A Challenging Customs Experience

We’re having a much different check in experience here in Honduras than in Mexico….

Yesterday morning, we moved Sea Life to a spot behind town, and out of the swells coming from the southeast. This would make our dinghy ride to town for clearing customs more comfortable, as we hadn’t yet unloaded the Aluminum Princess.

We took our inflatable dinghy to the fuel dock. Friends told us that the guys working there are very friendly, and will let you tie up at the dock while clearing in. The man working was very friendly. He told us that it was no problem to leave our dinghy, Scott got a bit of gas for it and we were able to get rid of some trash as well.

We then made our way into town. The “streets” are narrow, concrete walkways, with houses and stores on either side. The buildings are very close together, and finding our way to the port captain’s office was a bit like maneuvering through a maze at times, but we managed it.

The port captain told us, in very very broken English, that we had to see immigration first. As we came out of the office, a man named Mario offered to take us there. We’d heard that men will approach you, offering help getting to customs, stores. the bank, etc., and will ask for a fee in return. Originally, we’d planned to maneuver the town by ourselves, but it was proving quite a puzzle, so we agreed. When asked his price, Mario responded that we could give “whatever we wanted.”

We weren’t at immigration long, but needed to have a copy made in order to finish with them. Mario took us to a store where we paid for one copy, a water for Scott and a juice for Mario. We returned to immigration,  handed over the required paper and headed back to the port captain.

Mario came in handy here, because as I mentioned before, the port captain spoke very little English. He stopped helping us several times to answer and talk on his personal phone, and had  trouble filling out the form that we needed. It was in both Spanish and English, and you’d think it was something he’d have done many times, but Scott had to help him fill it in, and correct mistakes that he made. All of the information was on the paperwork we gave him, but he entered several things in the wrong place.

Mario decided to interrupt, and tell Scott that he’d need 20.00 US dollars for helping us. Scott replied that it was a deal, if he took us to the rest of the stops we needed and showed us back to the fuel dock.

The port captain finally finished, and we were told to go and pay our “fee.” We asked if we needed to bring back a receipt, and he said no. After we paid the fee, and got that receipt for our own records, we’d be done…great! Mario led us to a lady who took 10.00 US dollars per person, for an environmental fund, and we were through clearing in.

From there, our next stop was a phone store. We’d purchased a smart phone in the Bahamas, planning to have it unlocked and use if for internet data as we traveled. That backfired, so we wanted to start again. We were sold a phone for much more money than expected, or than we’re used to (we usually pay much less for new phones, when upgrading through our cell phone providers). Thankfully, the internet plan was very affordable.

As we waited for the man to set up our phone, the port captain came in. I don’t know how he knew where we were, unless Mario mentioned the phone store stop in Spanish at some point. He told us that we needed  to come back to his office. It was unclear why, but we told him we’d return when our phone was ready.

Before we could finish and go, another gentlemen came in to tell us that the port captain needed us back (I’m thinking he wanted a tip). We told him that we already knew, and he wandered out.

Back at the office, we were told that our papers had to be faxed to mainland Honduras. It was confusing to us, to Mario and, it appeared, to the port captain. He took our copies back, and rattled on about it again, in Spanish. Again, Mario told us that the papers had to be faxed. Ok, but why did our copies have to be faxed?

After much more unclear conversation back and forth via Mario, we were told that we could put our Honduras courtesy flag up, and to come back later in the afternoon for the papers. O..kay…what time this afternoon?? The port captain said to come at 3pm, and asked where our boat was, so that he would be able to look at when we returned (not to board it, just to see it).

Scott was miffed about the whole situation. We’d planned to re-anchor in a new location once we were cleared in, because it offered more protection from the east winds that were predicted to blow for the next week. So not only did we now have to come back to town, we also had to wait to re-anchor.

Scott has been battling a bad cold since we arrived. He felt better as we made our way to town, but was now wiped from walking through town in the heat, and what little patience he has was spent.

Having no choice but to come back later, Mario took us to an ATM machine, showed us some stores in town that we may need and also a few restaurants. We then went to buy ice. After asking for four bags, the woman returned with four half gallon-size bags of frozen water….ha!

Scott asked if it was purified to drink. The woman responded yes, but when we cut the bags open to dump the frozen blocks into our cooler, they each had a dirty, brown center. We were concerned about drinking it, but our cruising friend Elizabeth has since told us not to worry. I think Scott’s want for ice in his drink will win out over his concern for some brown color!

Finally, Mario led us through many left and right turns, eventually leading us back to the dinghy. We thanked him for his help and headed back to Sea Life, so Scott could rest and we could get some lunch.

Scott headed back into town at 2:30. A French boat had anchored right near us, took their dinghy to town, and came back shortly thereafter. We assumed that they were told to come back after lunch as well, so Scott wanted to get ahead of them.

When he arrived, Mario was there to take his dinghy line. He thanked Scott for the money we’d paid him. He’d bought rice, beans and meat for his mother with it, but ran out of gas as he was cooking the meat, so he wanted more money to buy some. He told Scott that he’d help him later for it. Scott replied that he’d paid Mario for helping us, that we didn’t need anything more and that he was sorry, but wasn’t just going to give him anymore money.

Then, the man who’d come to the phone store to tell us that we had to return to the port captain’s office (even though we’d already been told) asked Scott for money for a juice. He wanted money because he’d spoken to us…???  Scott offered him 10 lempira, and was told that it wasn’t enough for a juice. It was only about .45 cents, but we had no reason to pay him anything.

When Scott got to the office, there were already four people waiting, which quickly grew to nine, including Scott. Apparently, they were all told to come back at 3:00. Luckily, one person in the group spoke Spanish well. She relayed to Scott and the rest that faxing the papers to the mainland seems to be a new procedure, so they can keep track of boats coming through the area.

The group waited, as the port captain took photos of papers with his phone. It seemed crazy that there was no other way to get copies of this stuff to mainland Honduras. No fax machine or scanner? The port captain then got up to leave, mumbling something in Spanish. The designated translator told the group that he was leaving to go add data to his phone….good grief.  I cannot believe that Scott didn’t have to be flown off the island with a brain aneurysm at this point.

During this customs circus, Scott learned from a British couple also waiting that this was day three of them of trying to get papers. The port captain returned, and after some more time told everyone to come back tomorrow…or the next day (again, shocked at no aneurysm). Some stayed, but Scott returned to the boat so we could get re-anchored before the winds were stronger, and get a good spot before others arrived.

So that’s where we stand. We have no papers, but are told that “we’re good.” There’s no telling how long it will take to get said papers, and that’s incredibly frustrating. Our biggest gripe is that we had papers in hand, and they were taken away. To quote the band Genesis, “It’s no fun, being an illegal alien!”

However, once settled back at the boat, we remembered that some of our cruising friends have taken days to clear into countries. They’ve also had to travel back to customs offices much farther away, involving taxis and ferries, for missed items or details, so it could be worse.

We are a short dinghy ride from town, and the port captain. The winds won’t be favorable to head to another anchorage for almost a week, so we’ll take the time to explore the area, as there is much to see and do on this side of the island. Not such a terrible situation after all, I guess!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

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