Have I ever told you the story about the time I crossed the border from Belize into Honduras with my soul-sister Lilly, with less the $1 USD, and ended up on a bus with 40 men who were being deported from a Mexican jail?
It was 2013.
A few months earlier I had flown to Mexico, on a whim, to celebrate “the end of the world” after I ended a shit-storm of a relationship and left him behind in Amsterdam. I met Lilly at a festival I worked at years ago, and we spent Christmas in the magic of San Cristobal, partied until sunrise on New Years on the beaches of Tulum, and then started making out way south down Central America to Costa Rica, where we were working at a festival called Envision.
We were in Belize and had planned to skip Honduras almost in it’s entirety, because Nicaragua just sounded that much sweeter. On the day of the border crossing, several of my friends warned me:
San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city in the world. Don’t go there. And if you must go there, make sure you’re there at daylight.
We had to go there. Our bus taking us right across the country was leaving from there.
So we leave Belize early in the morning cross over 3 countries on 5 different buses: from Belize to Guatemala to Honduras. We had to get off and walk across each border on foot, pay for our visas, and then get on a new bus, each time.
I remember waiting in the line of our final crossing, when a local Honduran lady in front of us points out a bus driving past.
That bus is filled with illegal immigrants from Mexican jails, who are being deported back to Honduras.
We nod. Hmmm. Life is not so easy for everyone.
We get to the other side of the border, to where our bus was supposed to be. The only bus around however, is the bus full of immigrants.
Lilly and I look around. Someone walks up to us.
Where are you going?
San Pedro Sula.
Get on the bus.
Yes. Get on the bus.
So we get on the bus.
Lilly, me and 40 testosterone-brimming men who have just been deported back home after being caught doing illegal work in Mexico.
I’m scared. Lilly is silent. We feel vulnerable, small, and worried that we might be in big trouble.
I strike up a conversation. Somewhere, in the back of my head I think that, if they see us as humans, with real feelings, and families, and things we care about, they’re less likely to want to hurt us.
A short, stocky boy, who looks around 20 years old, is leaning into the aisle next to me. Alejandro. He says he comes from a small village near the sea and went to Mexico to make a better life for himself. He lived on the streets, trying to find work for several months until the police caught him one day and put him in jail for 22 days until being deported.
Immediately I begin to feel better. At least one person here is our friend.
An hour into our trip, thick, dark smoke begins to billow out of the engine of the bus. It slows down into a stop. And so we all get out and wait. And wait. And wait.
The afternoon sun is changing. And the potential that we will arrive in San Pedro Sula after nightfall, if at all is becoming real.
A bus comes as the day is turning into night and we all pile in, Lilly, and me and 40 jail birds. We drive for 30 minutes. Then suddenly the bus is coming to a halt and Alejandro is jelling at me.
Get out! Quick! We are taking another bus to the city.
I don’t know why we trust him. But we do. It’s scramble to get our bags, and cram way too many of us into a minibus. There are not enough seats. Everyone is sitting on top of one another. I end up up being pushed onto the gearbox next to the driver.
$3 for the bus.
I haven’t any change left. I have to go to an ATM.
Alejandro offers to lend us the money, until we get into the city. Another hour has passed. It is getting late.
What hotel are you staying in?
We don’t know yet.
You can come stay at my house with my family.
No thank you.
You are welcome.
No. Thank you.
Again, Alejandro steps in.
I’ll take you to an ATM and a hotel. But remember. It’s very, very dangerous at night. We have to hurry.
The mini-bus stops, and we are instructed to get out. I can see Alejandro steel himself. Lilly and I are a liability in the most dangerous city in the world, and taking us to an ATM and a hotel isn’t going to be easy. We pick up our stuff, and start off at a fast march through the unknown streets of San Pedro Sula.
I am too scared to look around and keep my eyes on the pavement, clutching my things to me. We get escorted to an ATM and quickly make a transaction while Alejandro stands outside like a bodyguard, growling at anyone who comes too close.
There’s junkies and street kids everywhere but we can also see a park light up nearby with a couple of policemen with big machine guns patrolling it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Alejandro scurries us through a few more blocks to a very basic hotel. It is locked and when we knock, and women with a set of keys opens the doors, and locks them again behind us. We take a room with 3 beds, and are relieved to place our bags down and have a place to sleep without any incident.
Back out into the streets, we make a quick dinner of bbq beef strips and rice from a stand, before going to sleep.
The next morning we get up before sunrise to catch our next bus, onwards and upwards to Nicaragua. Alejandro waves us goodbye with his $20USD, that we gave him to say thank you for being our guiding light on a day that could have ended very differently.