The last post from my previous Honduras trip was a video of some of my adventure at Jungle River Lodge. I have much more to elaborate from my stay there: spending 2 awesome nights there before heading out on a little excursion with fellow couchsurfer Kat, then returning for a few more nights. For now though, I launch into my excursion with Kat…
Kat and I had plans to explore an ecosystem I had yet to encounter despite my worldly wanderings: swampy mangroves! Honduras has quite a few protected areas and the Refujio de Cuero y Salado is one that boasts rare, indigenous and endangered species such as the leopard, howler monkeys and a plethora of birds I’ve never heard of, butterflies too. And iguanas. And crocodiles. The refuge is stunning in its beauty. Well worth an off the beat excursion… especially when that excursion is such an adventure!
Kat and I left the Rio Cangrejal‘s Jungle River Lodge, located ion the fringe of Pico Bonito National Park, with a taxi who dropped us at one of La Ceiba’s bus terminals. From there, we tried to find a bus to an obscure little village called La Union. After questioning some locals with poor Spanish, we had a vague idea to wait in a vague area of the empty, dusty bus terminal for the bus to La Union. Our instructions came from an gentle little boy with big, beautiful, soft eyes. We were rather unsure if we had understood his instructions correctly though. Then, a young man came just as a random bus showed up in a different area. The young man insisted that bus was the one we needed to be on to get to La Union. So we hurriedly hopped on in confusion.
On the bus, I interragated locals with my poor and broken Spanish to see if we really were on the right bus or not. It turns out, we needed to get off the bus a specific point. But, since Honduras often neglects to have street signs, it was really difficult for the locals to convey to us where. Finally, when we crossed a small bridge, we were urged off the bus and told to wait on the side of the road… in the middle of who knows where. Our doubts were calmed though when another bus pulled up before ours had even left. And, it was the bus to La Union! BUT, it was going back to La Ceiba. Sigh… instead of waiting on the side of the dusty road for the bus to come back, we opted to get on board and go back to where we came from, just to turn around again. This bus came back to the bus terminal and parked in the exact position the adorable little boy had said it would. Lesson learned! From here on out, I’m trusting adorable little boys! ; )
Finally, three bus trips and three bus fares later… we arrived in La Union! And we arrived just in time too. From La Union, we needed to take a little, toy-looking train for the remainder of our trek to Cuero y Salado. The train is a remnant of the Banana Republic days and was used to haul loads of bananas across the massive banana plantations of the early 1900s. I was in a state of utter bliss as we cruised in the old train from generations past along a beautiful, sunlit countryside filled with palms. A fresh breeze whirred across our faces. Locals strolled and biked along the tracks. Horses dodged our string of cars.
Then, as the sun was beginning its daily dipping ritual into the horizon, the Salado river appeared on our left reflecting the “magic hour” glow of the late afternoon. Locals were lined up at the little stop ahead, ready to board the train and head back after a day out at the refuge. Kat and I were planning to stay on the refuge, knowing it was possible theoretically, but not knowing if there would be open rooms or if it mattered that we were arriving on a Sunday in a country that typically closes down on Sundays.
We didn’t even get one foot off the train though before we were cheerfully greeted in English. “Are you girls staying here on the refuge? Do you need a room?” Why yes! In moments we secured two beds in a rustic little wooden lodge, made plans for a 5:00 am guided canoe tour of the swampy mangrove refuge and made our appointment for dinner that night. We were now the only visitors on the vast refuge.
Kat and I decided to spend the rest of the evening at the beach, which was just a short hike away from the mangroves. Along the short walk to the beach we passed a small, bamboo and straw hut with a small garden. The small hut housed several generations… all sharing one room. They were some of the poorest I’ve witnessed yet… but they were eager to welcome us into their dusty yard, encouraging us with brown, decayed smiles. We shared warm greetings with them and continued our on way to the beach. It was hot and we wanted to feel refreshed! When we arrived at the beach, not a soul was around except three young boys splashing in the water. They were curiously intrigued by the sudden appearance of truly, blindingly white gringas in bathing suits and continually stared at us. I initiated conversation with the kids and that quickly turned into a fun seaweed fight that lasted over an hour. Quite a few sand dollars were launched as friendly grenades too. The sand dollars were abundant. Just duck under the water, pick up a handful of sand and you would invariably come up with the treasure.
On our walk back, the family that warmly greeted us before welcomed us into their yard and home to take pictures at our pleasure. The grandfather was so proud of his young banana trees. A young bride already feeding a young one of her own showed off the family pig. At the beach, we found some of the men in a rustic canoe carved from a tree fishing among the rolling waves. They proudly showed off their big catch of the day: a small shark. I didn’t think about it until just now, but I don’t think they wandered too far from shore to catch that shark…
By the time we left, the sun was kissing the horizon. The Rio Salado had transformed from a silky blue into a fiery orange. Kat and I cleaned up, had a nice simple dinner and called it an early night.
I think we were up even before the crows were the next morning. Kat and I felt our way through the dark to the small dock on the Rio Salado. The river was now dark shadows… deep blues, navys and black etched a twilight river scene framed by mountains in the distance. Our guide, Rolando, slipped our canoe into the cool blue water and the three of us began slinking our way along the shadowy riverbank.
At first, everything was so quiet and still. Then, a low grunting sound started to reverberate through the trees, getting louder and louder. The howler monkeys were greeting the day with their deep, throaty trumpets. Only once, was I able to actually capture a glimpse of the rare monkeys. Their voices are deceiving, and they’re much smaller than they sound. As light began to creep into the shadows great herons and other strange birds that looked like creatures out of Pan’s Labyrinth stretched their wings in morning flight, skipping from one bank of the river to another. The refuge was coming alive with the orchestra of the swampy jungle. As we slunk further into the swamps in our canoe, the roots of the mangroves tangled into tighter and tighter clusters of gnarled nests. Our guide spotted hidden creatures that were right under our nose: bats hanging just a foot overhead, a camouflaged iguana perched a few yards off. A black bird that shimmered with rusty red in the sunlight dipped his bright yellow beak into the river for a drink. A cousin of his ran across floating foliage with young chicks in close pursuit. We were floating in a strange and wild world. It was beautiful.
Before we left the refuge, Kat and I had one last dip at the beach, accompanied this time by Rolando and a young Honduran soldier and his AK-47. A fort on the refuge houses soldiers who are there to protect the grounds from poachers.
By late morning Kat and I were back on the banana train, waving goodbye to the quiet wildness of the refuge.
Check out this video of the experience!