The people at Nacome are very nice, but there is no breakfast there, and I’m eager to be on my way. I want to find the surfers hotel that I stayed in on the way down, and I have calculated that with luck at the border, I should be able to reach it near 5. Luck at the border to me means two hours rather than three.
I walk Lola a few blocks toward downtown. Nacome has its charm, particularly when one hits the square. I thought mostly about the Central American habit of putting steel bars across every window and door and building walls topped with razor wire. It’s just that everyone, except in the rural impoverished areas, does it. The people carry the histories of their countries, in which the US has had too much to say, with them. Their homes are not homes; they are fortresses.
I want to get breakfast and a haircut, but I am focusing on where I might stay tonight. So I pack, thank some people for their hospitality, and take off.
The remainder of Honduras is mildly mountainous and not too interesting. I’m still sniffling a bit and am definitely not looking forward to the El Salvador border experience, both of which distract me from just driving. I love driving through almost any kind of country side when I don’t have to pay attention to other cars because they are not there; I don’t get a lot of pleasure from driving through towns, the more populated, the less the pleasure. The towns are interesting but not beautiful and frequently majestic, like the countryside. Most often, they are the opposite.
I have learned a lot from this trip down and now back. I now know how to drive through Mexico and Central America—with a dog! This is not an insignificant piece of knowledge, like knowing when to use the subjunctive tense. Ok, I probably won’t do it again, but I still like knowing (almost) how to do it. I’m even getting better at border crossings. They are bothering me less. A few lessons: don’t try to do it by yourself. Get a guide (I’ve called them border rats). Have one for each side of the border; pay each guide $20.00 if they get you through without too much trouble and side bribes. If someone czn get you through one side in 30 minutes, he or she (I didn’t see any she’s in this business) is worth $20.00. Take it easy, Don’t get upset with more fees or bribes, and don’t worry about being busted. It probably won’t happen. I had considered taking the northern route through Honduras in order to skip one more border and because I had begun to think there might be some kind of warrant out for my rest, a delayed reaction to my hit-and-run incident with a street tent on my way down.
But I decide to chance El Salvador. Besides, I really want to stay in the hotel where I stayed on my way down. So I hit the border by ten. I hire an aggressive young man who exudes energy. He is about 5’4”, a little paunchy, dark-skinned, two-day black beard growth, and sweaty. He runs everywhere.
We’re through the Honduras side within a half-hour. Euvin is effective. I think I had to pay only one bribe—for the dog people (when you pay a bribe through the border rat, you’re never really certain that in someone was bribed—but stamps do appear, documents are ignored, and vehicles are not inspected. The bribe story in the Honduras side was that the electricity was down and we had to pay 10 here and 20 there to get people to stamp the documents without checking my criminal past via the internet.
Euvin tries to hook my up to a partner for the El Salvador side (the one I was worried about—the tent-incident), but no luck, so he hooks me up to someone else, Raul, less effective. Raul is not bad, but he is seriously overweight and doesn’t want to work too hard. He gets me through everything but the car permit in good time. He apparently knows the wait for the car permit might take some time, so he convinces me that I just have to fill out the application and hand it to a soldier/administrator who is discussing the issue with Raul. It’s hot, and I don’t particularly like Raul. I can see he wants to go, so I make sure this is the last issue (how can anyone make sure?), and pay him $20.00.
That was a mistake. I should have made him suffer more. The administrator says I need more copies of some specific pages in my passport. I get them. It is getting hotter. Lola is looking at me from inside the Prius—the car and AC on.
I return to the registration office (in a corner of an open warehouse), give the required documents to the administrator, who disappears inside, telling me to wait on the bench.
This is a typical central American wait: a long wait. I worry about Lola and am starting not to feel so hot—close to dizzy. I wait for about an hour, sweat pouring from my forehead. This is how I wanted Raul to suffer.
Finally, a roly-poly inspector comes out. He is very nice and cheerful (he is working inside an air-conditioned office. We get to the car. I can see he likes Lola. He checks my license plate number, asks me to open the trunk, which I do, and then asks me to close it. Estamos finito, he says. We’re done. He takes me to another office, a hot walk away, says I need to get in line and have the final paper work done, and then he leaves. I think he is telling me that I need to show the woman on the other side of an open window my passport. I look for my passport, and then realize that roly-poly had my passport, title, and driver’s license.
I walk back to the registration office. This is another hot walk. After some confused discussion, the officer/administrator convinces me that the inspector gave the woman my documents, and I just have to go back and wait for her to complete the official documents. I meet Roly-poly on my way back, and he confirms what the administrator told me.
So I return to the other office, get in line, and wait, as others are waiting. The other people laugh when I ask how long we might expect to wait. One says, ella tiene hambre. He points to his watch. It is almost noon. Lunch break, he is telling me.
After about a half-hour, it is my turn. The window is now closed (either because of her lunch break or air-conditioning). I knock on the window. It opens. Mi documentos, por favor?
Espera, another woman tells me.
After another half-hour, this ordeal is over, an I’m out of there.
The road is ugly and lined with semis for about one mile, but I am soon on the open road. I pull over to check my route and guess how long it will take me to get to the hotel a bit past La Libertad, and then I’m off. My god, I love driving!
It’s about 12:30, and I think I can hit La Libertad at about 5:30—and maybe another half-hour to find the hotel farther down the road. I’ll be in trouble if they don’t have a room, but it’s Thursday, and I’m betting they will.
The first hour of the drive is beautiful, going from the border to San Miguel—high, beautiful, lonely mountains. When I get near the coast on CA 2, the traffic thickens and the towns are more frequent. This is not a lovely drive.
By 5:00, I am almost to La Libertad. I see a road sliding off to the left and assume that simply goes to the beach, and I stay on what I imagine is the main road. Soon I am heading up, up, and up—I am trapped by the beauty of mountains. I had remembered the road after La Libertad as disappointingly flat, but I think I am mis-remembering, until I get to a lovely, little mountain town and check my iphone GPS. Yes, I’m off-track. I should have taken that left.
I ask around and find another road going down the mountain and will take me into La Libertad. I keep my eyes glued to the GPS. After a 15 minute drive down, I’m back on the road to La Libertad. Time lost: thirty minutes. I still have time to find the hotel before it gets dark.
The drive from La Libertad is one of the most beautiful drives in the world—as I wrote in my narrative of my trip down, out-surring Big Sur. I am confident that I will recognize the hotel. I drive for twenty minutes without spotting it and bypassing other possible dog-friendly hotels and one hostel (more likely dog-friendly). The buildings start to thin out, and I’m worrying. I don’t enjoy sleeping in the car.
I think of turning around, but I keep on going. This is just a bet. I think if I don’t find it, I can always go back and try one of those earlier hotels. After a while, I’m almost too far to go back—almost out of the cliff region and back down to the beach areas. I see some men playing cards outside a little café in a small, mountain town—a collection of maybe ten buildings. The discussion is confused, but they assure me that a little farther on, a frente de la iglesia, hay un hotel que permite los perros.
I go on past the iglesia for a few miles. It’s getting dark. I’m in trouble. I come back intending to get to those guys again and more specific directions. On my way back, I see an attractive house with a couple, very old (about 90), very short (about 4 feet), very thin, and very dark-skinned. El hombre wears a big cowboy hat. They are both talking to me in a dialect I can barely interpret, let alone language. I think they are telling me to turn into the driveway on the other side of their fence, come around back, and they will have a place for me.
I find the dirt driveway, the kind my car doesn’t like. I drive in and curve around to the back, looking for some kind of sign indicating what I should do.
I see two girl playing with some kind of ball at the end of the dirt road. They are teenagers. One of the girls is waving in the air for some reason—I think she is signaling me—one of the problems in my life is that I see too many signals.
No, she wasn’t. I tell her about the little man and little woman, and none of this makes sense to her. She says (I think) there are room at the other end of the road, and she points to a solid iron black gate, la puerta negra, she says.
I drive there. There is a square hole in the gate. I look through it and see someone is on the porch. “Hola,” yo dijo.
Someone comes to the gate and asks through the hole what do I want.
My Spanish is broken enough that the young man unlocks the chain around the gate and comes out to try to make sense of my narrative about looking for un habitacion and the young woman’s claim that I could find one at the black gate.
He thinks I’m crazy but tells me there is a hotel right down the road. A el primero calle a la derecha, y a la fin dela calle.
This I understand. I take the first right that turns (like all roads I’m thinking) into a dirt road that again my Prius hates.
I follow the dirt road, see nothing like a hotel. I see two young men and ask them donde esta la hotel, The Last Resort. They point me down a dirt path that my Prius squeezes though. There it is: the hotel se llama The Last Resort. This is perfect, I think.
I drive in and ask the guard with his AK47 if they accept dogs here. Si, si, he says.
Two young man, obvious gringos, are walking in and see the bikes on my car. We start talking bikes and then telling our stories. They are dedicated surfers. They flew here from Florida to surf for a few days
I go the receptionist and she confirms that dogs are ok (several are waiting in the yard for Lola to get out) and they have a room. It’s a charming, second floor cabana, looking out on the ocean about twenty yards away. Fifty-three dollars, she says. I would have paid five hundred.
I get my stuff out of the car, breath in relief, and go down to the restaurant—I am very hungry. I can let Lola loose and she goes crazy playing with two dogs on the patio.
I join the two gringos and a third gringo at the bar. They can’t believe that I’ve driven from New Jersey to Panama and am now on my way back. I get the crazy old gringo treatment again. They want to know all about it, and I of course am full of stories.
We talk while I’m having a delicious dinner, red snapper. Roco, the bartender, is ultimately cool, a wonderful young man.
After dinner, Reuben (from Canada), Alan and Mike (from Florida), and I get some beer and go down to the beach where the three young gringos have built a huge bonfire. We drink our beers, smoke some weed, and start telling each other our stories. Alan and Mike fade away. Reuben and I talk late into the night, Lola asleep at our feet.
I think of Jeff and Doria. I imagine a message: I didn’t find the hotel from the past—maybe it’s no longer there. I found a different one.