Sunday, January 26, 2014

Entry Denied! :(

After enjoying the dives and beaches in Honduras, we were planning to visit volcanoes and colonial cities in Nicaragua. We were pretty excited to go to Nicaragua: we were told that people are extremely friendly, it is super cheap, there are lots of adventurous activities and it is the safest country in Central America. Sounded like a perfect destination to spend a few weeks!

The trip from Roatan (Honduras) to Leon (northern Nicaragua) takes very long. Normally, travelers have to make an overnight stop in either Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula, two cities in Honduras famous for their high murder- and crime rates. As we really didn’t want to stay in either, we took a shuttle from La Ceiba (the city where the ferry from Roatan goes) to Leon, which takes around 15 hours. The first ferry from Roatan left at 7am and arrived at 8.30am, when our driver was already waiting for us with other passengers.

The beginning of journey was smooth, with a total of 20 people in the group – this is more than usual so the organizer arranged for 2 extra cars next to the minivan. We sat with 5 people in 1 car. We knew this was going to be anything but comfortable, but we were really happy we could get there in 1 day. So we thought…

We stopped a few times at gas stations and overall had a very good trip. Around 9pm, we arrived at the ‘Guasaule’ border between Honduras and Nicaragua. First the Honduras side: just get a stamp, very easy. The borders in Central America are full with people (unfortunately often kids) that offer money exchange – as soon as you get out your car or bus, many kids are around you waving with money so you can get rid of the other currency. Next to that there are people selling food which looks like it could really upset your stomach for a few days, and there are always street dogs walking around (they don’t have to get a stamp apparently). Not the nicest place to spend your time but you don’t really have a choice.

After the Honduran side we had to cross a bridge to go to the Nicaraguan entry point. This must be the most depressing border ever: ugly concrete buildings, dirty and totally unclear where to go. Our drivers took very good care of us, but we heard this is a chaotic nightmare for travelers during daytime. We were told that stamping all the passports in Nicaragua would take about one hour, maybe longer. Efficiency has yet to be introduced in this part of the world.

We already knew that borders in Central America are not familiar with the Hong Kong passport that Kendy holds. Every time we crossed a border, it took a bit more time than European or American passports. Usually they flip through the passport, try to see if it is fake and ask their colleagues for the procedures for this “rare” passport. The same happened in Nicaragua. But they examined the passport much longer than usual… at one point they asked our driver / guide to go into their room, and about 10 minutes later he asked us to go into the room as well. The immigration officer told us that Kendy’s visa is not valid for Nicaragua... Which we extensively researched before the trip: the visa requirement for Hong Kong passports is a CA-4 visa to enter Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Kendy got the CA-4 visa from Guatemala in the Netherlands and we had no problems in Guatemala and Honduras using this visa. However, the immigration officer said the CA-4 visa does not apply to this case (but he didn’t explain why). He did tell us that Nicaragua is trying to improve their relationship with China, so visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan cannot get into Nicaragua without a visa issued by Nicaragua (how strange can it get). After talking to him forever, even showing internet sites which state that the CA-4 visa is sufficient for a Hong Kong resident to enter Nicaragua, he kept shaking his head and denied entry for us. It was around 11pm by now and we were angry and disappointed, but there was absolutely nothing to do. So there we were, being sent back to one of the worlds most dangerous countries right before midnight with no idea where to go.

Despite everything, some luck was with us: the driver could send the other tourists towards Nicaragua and drive us back to Honduras with one car, so we weren't left to sleep on the street. On top of that, his parents had a house in Tegucigalpa (in a safe area), where he offered to drive us (3 hours!) so that we could figure out what to do the next day.

We first had to get back into Honduras, which could be interesting: you cannot enter Honduras within 72 hours after exiting! Luckily their border was more flexible, they even saw it coming - around 2 weeks ago, a group of Hong Kong visitors got rejected while some were even holding a visa issued by Nicaragua. We got back into Honduras and arrived in Tegucigalpa around 3am… Exhausted.

We were very lucky that our guide stayed with us for the whole time and was willing to drive us back to Tegucigalpa. His parents were very friendly and cooked breakfast for us the next morning. We called the consulate of Nicaragua in Honduras, who told us that it takes 2 months to process a visa (which could be done in one hour at the embassy of Guatemala in the Netherlands) with no guarantees. So we decided to skip Nicaragua and find a flight ticket to Costa Rica on the same day. So we are in Costa Rica now! Nicaragua never again, we will forget about this bad experience and enjoy the beauty in Costa Rica and Panama!

At least we saw the most beautiful place in Nicaragua.. from the plane :)