We spent a couple nights at Casa Jucanya in Panajachel, Guatemala, on Lake Atitlán. It was ideal: a gorgeous view of the volcano across the lake, a sprawling lawn for the pups to run around on, a washing machine and clothesline, a kitchen to cook real food in, and both a lime tree and a questionably safe trampoline in the yard!
In Panajachel, we learned that if you have the time, it’s worth it to buy specific items from specific vendors, rather than trying to one-stop shop at the supermarket. Buy fresh produce from the farmer’s market, tortillas from the tortillarilla, aaaaand more diarrhea medicine than you think you might need from the Farmacia.
After resting up, we set out in the morning toward the Guatemala/Honduras border. The original plan was to stay another night in Guatemala and tackle the crossing in the morning, but when we approached the border at El Florido, we didn’t see anywhere to stay. Overestimating the amount of daylight left, we decided to cross — the tourist town of Copán was just 10 kilometers across the border, a short enough distance to justify breaking our “don’t drive at night” rule.
Leaving Guatemala was painless; entering Honduras was character-building. There were no lines later in the evening, but the process was painfully slow. After being fingerprinted and paying our immigration fees, we headed to the Aduana for our vehicle paperwork to be processed — but the one guy on duty was on his dinner break. A guard pulled a TV outside of the office and turned it to the Discovery channel, and we watched programs about lions and sharks in Spanish until we were allowed to go in.
If you keep a sense of humor, the Honduran aduana is a hilarious Orwellian experience. Neither of us had ever witnessed more bureaucratic nonsense in our entire lives. Honduras requires three copies of everything (and you can forget what any guide or blog post tells you about what those things are, because it will have changed by the time you get there). For us, it was copies of my driver’s license, passport, vehicle title, and registration. We hadn’t anticipated the registration copies — indeed, the employee on the Guatemalan side told us we wouldn’t need copies of that — so we didn’t have them, and the copy shops were closed for the night. We panicked for a moment — this dude was humorless — but I spotted a copy machine behind his desk, clasped my hands in plea, and in poor Spanish offered to pay him a little extra if he would make the three copies of the registration for us.
Homeboy rolled his eyes but obliged. Then he hunt-and-pecked in all the information from my passport, the title, and random bullshit about our Subaru. At one point he pulled out and thumbed through a binder to denote whether the model was a four-cylinder versus a six-cylinder. Andy and I exchanged many surreptitious wide-eyed looks over the course of the hour this dude took entering data about our car, making even more copies, and scolding a poor truck driver who didn’t have three copies of everything that he’d have to wait until morning when the copy shops opened.
We were more than relieved to arrive in Copán, especially when the first hotel we stopped at had a room available, agreed to allow our dogs, and offered secure parking, hot showers and internet for $35/night. Score. We walked the dogs, ate some street food tacos, washed off our stink, booked a room for the next night, and passed the eff out.
The next morning, we blew past the Mayan ruins that make Copán worth visiting (“don’t miss the ruins!” our guidebooks said), but we were determined to make it to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, well before nightfall. Which we did! Because I was driving rather than navigating, and we tend not to get quite as lost when I am not navigating. Heeeeeee.
Honduras is a beautiful country, and we were never hassled by the police or asked to show the safety triangles and fire extinguisher every guidebook warned us to have on hand, lest they stop you and demand a bribe should you be traveling without those essentials. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful.
We stayed in an AirBnB converted-garage apartment owned by a lovely man named José. There, we decided we’d cross the border to Nicaragua the next day and drive another four hours to the beach, where we’d rest again for a couple nights.
The Honduras/Nicaragua border at Guisale was stressful — it’s hot, kiddos beg for money and money changers hassle you, and it takes hours. We hired a guide for $11 to walk us through the first half. Honduras wasn’t amused that we didn’t have the document we were supposed to get at the previous border for our dogs, and that took an hour and some (perhaps unofficial) fines to process.
The Nicaraguan aduana asked for some kind of vehicle document I didn’t have, repeatedly demanding the one with the license plate on it. I’d already given her the title. Did she want my registration? My insurance? No, no. People behind me in line were trying to help. Andy helpfully went to buy some food from a vendor, because we were getting hangry and losing it. Eventually, another gal in the office pulled up a translation on her phone: “The title with your license plate number on it.” I pointed to the title the aduana was already holding. “Lo tiene,” I said.
Andy said it’s his goal to learn enough Spanish to handle these situations smoothly on the way back. It’s a great goal. So far we’re more or less getting by, but I still feel like an idiot a lot of the time, and it sucks to feel like an idiot. I look forward to not including the phrase “Lo siento; no hablo mucho español” in every single conversation at some point in the future.
A few hours later and significantly calmer, we arrived in León to do some grocery shopping and meet the dudes who would guide us to our rental on Playa Tes. I thought it was a bit silly to have us follow someone’s truck — we can follow decent directions! — until we went on this drive. There were a dozen squirrelly turns through jungle, across mudflats and over sand. On top of that, a thunder and lightning storm started to raging outside. Andy was making spooky noises and Blair Witch references, which I did not appreciate:
We arrived at the beach house and met the charming Roberto, who gave us the most thorough tour of a cabana that can possibly be given. “This is the closet! Here is the silverware drawer, and that is the microwave! Ah, I forgot to show you how the shower works!”
We sat outside and watched the lightning storm, then crashed out. Today, we’ve been swimming in the pool and the Pacific. The dogs are in heaven. We’re resting up — both of us are under some predictable digestive distress, and we’ve got another drive to the south of Nicaragua tomorrow. After that, we cross our final border into Costa Rica!