From Nicaragua to El Salvador in a day: canyoning, a truck ride, and a “soft mugging” (Todo Norte 7!)

Distance covered: Somoto, Nicaragua to El Amatillo, El Salvador

I awoke in Somoto, Nicaragua and caught the 6:45am bus to Somoto Canyon, where I entered the park barefoot with my drybag containing my rock climbing shoes, helmet, and not much more.

I reached the river, crossed and smoked the last of my marijuana and hash, (knowing that I would be crossing the border into Honduras later that day). I did 3 sun salutations as the sun warmed the sand beneath my feet (I do yoga now).

I was walking the trail and feeling slightly guilty for taking the bus that morning. Should I be a purist and stick to hitching only? I then noticed a small rowboat in the river, manned by two children. I stuck my thumb out and called out, requesting a ride upstream. The kids looked at each other. “Two dollars!” the younger one called out. But the older boy of about 12 years hushed him and motioned for me to come down the bank into the boat.

I inquired as to where they were going. “Fishing,” they replied.

In the back, the younger boy rowed. In the middle, I sat and smiled. In the front, the older boy suddenly raised a slingshot and let a rock rip towards the right bank, narrowly missing a bat, which dipped and then fled erradically away. After the older boy did this a few more times, I asked why. “Diversión,” he replied. At first I thought this meant “for fun” but then I thought maybe “diversión” was a word for bait, but I just looked it up and… yeah he just wanted to kill birds.

I did some deep water soloing in the canyon. Great conditions — clear water to see obstacles, and plenty of overhanging routes, so you fall into water instead of cheesegrating down a less steep wall.

I left the park by about noon after appeasing the crew at the ranger station with some ukulele.

Standing on the hot road, few cars passed, and one truck stopped and advised me that the border was only 4km away. Nice surprise! I had walked about 1km when I passed a cafeteria on the opposite side of the road. A plump woman sat outside with her daughter.

“Come play some ukulele for us and have a juice!” she called out.

“Sorry,” I replied, but I want to cross the border!”

“La frontera? Esta muy lejos!,” she laughed. “Esta 20 km mas! Come over here for a jugo!”

Hmm… I thought. 20 km? But the truckers just told me 4km. I paused, but decided to continue towards the border, still with a thumb out, but with cars passing sporadically, every 5 minutes at best.

Soon I was climbing a hill in the wicked heat, and the Somoto Canyon reserve to my left was beautiful and lush, but I longed for a ride, and it came after 20 minutes of tough walking. A pickup truck – the driver simply asked me: Do you have your papers? I replied yes, and I hopped in the back for the rest of the climb up to the El Espino crossing.

Sidebar: So… the woman from before was lying to me. Or extremely ignorant. 20km? It was only three. I don’t mind if she was lying to me. I’m so used to it now. Lies, lies, lies, just to mindfuck you into buying a soda or a taxi ride. What bothers me is the likelihood that this woman truly believed the border was 20km away, and it is 98% likely that she has never walked up that hill to the border. Then again, perhaps she avoids the border for security reasons. Moving on…

Crossing at El Espino was a breeze. I wasn’t searched or questioned leaving Nicaragua nor entering Honduras. Hitching out, however, was a problem.

Vehicles were passing into Honduras at a rate of about 1 vehicle per 5 minutes. I began to walk into Honduras, but I stopped 100 meters down the road when a family called out to me from their porch, warning me that it was dangerous to continue. We spoke for a few minutes and I came to trust their judgment. They strongly recommended staying here at the border and finding a truck, many of which were returning to Guatemala, passing through Honduras and El Salvador on the way.

This family gave me a Coke, then a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, then some coffee, and I played some songs for them. As it turned out, the young man of the family had just made the journey overland up to the US, where he had been deported. Without prompt, he produced his deportation card from the state of Texas. I think he was proud to have made it so far — Mexico in particular is a dangerous part of the journey for emigrants to the United States, and he had completed that journey, mostly on the tops of trains.

The family asked around the community and thought they knew a trucker who would take me all the way to Guatemala, but alas, it fell through. A couple hours passed, I walked back, closer to the trucker customs station, and amused some folks with my rendition of “Despacito” in which I mumble all of the lyrics except “despacito” and “Puerto Rico.”

A trucker returned to his truck from the customs window and motioned me into his truck, and just like that, after 90 to 120 minutes of waiting, I was headed all the way to Guatemala.

Indeed! We stopped for dinner before the border, and by the time we reached El Amatillo, the crossing from Honduras into El Salvador, I was sound asleep.

But here, Roberto woke me. We were stopped before a long line of trucks waiting to pass customs. He instructed me how to find the customs office for cars and pedestrians. I found the customs office and stepped into a line of about 20 people. A woman with missing teeth was parading around the customs office, obviously drunk or high, and upon noticing me, said in Spanish: “Oh, a gringo! I haven’t had sex with one of those yet!”

I didn’t catch the exact translation at first, so the guy in front explained it to me, and me and the woman had a few more good laughs as she swayed around the immigration room and occasionally flirted with me.

“Hey white boy!” I heard a voice behind. It was a heavy-set, heavily tattooed man, and he did not like me.

“Where you from?”

Me: “US”

“US? Where’s that?” The crowd laughed at this, despite the joke being in English.

He wandered about, talked to some people. He turned to me and pulled down his tanktop to reveal a tattoo that said “New York City,” and said some things… I forget what… I felt like I was in a bar and he was a regular, and I was the unlucky guy he wanted to fuck with tonight. He talked to some other people. Everyone seemed to accept his presence. Then he turned his attention back to me.

“Hey white boy! Fuck Donald Trump,” he called as he turned his back to me.

People laughed at this too. And I also hate Donald Trump. But I was tired and starting to feel cranky at being the butt of another joke. And at his disrespect, turning his back to me. So I yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Fuck you!” Then, wanting to validate myself as a Spanish speaker, I added: “Fucking pendejo!”

He had been walking out the door, and he didn’t respond to this. He definitely heard me say Fuck you, though maybe not the pendejo part.

A few minutes later, I got my exit stamp, and of course Tattoo Guy was waiting for me at the door. I now had to walk across a 500km bridge to reach El Salvador customs. And so Tattoo Guy followed me.

He started talking, and moments later he said, in English: “How much money you got?”

“Not much. Like $2,” I replied.

“Give me $2,” he said, walking alongside me.

I slowed a bit and looked at him, questioningly.

“You know what it is,” he said, and he was no longer smiling,

I do know what a mugging is, yes. But he didn’t seem to have a weapon. And fuck him. We were barely walking now, I was turned towards him to watch him. I sized him up. He was about 6’3″, 270 pounds. Huge and brutal. Absolutely the size of an offensive lineman. I’m 6’6″, 185. Muscular.

And we were alone, on a bridge between borders.

But… what? Was I going to give him $2 like a little bitch?

I looked at him and shrugged: “No.”

I was ready at that moment for the fight, first to drop my heavy bag of course, and then to fight.

But he began to back away. He pulled out his phone.

“My friends are at the other end of the bridge! I’m gonna call them, and they’re gonna fucking kill you!”

Well, I walked away, and thankfully, the people at the other end of the bridge with guns were not Tattoo Guy’s friends, but rather three Salvadoreno policemen. I told them about Tattoo Guy, how he threatened to kill me, and they laughed, saying he was probably just drunk.

Welcome to El Salvador.

So I entered El Salvador and walked another 500m to the end of the truck line, where Roberto had told me to wait for him. A few other men were waiting as well.

As I sat, they hopped into trucks, one by one, greeting their friends. But my truck never came. I knew how to recognize it. Purple flames on the front bumper. Plates starting with C28. But the line was long, and slow, and soon I fell asleep lying down on a cement pilon, and when I awoke, it was late, and there was no longer a line of trucks.

Roberto was gone. How had he not seen me? I was lying just 2 meters from the road and just beyond customs, so he legally had to stop, descend from the cab to show his paperwork, and then continue. Had he missed me? Ditched me?

It didn’t matter anymore. I approached the customs officer and explained my situation and asked if I could sleep there, right on the ground 10 meters from the truck customs stop. He checked with his supervisor, who agreed, and I laid out my Thermarest, got in my sleeping back, and slept deeply, awaking at first light, and thinking: Well, I guess now I have to hitch through El Salvador.

***

Next: Hitching El Salvador (I’m writing this from an internet cafe in San Salvador.)

2 thoughts on “From Nicaragua to El Salvador in a day: canyoning, a truck ride, and a “soft mugging” (Todo Norte 7!)

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  1. Stay safe my friend, following you from Hong Kong, and wishing you an enriching journey in which you encounter very few “pendejos”

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