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75# A poorly shod shoemaker

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

- How funny! A Muslim protecting Jews

- And how is that funny?

- Cause you don't really see that where I come from...

My time in El Salvador was coming to an end. Both my car permit and visa extension were soon to expire, I had to keep moving. The next country I wanted to explore was Nicaragua. It was part of the CA-4 (Central America 4), with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The four countries share the same visa legislation. It also had amazing waves, active volcanoes and a rich fauna. Every traveller I had met so far highly recommended it. “The gem of Central America” they called it.

On a darker note, Nicaragua was going through a profound political crisis. A new pension legislation triggered demonstrations and riots in the main cities. The government of Daniel Ortega stifled them over a few weeks. Heavy artillery met unarmed protesters in a seedy massacre. It was craven, shameful and brutally effective. They left only corpses to protest. Because of that, venturing there alone was not an option.

Travelling is challenging. You are outside of your comfort zone and forced to deal with random events frequently. Under stress, your true colours show. Insecurities and defaults come to the forefront and relationships are thoroughly tested. Travelling with someone could be the cement to a relationship, or its dynamite.

I needed a good travel partner for Nicaragua. A good travel partner is someone you can spend most your time with without being annoyed. So trust and chemistry are of the utmost importance. After travelling with someone for a while, your rhythms synchronize. You rely on each other for everything. You even crave the same things at the same time. Humour flows and planning life for two becomes effortless. In the end, you share experiences on a much deeper level. Marco was a good travel partner.

I was looking actively for a travel partner in El Tunco. I met Nina, an experienced surfer who wanted to go South. Her destination was Las Flores, a famous surf spot near the Honduras border. We agreed on the departure date and hit the road. I liked passionate discussions, Nina liked Coldplay. She talked a bit more than her surfboard. The ride to Las Flores seemed endless. We arrived, and I went looking for a better catch.

A group of young Israelis was in Las Flores. Four guys who flew to California after their military service. They bought a van and were travelling down the Pacific coast to surf. I introduced myself and my plans to Yoni, the group leader. They were also going to Nicaragua.

Except the rare solo travellers, most Israelis I met in Latin America travel in a closed group. They do everything together. And except for the casual hook ups, they don't share much with foreigners. I insisted until they let me stick with them. Yoni was wary and cold. He was also my only option. Beggars can't be choosers.

I asked Arven, one of the guys to hop with me in the van. He was quiet until opened my CD collection. Our mutual love for metal music made him open up. In the next hours, we talked about everything, from career to religion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We shared our views on the war. Me from the outside, him from the battlefield. And when I asked when there will be peace, Arven said: “Never. Because we cannot trust them”. That was the saddest thing I had ever heard.

We arrived to the Honduras border early afternoon. Hundreds of trucks were lined up before the border gates. The vibe was hot, toxic and sketchy. Dozens of hustlers chased every foreign car to make a buck, offering their help with the paperwork. We needed to close our car permits for El Salvador before crossing to Honduras. I had my car permit in order but the guys did not. None of them spoke Spanish. I volunteered to be their guide to make it easier but Yoni was skeptical. It was me or the border hustlers. Arven gave him the green light.

The guys missed a document in their car paperwork. There was only one agent with the authority to stamp their car permit. They had to convince him so he would close their Salvadorian car permit and let them through with their car. That agent went away for a long lunch break. Then he stayed in his office for a siesta or a long shit who knows. We ran from building to building, walking among the trucks in the hammering heat. Like a bad improvised speech, it was long and painful. Four hours later, they got their stamp and I got mine. El Salvador was behind us.

Yoni was amazed and grateful. Without my negotiation skills they would have been stuck with the shady hustlers, or paid a heavy bribe to get out. It was getting dark, threatening clouds covered the sky. We were still far away from the next town and Latin America's border towns are not the safest place to hang out. We had to move fast.

Luckily the Honduras border office was empty. I pushed the guys to get their passport stamp then looked for the lady behind the counter. There was no lady that day, only blasé faces. As I searched for light in their grim expressions, a young agent waived impatiently at me. I put on my most sympathetic smile and handed him my passport. He flipped the pages and said: “You can't enter”.

Thunder roared.


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