overflowing rubbish bags. Moonlight illuminated streaks of clouds. Humans were scarce. It was uncharacteristically quiet; it almost didn’t feel like Nicaragua. I sat on my backpack and huddled the other to my chest, trying to forget that I was alone at night, on a street corner, with all of my valuables.

“Hola,” came a sudden whisper from the darkness.

I spun around so fast I heard the crunch of my back. A man of average build, wearing a t-shirt that read in English “Here fishy, fishy, fishy,” was leaning against the orange-lit street lamp. He looked like he’d been hypnotized. He asked what I was doing, and in broken Spanish, I explained that I was waiting for my 5 a.m. bus to Honduras. He didn’t respond. I turned my focus to a limp weed sprouting from a shred of soil. Eventually, he disappeared back into the darkness.

6:30 a.m. came and went. The street had sprung into action: chicken buses decorated with graffiti, flashing disco lights, and Jesus posters sprinted down the street, each one leaking with bodies and beeping at every possible moment. Locals sold plantain chips, packets of crisps, and green cotton candy; the smell of sweetness spilled into the petrol-consumed air. Motorbikes drove on the pavement to overtake traffic, skimming pedestrian toes so closely they either must not have seen the people or just didn’t care for their existence.

7:05 a.m. struck. “Chica!” shouted a large lady with a big bucket on her head. “Dónde vas?” I told her I was going to Honduras. Her face dropped as she frantically pointed to the big white bus that was parked a good run down the manic street. I clumsily jumped up and threw the two backpacks onto my shoulders. With my body weak from two hours of immobility, I was forced to run through the hectic traffic like an injured civilian chasing a helicopter to evacuate from their worn-torn country.

I fell onboard, hair frizzed, sunglasses wonky, and body crooked. As I made my way down the aisle to seat number five, my numb legs forced me to hobble like a freshly birthed antelope. Passengers stared, and I didn’t blame them.

Upon arriving at the Honduras border, one thing was obvious: this was going to be chaos. Multiple queues criss-crossed the littered floor, each person looking as confused as the next, and the only uniformed official in sight was sitting on an upturned bucket eating fried chicken. Gray pigs roamed freely. The air smelled of toilets. Shade was scarce. I passed my documents through the open window of the check-in office — as slowly as possible to relieve myself under the tornado of air conditioning — and then joined the back of a queue that hugged the exterior of the immigration office.

The first three hours of queuing passed.

The sun’s victims huddled as close to the wall as possible, trying to shield their bodies in the rapidly declining slither of shade. Sweat varnished their backs and the heat sliced their flesh. Water slowly dripped from a leaking pipe, and a dog that looked like it might have rabies collapsed under it. Its mouth was red, its fur patchy, and it didn’t blink when an insect landed on its eyeball. Water bounced off of its head, and in that moment, I wished I was that rabies-ridden dog.

Hour five dragged itself into sight.

The queue had fallen silent; everyone was focusing their energy on staying alive. Empty water bottles scattered the ground like a plastic pumpkin patch. Grown men sat cross-legged on the dusty floor. I regurgitated and swallowed saliva to relieve the dehydration.

A young mother in the line carried a little girl with huge eyes on her hip. The girl stared at me hard, and I stared back, no energy left to smile. I made an effort to pull my facial muscles upward, hopefully seeming a little friendlier. She continued staring, deadpan. A fly landed on her chubby cheek, and she didn’t break her gaze. The fly moved upwards towards her eye. I didn’t think I had yet seen her blink. Was this little girl broken?

During hour six, I entered the immigration office.

“Hola,” I grunted in my British accent, clinging onto the desk to steady my fragile being. I scanned my fingerprints on the green tablet, noticing how my hands shook from lack of water and mild trauma, and tried to avoid eye contact with the obese man behind the counter while he stared me up and down. He got up from his chair — hundreds of crumbs falling from his sweat-stained shirt — and leaned over, placing his greasy hand firmly on top of mine and the scanner.  

The man took my passport, and upon inspection, his thick, black brows frowned. A few minutes passed. He called over another uniformed official with a sparkly eyebrow stud, and they both stared at my passport, flicking the tatty pages back and forth. Both were freeze-framed with matching frowns.

The obese official and the eyebrow-studded official looked up in the same moment. Silently, they studied me; then, the obese official began a Spanish speech that lasted around two minutes. It sounded very informative and interesting, like something I would have largely benefited from hearing. A lot of concerns probably would have been answered had I understood a word of it. 

Eventually, what I did understand was, “No entrada.”

The bus driver jogged over as he realized that the helpless white girl under his watch was holding up the already-agitated line. He was about two heads shorter than the average human and had the same frenetic energy of a clown at a child’s party. The men spoke, passing my passport between them, and the bus driver began to adopt the same deep frown that seemed all too popular around here.

Too exhausted to stress, I turned my gaze to the hundreds of people still queuing outside. A white spotted pigeon whose feathers looked like they had been chewed on by a dog flew over and perched on top of an unoccupied food truck. It turned its head left to right, blissfully watching the incompetence of humanity. I began to think, isn’t it unfair how humans have to get up and do things like visas and border controls and immigration checks, and birds just fly around and do nothing? 

“Mi amiga!”

I turned back so slowly it was like I was a phone battery surviving on five percent.

With a big smile on his face, he informed me that I had five days to leave Honduras. Already aware that I only had five days left on my visa, I told him that I would not need to leave: I would simply extend my visa before the expiry.

“No, no, no, no, no,” the bus driver closed his eyes and wagged his ringed finger in my face. The skin around the golden band was blue. “Venga!” he suddenly ordered and sped-walked out of the immigration office without an explanation or a second glance. Tired, thirsty, confused, I dawdled after him, close to tears of relief because after seven painful hours, I was finally making it past the wretched border crossing. It was 7:36 p.m.

As I followed the bus driver — weak and light-headed — I didn’t know that Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala all share a ninety-day visa policy and that tourists are only allowed to extend their visa once. At this point, I had already spent ninety days in Nicaragua and bought an extra thirty days twenty-five days ago.

I boarded the big, white bus, lay my head back on seat number five, and thought about how I should probably be panicking. Firstly, about hastily departing Honduras and all of its bordering countries as soon as possible, and secondly, about my approaching night-time arrival in Tegucigalpa — one of the most dangerous cities in the world — Spanish-less and without internet access.

I had to leave the country within five days, meaning I had less than five days to mentally prepare for more Central American border crossings. I didn’t think that was nearly long enough. 

Cover photo credit

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