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Lady, Where’d You Get Your Honduran Drivers License? A Cracker Jacks Box?

No, You Stupid Gringo, I Bought One In Honduras!

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Don't ask me why, but a few Mondays ago I wound up with a Honduras drivers license. My friend Charlie down here needed one, and he had a well connected Honduran friend helping him translate Spanish and deal with the bureaucracy. I thought I'd tag along and get a license too, real quick. Ha! We lost track of how many trips we had to make. I think he went 9 times and I went 7 (Well, he had a head start). We had to listen to a 2 hour "charla" (a talk) a la Drivers Education, which is actually a brilliant idea and desperately needed in this country. The talk was in Spanish, of course. There’s nothin' bilingual about THIS country! Then you take a written test, multiple guess. One of the best questions was, If you run over someone and he’s not dead (I love the qualifier, "and he’s not dead"), you should (a) Cover him up with leaves, (b) Drink an eighth of rum, (c) Discuss what do with your friends, (d) Put him in your car and drive him to the hospital or (e) Leave him there. But my favorite choice was: The reason a crosswalk exists is: It is a good place to have a cold beer. There is something good to be said about a country whose bureaucrats have a sense of humor!

So, I took the test. Then they told us to come back the next day to get the results. So we returned. Charlie passed but I was informed I'd failed. They wanted me to return to sit through the charla AGAIN and take the test yet another time. I explained in rotten Spanish that the only way I would learn anything was to review the questions I'd gotten wrong because I don't understand Spanish well enough to understand the charla. And I wanted to see my test anyway. "Esta basura. Su examen estuvio muy malo, muy malo." (It's garbage. It was a very bad test.)

I said, "Forget it, I'm not coming back. I don't need a license anyway, I’m working 15 hours a day on a book and I don't have time." That statement proved to be a brilliant negotiating tactic. Suddenly our acquaintance discreetly asks how much am I willing to pay? Then asks for $1.50, then immediately ups it to $3.00 (for the 2nd person). I figure that was lunch money for two. So we returned the next day so I could write my name on a test with all the right answers already circled by a cop. While I was "retaking" the test, I got to have a peek at the right answers. Here's one I got wrong. What type of sign means you should yield to another car and, if necessary, stop? I answered a YIELD sign. So did Charlie and HE passed. But the correct answer is A STOP SIGN. Boy, that explains a lot about the driving here. I’ve never seen such awful driving as in Honduras. However, a fellow compadre at the Expatriates Bar set me straight. No, no, I was told, the driving's worse in Egypt and Iran. Now THAT's saying something.

So, 10 minutes after I handed in my test, I found out I passed and was told to get in line for my photo. Of course, you must bring along another photo for the cops to keep. Then they take a second photo for the license. Go figger.

By the way, I had to pay twice for the photo I brought with me, because the first time they took it, my eyes were closed. So of course I had to repay to have it retaken. We call this "the gringo tax." We get to pay more for everything. Then when I said I wanted to keep the bad photos, I had to pay EXTRA for that! (I swear I'm gathering evidence for one helluva a letter to the Minister of Tourism!) I can't wait to write up this photo place in my guide book and say how incompetent they are, and then they steal double or triple the gringo price!

So at the fuzz station I'm trying to look pretty for my picture, and the cop who took my test walks in. The photographer, who’s a grouch anyway, starts moaning and groaning in Spanish something about "examen," my test, and the cop kept repeating it was "bien," it was ok. What a circus.

Remarkably, the photo came out quite good, I got my pinky fingerprinted for the first time in my life, and was outta there in 3 minutes with a laminated drivers license AND A RECEIPT. That was the FIRST receipt I'd gotten from any official fee I'd paid for anything in 4 months in HONDURAS. Getting a receipt from a bureaucrat is even more amazing than getting the license, because they all consider the fees that they can steal part of their compensation. Truly. They honestly do not believe it's dishonest. Such a Catholic country you never saw!

Not so long ago, it used to be that if you wanted a Drivers License, anybody who could afford 200 Lempiras (about $16) could buy one. If you were foolish enough to expect to take some kind of a test, well, you had to pay more; it was more work for them! It’s pretty scary seeing kids who look about 14 behind the wheel of a car but then, maybe that just means the older I get, the younger they look.

Hmm, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Contributed by Andrea Jupina. This is an excerp from her yet-to-be-published guide to La Ceiba (Publishing information will be furnished when available).

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