Our next destination after the Bay Islands in Honduras was Placencia in Belize. The trip from Utila to Placencia involved two epic travel days, one from Utila to Omoa near the Honduras-Guatemalan border, and another from there to Placencia. These travel days are hard work, especially if you are on a tight budget and therefore unable to take more expensive but faster shuttles. Both of our days were 14 hours long, and we only ate one meal, dinner, on both, because nothing is open when you catch an early bus in the morning. And getting up early is essential for days when you are travelling for this long, as arriving somewhere new and unknown in the dark is inadvisable.
We came up against an issue on these days that we hadn’t done at previous border crossings: we ran out of money. We thought that we would have plenty of cash to get across the border because we were stopping in a town (Omoa) the night before we reached it and planned to get enough cash there. We didn’t bear in mind that the town in question only had one ATM and that was broken. We also didn’t expect that the hotel we managed to find for the night would have a broken card machine so they could only accept cash. In fact, the whole stop in Omoa was a bit of a nightmare. Apparently the town used to be a flourishing tourist destination, but this is certainly no longer the case. In fact, the atmosphere was just depressing. The place had clearly been hit by hard times and all the hostels had shut down, the restaurants were dead and desperate for your custom, and everything was silent.
We managed to get across the Honduras side of the border by using every last penny, and on to a bus which would take us through the Guatemalan side and on to Puerto Barrios from where we would catch the ferry to Belize. We had no money at all after we had paid the bus driver, but he assured us that we would need no money at the Guatemalan border so it would all be OK. It wasn’t. The man at the immigration desk sprang a $10 per person charge upon us as we tried to enter, and these are not people to question. We were stuck. Thankfully our bus driver had a kind heart and came to our rescue just as I was dramatically shaking my empty purse upside down in front of the immigration officer to try and make him understand that we weren’t being obnoxious, we simply had nothing. The driver paid our fare and we paid him back when we managed to find an ATM in Puerto Barrios. But we learnt a valuable lesson: never get caught without money at border crossings. In places like Central America there is no guarantee that there will be abundant ATMs, so make sure you have a enough cash to avoid all situations like ours!