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Dave and Jan's travels, day 256:
Border crossing

30th January
Getting from El Salvador to Honduras wasn't easy. We set off from Santa Ana in El Salvador, full of hope. After a surprisingly easy first part of the journey (the surprise was that in El Salvador they have road signs) things got steadily worse. The road north is in the process of being rebuilt. The way they rebuild roads in these parts is (i) dig up all the old road, (ii) let loads of people drive over it until it resembles a quarry, with big rocks at that, (iii) leave for a year or so and finally (iv) lay some tarmac. Unfortunately for us the last fifty or so kilometres of road were in state (iii), so we arrived at the border two hours later and covered with fine white dust. At least we weren't one of the lucky villages served by the "road", for whom the fine white dust treatment must be wearing a little thin: even the trees are affected.

So, we pull into El Salvadorean customs, and a charming young man explains the departure process to David. It's quite simple: 1. return to the entrance and get a signature from the man there 2. Return to the customs for a form 3. Take it to immigration, get the passports done, and get the form stamped. 4. Return to the cash desk and pay money to leave 5. Back to customs and get the form stamped (yet) again 6. Take it all round the corner, and show it to the policeman.

Of course, it wasn't that simple in real life. First, the man by the gate is having lunch, so we have to find him and ask (pretty please) for the signature. At immigration, they can't stamp the form until customs have stamped it again, and they can't do that until we've paid. Then, once we get back to immigration, they want us to return the form to customs, who don't want it again. You have to wonder how often they do this. Just to recap, that process became: 1. return to the entrance and find the man's at lunch. 2. Find him and get a signature 3. Return to the customs for a form 4. Take it to immigration, get the passports done 5. Return to custom to get the stamp that immigration need 6. Return to customs and get told to go to the cashier 6. Pay at the cashier 7. Get a stamp at customs 8. Get a stamp at immigration 9. Return to customs as instructed by immigration and get told it wasn't necessary 10. Show it all to the policeman 11. Show it all to the other policeman on the border.

Once across the border, it's on to Honduran immigration. Step one is passports this time, with a splendid chap who discusses Manchester United and the mileage to our destination. Step two is customs with a woman for whom it's a nearly intolerable nuisance that people keep bursting in and expecting her to work on their forms when she could be staring out the window aimlessly. The deal here is 1. Feel in a very inane form (how many cylinders does the car have? what's my job?). 2. She types out a huge form. 3. She gives it to someone who disappears into a room for a while. 4. We go to get photocopies of various things from the shop over the road (we pay).5. We go back to the photocopy shop for the ones that we missed. 6. She gets all shirty as we dare to question the rapidly mounting bill for entering the country. 7. Eventually we get her stamp and head next door to the policeman.

That's where the fun really starts. The policeman is happy to sign the (now perfectly formed) form. But, he takes great pains to explain that we have 30 days' to spend in the country, and then he explains that this "only" costs 20 lempira (on top of the 400+ lempira we've "only" spent already). Eventually the truth dawns on me and I ask for a receipt. After a lot of demurral, he eventually stamps the back of the form and writes "30 days" next to it. Now I ask for a receipt that says "20 lempiras" and has his signature on it. He gets positively frothy. Then I do a reality check in which I realise that 20 lempira is about $1.50, and pay him. Now I just have to remember not to mention this to Jan before we start rolling again in order to avoid international incident.

Of course the corruption is reprehensible. But the total shambles that surrounds the legitimate process is almost as bad. We spent about two hours crossing one border, no queues to speak of so it was all bureaucracy time. And without the aid of some small boys on the Honduran side who knew which desk was which, it could have been a while longer. These "guides" offer to perform the apparently pointless task of aiding one through the process of moving through five desks, and I for one will be using them a lot in future.