Boats, Bridges and Borders

The route out of Monterrico involved going back the way we came and wasting a few hours  – or – hopping on a ferry to the mainland. It was an easy choice, but we had no idea what we had waiting for us at the ferry dock.

The dock area was flooded, so we were told to go a few streets down and we could load at the end of the road. The guy threw down a few wood planks and without hesitation we drove right on. Our own boat.

And if I had a pony…

It was a pleasant 30 minute ride through mangroves with lots of birds. A little bit swampy, but still nice. We took photos like we were on a pleasure cruise while our captain steered his tiny outboard motor with his flip-flop.

Unloading was the reverse but with some helpers, since this embarcadero was flooded too. This is not a trip for low-clearance vehicles.

In general, people seemed content to swing in their hammocks above the water in their flooded houses. They just move the hammock up higher and wait for the water to go away, I guess.

An hour or so down the road we came upon this mess.

No bridge, no problem. A temporary bridge was in progress – enough that we could drive on a series of wooden planks to the other side.

I thought the good times would never end, but then we came to the frontera and we had to get serious.

This should be easy. In Guatemala there are only two things to do: get the passport exit stamp and cancel the vehicle permit.

It wasn’t easy, because as only this official noticed, Angela’s passport was never stamped when we entered the country. Bode and I were clear, but not Angela. In hindsight, I recall that she inspected all three passports first, then put an exit stamp in Bode and my passports… THEN she brought up the issue with Angela’s passport.

It was the typical set up. First put us in a major bind (stamp me and Bode out of the country.) Then, tell us we have to go all the way back to El Ceibo to get the proper entrance stamp for Angela… or pay a fine directly to them.

It was a rookie mistake on my part – I should have double-checked all the passports when we entered the country.

Anyway, we went around and around and I respectfully pleaded for her help and showed my empty pockets to no avail. She had all the power and we had none. After dancing around a bit, she lowered her multa from $50 USD to about $20 USD. There was another guy in the office and he was in on it, so I didn’t really have anywhere else to turn.

I briefly considered driving away on principle and going to another border about an hour away. But, to turn around we would have to officially re-enter Guatemala and play the same game with the guy at the other desk.

I coughed up the twenty bucks, she tossed the passport to the guy at the other desk who stamped Angela into the country and then she stamped her out. After 30 minutes of negotiating, it took $20 USD and 30 seconds of stamping to forgive the mistake. We left Guatemala with the equivalent of $3 USD in our pockets.

I imagine that if this had happened in the US, I would still be trying to get Angela out of custody.

Next, there was an issue with canceling the vehicle permit, as the vehicle permit guy acted like he didn’t need to do anything and I was free to go.

I went back to immigration and asked for their help and my new lady friend actually walked over with me to help straighten it out – at least we made her work a little for that $20. Still, the guy could hardly comprehend that I had no intention of re-entering Guatemala and wanted to cancel my vehicle papers.

I can’t imagine all this incompetence from border officials is real. There must be a vast conspiracy among all border officials to feign incompetence and introduce mistakes so that other border officials can game the mistakes and put a few extra bucks in their pockets. I’m sure of it.

Across the border, entering El Salvador was a relative breeze. The officials looked REALLY carefully at all our documents and paused a bit when they saw Angela’s entry and exit stamp from Guatemala on the same day. Still, they couldn’t find any problems (they looked hard,) so they let us in. No stamps here.

The vehicle process took almost an hour for no good reason. They checked the VIN and very slowly filled out the paperwork. Zero cost. A few minutes down the road there was a checkpoint where an official checked our paperwork again and another guy made us pay a road toll. We verified this fee at the immigration office and they said that only US, Canadian, Mexican, and European residents have to pay the road toll.

Onward into El Salvador…

9 thoughts on “Boats, Bridges and Borders

  • July 8, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    You’ve got a reverse light out.


    p.s. Congrats on country #5. And what do you mean you won’t be re-entering Guatemala? How are you getting back from South America?

  • July 8, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    and that is the winning series of photographs.


    If there are any parts you need, drop me a line and I can send a few out to you – did you get the carb part?


  • July 8, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    By the way, for anyone needing to cross the Guatemalan/El Salvador at La Hachadura the chicken buses could not make this temporary bridge. Passengers had to climb a fairly steep and muddy hill on both sides of the bridge and catch another bus on the other side.

  • July 9, 2010 at 6:07 AM

    Nice Lyle Lovett reference.

  • July 9, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    Did we say we were coming back? 😉
    The permit is only good for 90 days. I would recommend to anyone to cancel it and just get a new one when they re-enter the country. It’s about 4 bucks.
    FYI – after having the reverse light out for months, we finally fixed it yesterday in preparation for dealing with the Honduran policia.

    is that because they are all of a Chianti Red ’71 bus?

  • July 9, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    I am reading a blog by a guy named Dan Grec who is traveling through South America in a Jeep with no plan. Anyway, every border crossing is the same song and dance bribe crap. Here is a post from his blog:

    Tell him Brian12566 sent ‘ya 🙂

    Your blog is great and Bode will remember this for a lifetime. Can not wait to take my daughter on a road trip.

  • July 9, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    Loved this post and the pics too. The further you go the less your updates look like Conde’ Nast and more like National Geographic. Real hardcore adventuring. I’d happily trade one of my smooth days breaking concrete or framing walls for one of your sketchy days dealing with crooked border guards and floods. Keep it up.
    P.s. I know you said your trip will end when the money does, but you could extend it pretty cheaply with a homecomong run around the states crashing with all the new friends you have made via your blog. You are welcome here in pittsburgh when/if you make it back this way.

  • March 24, 2013 at 5:09 AM

    Meus amigos, vamos conhecer mais o Brasil essa iniciativa é linda, e em breve nos encontramos amigo geólogo.
    Marcio Cavalheiro

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