- The road is blocked.
Last year, I traveled unprepared and got denied entry at the Honduras border. My car permit for El Salvador was expiring in six days. If they did not let me through this time, I would need to drive to Guatemala, or lose La Chichona to customs.
I spent the entire day collecting papers for the border crossing. My important-documents folder had it all: Central America visa rules, passport copies, visa stamps, driving license, printed email exchanges, plane tickets, and even my Canadian license to practice law. All this preparation and yet, I was stressing out.
That area is called Central America’s cursed triangle: one of the most violent places in the world. Criminality and poverty are the norm. Breaking down in the cursed triangle is an invitation for robbery. I knew the risk. Sandra knew it. Nick did not.
Nick ignored La Chichona’s flawless history of breakdowns, and I did not judge useful to tell him. He signed up for an amazing wave in a remote beach, a tiny bit different from a hot afternoon in a dirty garage. Plus, he struggled with the heat. Nick was short, hairy, and spoke with the thickest Kiwi accent I’d ever heard. His laidback vibe made him funny and likeable; the perfect travel companion. When his friend abandoned him and their lifelong dream to go to Alaska, Nick simply said, “Oy bugger, but what can ye do…Plans change yeah na?”.
The evening before our trip, Sandra and I were reviewing all the documents one last time when Nick stopped by.
- Nick: Oy! Watcha all doin'?
- Raz: Re-checking everyhting for the border. This time I'm going through!
- Nick: Edmond yeah na?
- Raz: What?
- Nick: Edmond
- Sandra: Who?
- Nick: Edmond! Papewoh
- Sandra: Hahaha what are you talking about?
- Raz: Spell it out
- Nick: A-D-M-I-N. Edmond!
We burst into laughter. Nick spoke his own language, and Sandra and I had too much fun deciphering it. He was a good sport. The plan was to leave at 5 am the next morning. If I dropped him in Las Flores around 9, I would reach the border before noon. Four hours were enough to deal with La Chichona's paperwork, find a garage in Honduras, and catch the last bus to El Tunco. If all went well, I would be back in La Guitarra in the evening...Inshallah.
Sandra woke up at 4:45am to say goodbye. We were reviewing the itinerary over coffee when she said, after a long silence, “Naaah…I can’t let you go alone to Honduras.” My eyes widened with hope. She smiled and added, "I'll be ready in 5 minutes." Thank you Mamacita, you’re the best friend one can have.
The painful, nerve-breaking, and full-day hassle instantly turned to a cool road trip with friends. Sandra played the Beatles, Nick sat in the middle, and La Chichona roared out of Playa El Tunco in the pitch black morning. Nick lightened the mood with his snoring, his head ticking between my shoulder and Sandra’s.
We drove for over two hours before the sun lit up the view.
The scenery was pretty. Green pastures, green forests, and green volcanos. Against it contrasted tall and ugly road sign commercials. Nick had just woken up when we passed a flashy orange sign. He cleared his voice and said, “Oy guys...what dya say bout’ some fried chicken yeah na?”. Sandra and I laughed it out. And so, we went on a quest for fried chicken, a fine morning in El Salvador.
The countryside woke up like a tired beast. Fried chicken billboards pointed the way every few kilometers on the main road. We missed twice, reversed, and finally drove into a cramped neighborhood that looked like a giant street market. It was a poor hamlet from another time, with no concrete roads or proper streetlights. Between the shacks and foodcarts stood a flashy modern orange store. We'd found the Holy Grail.
Fully energised on fat, chemicals, and protein, we resumed our route. Sandra reminded me that Las Flores was a 50km detour from the main road. Nick did not mind hitchhiking to town, "she'll be alright" he said. We didn't understand what he meant but I guess she'll be alright.
I'd only known Nick for two days and yet, it felt like parting with an old friend. There was something about him. Something that makes you drive an extra hour when you are already on a tight schedule. Something that makes you say "yeah na" at the end of a sentence. Something that makes you seek fried chicken at 8 in the morning.
We dropped Nick off in Las Flores, said our goodbyes, and resumed our trip. Time was running out. It was past noon when we stopped behind a truck, one kilometer away from the border. A line of semitrailers stretched up like an infinite cargo train. People were standing and sitting on the side of the road, numbed by the sun, waiting for nothing. It was a strike.
Serious and blasé, I turned to Sandra, “Oy...time for some Edmond yeah na?”