Approaching the Honduras border on January 19, Stephen
Hogg and Tim Munro had no inkling of the corruption, pain and
fear they were about to experience. They spoke to Bruce Munro
about their ordeal after fleeing the violence-ridden Central
American country earlier this month.
The malevolent mood of Honduras' largest city - chaotic,
lawless Tegucigalpa - screamed for Tim Munro's attention
within hours of his arrival.
The Dunedin-raised 27-year-old had left his best mate and
travelling companion Stephen Hogg (27), also of Dunedin, at
the city's main hospital while he fetched Mr Hogg's X-rays
from their hotel.
''On my way back, a heavily tattooed guy driving his truck
down the street just hit the brakes and started screaming in
pretty good English `What the f... are you doing here?','' Mr
''No-one was batting an eyelid. It was incredibly hostile.
''I just kept walking.''
This was supposed to be the halfway mark of the film
graduates' year-long, trans-continental odyssey from
Anchorage, Alaska, to Argentina's southern most point, Tierra
Astride Bajaj Chetaks - the hardy Indian equivalent of Vespa
motorscooters - the pair had already ridden, filmed and
photographed 20,000km of their North and Central American
adventures by the time they reached the border town of El
Amatillo on the morning of January 19.
They had experienced their share of frustration and
excitement travelling south through Mexico, Guatemala and El
Salvador. They had also ''heard bad things'' about the
country they were about to enter. What they did not know was
that Honduras boasted the world's highest murder rate, 92 per
100,000 people. Nor had they heard that four days before a
British tourist had been shot dead in Honduras' second city,
San Pedro Sula, while trying to escape thieves.
The country's distinctive attitude was apparent as soon as
they tried to enter it.
''We had heaps of trouble getting across the border,'' Mr
''It was a case of how much money were we willing to pay.''
''And it did take us all day,'' Mr Hogg adds.
What should have been $US12 each in border fees ended up
costing $US100 each as they paid everyone from police
officers to administrators.
''A man who spoke English said `Oh the policeman wants five
dollars','' Mr Hogg says.
''I said `He can have five dollars when he comes up with a
''Later another guy came over and said `He wants five dollars
from you both or he will search your bikes and it might take
Once in Honduras, they rode south to spend a few days in the
provincial capital Choluteca, hoping the worst was behind
them. But they had only just arrived when Mr Hogg fell while
pushing his scooter.
''I just tripped and felt my back go ping,'' he says.
It would be the last time he rode his bike.
The pain of walking was close to unbearable. After a couple
of days without improvement, Mr Hogg visited a local doctor
who suggested he get an MRI scan in Tegucigalpa. He also
offered ''all manner of pills and injections which he had in
The scooters were reluctantly left at the hotel in Choluteca
and the pair boarded a bus for the capital, 150km to the
The city was an ''eye-opener'' on the effects military rule,
corruption, a huge wealth gap, roaring drug trade, crime and
natural disasters can have on a country.
''It struck me as a place with far more chaos than we had
ever come across,'' Mr Hogg says.
''The day we arrived in the capital, the Government
apparently stopped being able to pay its CCTV bill, so they
canned all the closed circuit TV cameras around town. We also
heard the military was no longer being paid.''
Within an hour of arriving in the capital they were warned by
three people to take extreme care.
''I was lying on the footpath outside the hospital while Tim
went to find a hotel,'' Mr Hogg says.
''A local man who spoke some English welcomed me to his
country and then just shook his head at me and said `What are
you doing? You need to be careful. It is a dangerous place.'
This was just outside the hospital.''
It was on Mr Munro's next excursion, while Mr Hogg was
waiting to see a neurosurgeon, that he was screamed at in the
THEY did encounter a lot of friendliness as well, they say.
But at the same time ''you could feel others were sizing us
''You got the feeling that it was just a matter of time
before we at least got our money taken.''
The neurosurgeon diagnosed Mr Hogg with a slipped disc in his
lower back. He said it was an emergency situation and
''He was quite keen to operate on me in Honduras. I was less
keen,'' Mr Hogg, who then began planning his return to New
But first their beloved bikes needed to be sorted. So they
got a bus back to Choluteca.
Mr Hogg's sister, who lives in Invercargill, had been
searching the internet for people in Honduras who spoke
English and might be able to help her invalid brother and his
She contacted an American missionary living in a small town
in the hills near the Honduras-Nicaragua border, an hour from
Choluteca, who offered to pick up and look after the
Mr Munro travelled with the bikes to see where they would be
stored while Mr Hogg stayed in Choluteca to minimise the
chance of nerve damage.
They then travelled back to the capital with whatever gear
they could carry; Mr Hogg intent on finding the quickest
route back to New Zealand, and Mr Munro hoping to get to
Mexico to find a cheaper flight home. It was the closing days
The missionary put them in touch with a Honduran customs
broker who, they were told, would not expect to be bribed.
He was extremely helpful. But his belief that arrangements
could be made quickly proved incorrect.
A key stumbling block was the permits for their scooters.
Stamped in their passports were three-day vehicle-import
permits, obviously long expired, rather than the 90-day
permits they should have been granted when they entered the
It was starting to look as if Honduras was becoming their
Mr Munro contacted his parents, who began doing their own
research on Honduras. They were not reassured by what they
''It was a bit distressing for them, knowing their son was
stuck in a country like this and couldn't get out,'' Mr Munro
His father phoned the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade (MFat). Staff at the New Zealand embassy in Mexico
then contacted their Australian and Canadian counterparts in
Honduras, who offered translation assistance if it was
FOR two days their customs broker negotiated with government
officials. At one point they were told they could get exit
visas for $US250 each, but that person then withdrew his
offer. The best solution seemed to lie in paying $US350 each
to ''officially import'' the bikes, then surrendering the
scooters to the officials. They were told once that was done
their passports would be stamped with a cancellation of the
temporary permit, and they would be able to leave Honduras.
An attempt to extract a further $US350 each was thwarted by
the broker, who managed to telephone a higher-ranking
official who agreed the extra money was not required.
On Friday, February 1, the day before Mr Hogg's plane was
departing, hasty arrangements were made to transport the
scooters overnight by truck to the capital.
The physical pain, on top of the stress and frustration, was
making Mr Hogg feel ''pretty miserable''.
By now Mr Munro had decided trying to get to Mexico by bus
was not a good option.
''Air travel seemed much easier and safer,'' he says.
His flight was not until February 5.
The days between Mr Hogg's departure and his flight out were
stressful, Mr Munro says.
''I haven't been anywhere else in Central America before
where I legitimately believed it was pretty unsafe to leave
the hotel even during the day,'' he says.
''That was confirmed the next day ... The night before I flew
out to New Zealand five people were shot dead just around the
corner from my hotel.''
When they did each leave, three days apart, their experiences
were as similar as they were strange.
Escorted to the airport, Mr Hogg in a wheelchair, their
passports were taken from them before they reached the
customs counter. A conversation was had with the official on
duty - Mr Hogg picked up the Spanish words for ''motorcycle''
and ''vehicle registration'' - and the men were then waved
through to board their planes. There was no stamp to cancel
the temporary vehicle import permit enabling them to leave.
There was no customs declaration to show they were leaving
''Basically, to get out of the country, I'm pretty sure a
little bit of USD [United States dollars] exchanged hands,''
Mr Munro says.
''It didn't seem we left Honduras in a legitimate manner
whatsoever,'' Mr Hogg says.
Both men have been in Dunedin this week catching up with
Mr Hogg is having his back injury evaluated by a surgeon
here. If he is healthy enough, he would love to find a way to
complete the other half of the journey to the bottom of South
''Overall it was an amazing trip. We're both quite
disappointed it finished where it did.''
For Mr Munro, who departs for work in Australia this weekend,
it will be more difficult.
''It might be a bit expensive for me, but I'm not closing all
And the scooters?''I imagine they'd probably be gone.''
Tim Munro is no relation of the writer.
The travel advisory for Honduras is being reviewed, a New
Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFat) and Trade
spokeswoman said this week.
''But this is unlikely to result in any change to the risk
level,'' the spokeswoman said. The Ministry already advises
there is some risk to security due to violent crime in
Honduras and recommends caution.
''New Zealanders who find themselves in difficulty in
Honduras can contact the New Zealand embassy in Mexico for
advice and consular assistance.''
There are currently 11 New Zealanders registered with MFat as
being in Honduras. In the past 12 months, 17 New Zealanders
registered with MFat as having travelled to Honduras but have