‘Yes’. That single, affirmative response to a million questions asked every second around the world.
Used 12 days ago in a sweaty, run down Nicaraguan town, the word set in motion a serious of events of such epic proportions, that they can only be described as a damn proper adventure.
I had asked a question. It was about football. I asked it to a long lost friend who was now sitting opposite from me in the heat-filled room, both of us using a cold beer to combat the intense closeness of the air. A losing battle. “Do you still like football, Mark?”, I put the question out there, amongst others designed to fill in some of the gaps 14 years of separation had created. And that’s when it happened. The word. The affirmative. 3 single letters, one massive outcome. “Yes” he said, almost throw away. And the next question; fired out with not much hope of a similar response; “wanna go see Honduras play Australia tomorrow? It’s 500 miles away, and in the murder capital of the world. And we probably can’t get tickets. But it could be fun?”. “Yes”.
Where there is a will, there is a way. I’ve learnt to stand by that saying over years of adventures and foreign travel. I’ve been in situations I had no right to be in, survived others that quite frankly, should have killed me. But, if you give it your all, ask enough questions, drink enough beer and make enough friends, anything can happen. So, with enough beer, some newly acquired friends, and a few loose questions asked, we found ourselves on a bus, leaving Nicaragua, and heading towards San Pedro Sula. Now a quick wikipedia search on Honduras’ second largest city greets you with the following:
WARNING: San Pedro Sula has been named the most dangerous place on earth, with an average of more than three homicides per day; it is one of the world’s most violent areas.
That’s quite an accolade. The most dangerous place on Earth. But surely it can’t be that bad? They wouldn’t be playing a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match there if there was chance of everyone dying before kick-off would they? Well, yeah, as it turns out they were. And we were on our way.
Of course, simply driving for 12 hours across Honduras wouldn’t make for a great lead up to this epic story. And so, it’s worth mentioning the other crazy series of events that almost prevented us from even leaving Nicaragua before the journey had begun! It’s my own fault really; the fact that the border guard on the Honduras/Nicaragua crossing point was mightily confused by my passport(s). Only 24hours earlier, I had made the reverse journey, from Honduras into Nicaragua. I was detained for 4 hours, my passport was battered and worn and quite simply, had enough stamps in it to make me look like an international arms dealer. I was refused entry. I produced a second passport, a clean one. It made me look guilty as hell. They didn’t like that. The result? Both passports were stapled together, I was interviewed and made to promise i’d leave Nicaragua by the International Airport and not come back for a set amount of time.
Fast forward 24hours, I was standing back at the border, drunk, with no luggage, a long lost friend, and 2 passports that looked like a naff Blue Peter project. Of course the guard was confused. I was looking less like an arms dealer and more like an idiot, things weren’t going well. But then it hit me. I had a secret weapon. Instagram! You see, during the excitement of actually agreeing to do this crazy journey, we had briefly (and unsuccessfully) researched buying match tickets online. There weren’t any. And so, I did what any drunk foreigner would do, I sent an Instagram message to the captain of the Honduras National football team, asking if he could help. And there was that word again – “yes!”. Not only did he reply, he said he would get us a ticket, and we proceeded to have a lengthy conversation on messenger. He called me his friend. This was gold dust. I showed the message thread to the border guard, and things changed. His eyes lit up, here I was, a friend of a Honduran national hero, asking to be let into Honduras. The entry stamp was applied to my passport (he then tore the 2 documents apart) and gladly waved me into the country. Easy as that!
We arrived into the murder capital of the world, and made contact with a man who we had found online (!), who had given us his word that he would not only help us get tickets (incase the Honduras Captain was busy, you know, playing football), but would also get us safely into the stadium. It was at this stage that Mark, my long lost travel companion, and I, decided that if we were to survive the hours ahead, we needed to blend in, look less like hungover idiot gringos and more like die hard (excuse the pun) local football fans. Our £6 spent on official Honduras football shirts did just the trick. Now we fitted right in. And so to celebrate, we drank a lot more beer.
Omar, our new friend, was true to his word. He sourced us 2 black market tickets, put us in the back of his pick up truck, and drove us to the game. He introduced us to his friends, they bought us lunch, they bought us beer, they took selfies with us and made us feel like absolute celebrities. And then we entered the stadium. It was wild, a giant concrete amphitheatre, an enormous circle of noise. It was chaos. It was hot. It was brilliant. Beers kept coming; vendors shouting from all sides with local lagers stacked high like some kind of drinking challenge. It was one big party, a far cry from the red tape and safety barriers in a European stadium. They must have had previous experience of football violence however, as heavily armoured soldiers carrying multiple weapons stood to attention at every exit, stairwell and pitch side space. Of course, no trip to a fortified stadium would be complete without a few selfies of us with the battle clad militia; some were happier to see us than others! The locals however, went crazy for us. Handshakes, photos, more beers. I didn’t even need to mention the story about my friend the team captain!
The result, 0-0, did nothing to dampen the party. We can only imagine what would have happened if Honduras had actually won the game. The Australians weren’t great, but probably didn’t deserve to lose either way. The party continued after the full time whistle had blown, we drank more (again), went for dinner with our new friends, and after hopping back in the pick up truck (we decided a 7km walk through town was a bit too risky), we were even delivered right to the door of our hostel. What a day.
Of course, the adventure wasn’t complete yet. We still had to make our way back into Nicaragua, the same journey that 48hours earlier had seen me detained, questioned and almost very stuck. We went for it. The beauty of having zero luggage, possessions or quite frankly, any care in the world, means that you can travel fast, light, and with no real idea of where you will end up. The problem here was that it was by no means fast (another 12 hours on a bus), and I was a little uncertain what would happen.
And what happened? Possibly only the greatest border crossing I have ever experienced in my life! We hopped off the bus at the official border crossing point…and the same border guard was there. I’ve never received a welcome from a person of authority quite like it in all my years of international escapades. As we stood at the back of a now lengthy queue of other travellers and locals alike, all weary from travel as they tried to navigate the often lengthy exit/entry procedure that often accompanies these places, he saw us, and he smiled. A big smile. He yelled at us, called us to the front of the queue, and if it wasn’t for the large bit of security glass separating us from him, he would have hugged us i’m certain. Instead, we got fist pumps and handshakes through the small window, and in full view of the very official warning sign that said PHONES AND PHOTOS PROHIBITED, he insisted on several selfies with us both. We told him about the game, I showed him more messages between me and the captain of the Honduras football team, he waved us excitidly across the border, but not before calling over a few of his colleagues so that they too could have a photo. Pure brilliance.
So. There you have it. A damn proper adventure. The next time someone you haven’t seen in a while asks you to go do something a little bit crazy, just remember to say “Yes”.