We were promised that La Mosquitia would be more exciting than Disneyland. We definitely weren’t disappointed. Our travel efforts in this remote part of Honduras were rewarded with exposure to crocodiles, sinking boats, poisoning, petty theft, swerving planes, drug smuggling, and more. It’s kind of hard trying to document such an adventure, but I’m going to try!
Now, let’s get started…
La Mosquitia is an isolated region located in northeast Honduras – part of the Mosquito Coast (some of you may have watched the film of the same name with Harrison Ford or read the book by Paul Theroux). Lack of electricity, running water, and no roads connecting the towns make it extremely difficult and uncomfortable to travel through, which is probably why practically no tourists visit the area. Our guidebook dedicated two small, very information-light pages to the area, which actually takes up a full fifth of all of Honduras’s landmass.
Due to all of these factors, we decided we had to go.
Our journey began on the 5:30am bus from Trujillo to Tocoa. From Tocoa, we had heard that we could then arrange passage via pickup truck to Batalla, the first and only town accessible by road from this direction.
Seating in the truck was a thin plank of wood fastened to the top of the tray. They managed to cram six people across this plank and then added another for a further six passengers. After four hours of waiting around, packing and repacking, we finally set off – 12 people in the back with a mountain of luggage.
The road to Batalla was, to put it kindly, unsealed. We had the sun beating down on us the whole way and a truckload of bizarre passengers to deal with. There was the woman wearing a baby’s hoodie zipped up over her head for the whole journey, another lady who screamed at every bump on the road (so every ten seconds), and the woman sitting opposite me who gripped both of my thighs for the full seven hours. On top of this, our driver turned out to be a nutcase. He mostly yelled at and humiliated his helper in front of everyone, but Raph also copped a few choice words for moving a bucket that had become lodged in his spine.
Writing about this part of the trip, I’m certain that there was actually some really nice scenery. It’s just that you’re never in a position to appreciate it. While you rumble through forests and farmland, your internal organs are also being rearranged. You reach a slow, coffee coloured snaking river, only to discover that you have to cross it, with the car, on a dangerously tilting flimsy wooden raft (before the drive a man reassuringly told us that “they only lose a few vehicles every year”).
On a wild, windswept Caribbean beach, the soft sand and two metre high luggage pile makes the pick-up almost tip multiple times. And when you finally get to the cute, shabby, stilted huts of the local Garifuna and Miskito villages, the calm is instantly shattered by the helper screaming pick-up lines at every woman that passes by, and the driver almost running over a horse.
All of this, of course, is without mentioning the slow, seven-hour, 1950s-private-schoolboy caning that our first-world arses were getting.
It was sweet, sweet relief when we finally made it to Batalla. I had actual welts on my arse from all the bumps on that thin plank of wood. From here it was only a five minute boat ride across the river to Palacios, the town where we would spend the night.
We were directed to the Hotel Moskitia, which was a luxurious experience considering they had a generator running and we could turn the light on in our room. The hotel rules on the wall stated that if we had weapons they could only be used inside. This was both confusing and disconcerting, but there wasn’t much we could do about it except not venture around the town late at night.
We had cold showers followed by cold beers and collapsed in bed at 8:30pm. We briefly awakened at 3am to the sound of three loud gunshots. Whoever was responsible definitely didn’t sound like they were using their weapons inside as requested by the hotel. Tsk tsk.
In all seriousness, there is apparently quite a lot of drug activity in the area, due to the region being a convenient and discreet stopover for planes and boats from Colombia. Whether it was a proper shooting or the group of drunk men staying at the hotel just messing around, we’ll never know.
We didn’t wake again until 11am. After a full walking tour of town, it was then 11:03 and time for breakfast at the only comedor (kind of like a café selling very basic home cooked meals) in Palacios. We gingerly lowered our raw arses into the seats and ordered the only thing going – desayuno tipico (typical breakfast). Tipicos generally consist of an egg, blended up beans, hard curd cheese, tortillas, and a black coffee. This would mark the beginning of my bean hell in La Mosquitia.
We headed back to Batalla to wait for the boat to our next stop, Rais Ta. We spent the two hours drinking coffee in a shed. A guy came over and explained that he used to live in the US, but fled because he owes more than $300,000 in unpaid taxes. On one side of the wooden shed, amidst piles of rubbish on the dirt road, wild dogs, and shoals of garbage floating downstream, a flyer proudly proclaimed that they would fight offshore drilling in Honduras’s marine territory over “concern for the environment”. A drunk walked up and mumbled at us to “relax”. Another guy came out of nowhere and walked past the shed swinging a bloody, severed pig leg in each hand.
It was time to move on.
The sun set over the river as our boat puttered along peacefully. The only other passengers, a young man and his daughter, and a middle-aged man, were blissfully silent. Night fell, and save for the occasional torch beam from the boatman and the thin moon, the darkness was complete. More stars than I had ever seen filled the sky. We felt like we had really made it to that big blank green blob on our map. The real La Mosquitia.
By the time we arrived in Rais Ta it was pitch black. Our boatman, probably predicting our complete lack of knowledge, dropped us right on the shore by a local guesthouse. While the family running it were somewhat surprised to see us, they quickly hooked us up with a room in a shaky wooden lodge on stilts. With no place anywhere to order food, the family cooked and served us dinner in their own home. The usual suspects were on the menu.
That night and the next day it was all candlelight and bucket showers. We even got into the Victorian-era spirit and instead of using our torch took our candle and saucer to the bathroom during the night. Romantic!
The next day we started off with a good old desayuno tipico (with, naturally, a small ocean of beans) and walked to the neighbouring towns, Cocobila and Belén. Lots of people stared, but then they smiled when we sent an ‘hola’ their way. Everything seemed so quiet, so relaxed. It was strange and not a little bit sad to think that only two years ago, six people, including a judge and a child, were murdered in a single stretch the local papers labelled a “blood bath”.
Later that afternoon I washed my old, stinky trainers. Before we left for La Mosquitia, we were given one fairly odd, fairly specific warning: don’t leave clothes and shoes outside, or people will steal them. It seemed such an odd thing to be worried about. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, in a lodge set away from the villages – where the people were clearly friendly anyway – with completely climate-inappropriate clothes that would have looked completely ridiculous to them, and they were going to steal our stuff? It was absurd. I laughed in the face of danger and left them out to dry in the sun.
In the evening we noticed that the shoes had been moved. Someone had put them at a better angle so that they would dry quicker.
Some noisy fools who appeared to be from somewhere else in the region moved in on our second night. We woke before our 4:50am alarm the next morning to the sound of rustling, banging, and what seemed to be the intricate wrapping of a huge present. Another loud guy kept yelling to the family running the guesthouse that he needed to charge his mobile phone.
At this point their obsession with mobile phones was only just beginning to dawn on me. They weren’t using the internet, or even texting, but just calling each other constantly. It wasn’t an unusual sight to see people juggling two phones with two separate calls, talking to two different people at the same time. At times it was almost impossible to get someone’s attention or try and get information because they were just fielding call after call. True, it’s basically the only technology present in the region, and of course it’s always been a big thing in cities, but I still wasn’t really prepared for it here.
We waded into the river and onto our boat at 5:30am, bound for Brus Laguna. This was the “big smoke”. This was the holy land. Three actual hotels, one comedor-slash-sort-of-restaurant with possibly multiple food options. Even a bar. Although we had only spent two days away from civilisation, and had been far from roughing it, we were kind of excited.
The ride itself was a beautiful dawn meander through tiny riverways and thick green swamp-forest that hadn’t changed since the time of the dinosaurs, before a final open water dash across the vast Brus Lagoon. Hordes of vultures greeted our arrival in the town, hanging out in the trees and picking at garbage in their creepy vulture way. A few soldiers and small crowd of shifty-looking people loafed around the dock, doing much the same.
We checked into the La Estancia hotel. They went above and beyond, providing towels, soap AND two condoms, but also somehow forgetting to clean any part of the room. The one comedor in town was only serving desayuno tipico. I couldn’t stand the thought of any more beans and ordered two lone fried eggs and a black coffee instead.
After this we took a walk around town. This took roughly twice the amount of time it did in Palacios – six minutes. In the cemetery two horses, without riders or saddles, stood quietly at a grave together as if they had come to mourn an old friend.
We were running out of entertainment options and decided to check out the pub, just across the road from our hotel. The knot of horrendously drunk men, braying in the doorway, didn’t put us off, but the next step inside, and the stench of piss that washed over us, settled it. We went back to our room to drink our rum. I put my shoes outside my room to dry some more.
At some point in the night the generator cut out and our fan went dead. We had not been provided with a mosquito net and somewhere in the dark room was a window which was open just a fraction too much. As the bar raged on outside, as the men screamed at each other and the dogs went beserk, we lay there drenched in sweat, swatting away the mosquitoes and trying to sleep.
It was in the morning, packing up before our boat to Ahuas, when I realised.
My shoes had been stolen.
Our luck had begun to turn.
If you want to find out what happens next, read La Mosquitia Part 2: Eggnog & Eye Poisoning.