About Las Mosquitia

February 2014: The La Mosquitia region of Honduras is the largest rainforest in the Americas north of the Amazon. It is a largely roadless area of indigenous people, rare wildlife populations mostly extinct elsewhere and lost Mayan cities, many concealed beneath impregnable canopies of deep jungle. One example of this is the Monkey Temple, a lost Mayan city recently discovered deep in Mosquitia. The hostility of the region is what has kept it wild and uninhabited over the years. But it is because of this that narco-traffickers or Traficante’s as the local call them have moved into the area to hide from the authorities and smuggle cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to the USA. La Mosquitia is an ideal transit point for creating many pop-up jungle landing strips for bush planes to land while flying cocaine from South America. Trafficante’s lie in wait to collect the cocaine and smuggle it into the USA through various overland smuggling routes across Mexico. Trafficante’s gain the support of the local indigenous people via a combination of bribery and intimidation. In some cases, those opposed to their presence are simply murdered. The region can also be mired in violence from inter-cartel fighting or fighting between Trafficante’s and Honduran authorities teamed up with DEA agents. Despite the regions huge eco-tourism potential, its reputation for being lawlessness has kept it relatively un-visited by tourists. 

In early 2014 when I started researching La Mosquitia I found very little information online and most operators in Honduras did not offer trips to Mosquitia. The few that did, charged an arm and a leg for their services. With a week, I chose to climb a mountain in Mosquitia that can only be reached by boat called Pico Dama. The mountain itself is not challenging to climb because if its elevation, only 2300 “. It is challenging because of its hostile and difficult terrain. To plan the trip, I bought a map of Mosquitia, and gathered whatever traces of online info I could from other travelers, and I flew to La Ceiba.

Map of route I took from La Ceiba to climb Pico Dama-red pin location and to visit and Cayes Los Cochinas

How to Get to Las Mosquitia

Day 1: I started my journey in La Ceiba, a beachside city that like other Honduran cities, has a reputation for crime. I stayed one night in a beach hotel. The hotel staff helped me figure out the public transportation into Mosquitia. They also thought I was crazy that I wanted to travel to Mosquitia, especially since I was alone and had limited Spanish speaking skills and they tried to persuade me to go to the Bay Islands or somewhere safer instead.

Day 2: My trip to the Mosquito Coast began early Sunday morning. I was dropped off by taxi at 5am at a bus station in La Ceiba, a city with a reputation for crime, along a dark street with nobody but a twitching homeless man. From La Ceiba, I took a bus to Tocoa, another city with a reputation for crime and drug traffickers, where I would catch a 4 by 4 pick-up truck or paila’s to Batalla. While waiting in the marketplace at 8 in the morning for the pickup truck to fill up in Tocoa, a man urinated next to me, one hand on his beer and another on the gun strapped around his waist, while staring at me the whole time. Another man approached me speaking in very rapid Spanish,” Why are you here? Gringos do not come here.” My concern was of being mistaken as a DEA agent, especially in a stronghold of cocaine trafficking. In a shop a man reading a newspaper was aghast to read that the Mexican cartel leader, “El Chapo,” had been apprehended. The man was even more surprised to find out that El Chapo had once lived in Tocoa when he was on the run. After a few hours of observing squalor while keeping an eye on my back, the pickup truck was loaded or overloaded and ready for departure. I sat on the back, on top of a pile of bananas with a few other guys. As the truck sped off, I realized the truck and its cargo was very unstable and that the slightest swerve or quick stop would likely send me flying into the road.

To get to La Mosquitia from Tocoa there were no more buses. There were only shared pick-up trucks transporting Cargo such as bananas, fruits and in likely hood contraband. Passengers cram into the front cab for an extra cost or in the back sitting on top of cargo for a cheaper fare.  I needed to get to the remote Garifuna town of Batalla, located on the edge of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve or the la Mosquitia. The 4 by 4 trucks are necessary because the route crosses difficult terrain and in some sections the road becomes the beach. In this region there are many Garifuna villages consisting of rudimentary wooden fishing shacks. The Garifuna are communities of ex-renegade slaves that escaped plantations from various Caribbean Islands that formed into communities in remote areas outside of the reach of their captors. Many Garifunas have been living in this region for hundreds of years.

Town of Tocoa

Shared pickup truck traveling to La Mosquitia

Shared pickup truck I traveled on all day to get to La Mosquitia

The day long trip on the back of the pick-up truck was exhausting but thrilling especially on the beach section of the drive. In one area the beach was so narrow that the driver drove through the shallow water of the ocean instead spraying me with sea water in the back. We had to cross some rivers by a small raft that the Garifuna would operate by pulling us by hand with a rope across the river. 

Beach Roads

Raft Used to Transfer Truck Across the River

Once in Batalla, I caught a taxi boat that waits for the scheduled arrival of the pickup trucks. The taxi boat was a small open top boat devoid of any life jackets with a capacity of 20 people. The boat captain asked me where I wanted to be dropped off and I named a town-Raista, where I heard there was a very hospitable eco-minded guest house. The captain responded in Spanish-Muerto. In my limited Spanish, I understood him saying that Trafficante’s had burned down several houses in town and people were dead and that I could not go there. This was enough to convince me to go elsewhere. Instead, I went to the town of Nueva Jerusalen, where I was dropped off in the dark in a rural jungle area with no sign of any structures. In rural Honduras, only Spanish is spoken and for me and my limited speaking abilities, remembering my spanish was a matter of survival. I asked the captain where a hotel was, and he spoke to a local man disembarking the boat and before I knew it, I was following an intoxicated man with a machete into the dark jungle down a winding dirt path for I don’t know how long until I finally arrived at a cluster of shacks where loud music was playing, and a few old men were sitting around drinking beer. One man was a hotel keeper and also knew someone with a pipante or boat in town that I could hire to take me to Las Marias in the morning. My hotel ended up being a small wooden shack infested with mosquitos located on the edge of the swamp with no electricity and a broken lock on the door. I paid about 10USD for the night. 

Day 3:  In the morning the boat man, a middle-aged indigenous man and his young son arrived with their boat approx. 30 minutes late. I paid them some of the agreed about money in advance for fuel and we set off for the long journey upriver to the Mosquitia Indian village of Las Marias, where I would organize a climb of Pico Dama.

The boat I hired to travel to Las Marias. The captain’s young son.

We traveled for approx. 6 hours upriver through a roadless river swamp forest along the way seeing the occasional thatched roof house with a family watching us from the riverbank as we motored by. There was no canopy on the boat, so I wore a long sleeve shirt, slathered sun block on any exposed skin and wore a floppy hat for protection from the equatorial sun. As we traveled upriver, I rarely saw another motorized boat. The only boats I saw were dugout canoes with paddles. There was one situation where we passed a narco trafficker boat. The boat was fiberglass and much larger than ours with two strong outboard motors. Two men that looked like something out of Miami Vice with aviators’ sunglasses and button-down shirts and pants stared at us as they passed by. My boat captain muttered to me that they were Trafficante’s. I didn’t stare back and tried to lower my head and keep a low profile as the men passed. Luckily this would be the only time I would see any traffickers on this trip that I was aware of anyways.

The boat I hired to travel to Las Marias. The captain’s young son.

Mosquitia Houses Along the River

Typical Mosquitia House

Las Marias

We finally arrived at the sleepy little indigenous village of Las Marias. The Mosquitia Indians for which the region is named after are the dominant culture in the area. I discovered that the name Mosquitia was just coincidental and nothing to do with the mosquitos that were common to the region.

Las Marias had a few hundred residents and was connected by footpaths only. There were no vehicles and only a few generators provided intermittent electricity. Scarlet macaw parrots noisily congregated in the trees around the village, and the rain forested mountains where I would be heading the following day loomed in the distance.

Luckily my boat captain knew a few people in town and helped me find a guesthouse for the night. My host an elderly Mosquitia man and his wife showed me around the village, cooked amazing traditional meals of rice, mixed with fruit and fish and helped me organize my trek to Pico Dama. They put me in contact with a guide, who charged me a very modest fee and his son who helped me purchase food for the trek in the village and they even found me a pair of rubber boots that fit me well enough that would come in handy in really muddy sections of the trail.

My room in the guesthouse was very humble. There was no fan, just a bed and a mosquito net and lots of insects. I awoke in the middle of the night to hear a chomping sound coming from my bed. I didn’t see anything with my flashlight but when I woke up in the morning, I saw several dead cockroaches on my bed and a flattened scorpion on my mosquito net that I must have accidentally crushed in the middle of the night.

Mosquitia Woman and Her Child

Old Church Founded by Pioneer Missionaries in the Early 1900s

Village Girl who loved to stare at me while I was eating my meals

Village cow and baby

Scorpion that craled into my mosquito net on my bed at night

Cockroaches in my bed

Climbing Pico Dama

Day 4: The next morning we started early. My guide and his young son and I paddled a dugout canoe upriver against the current in the rain for a few hours into the jungle until we reached the trail head. A barely noticeable footpath into the jungle.

Pico Dama in distance

River Turtle

Navigating upriver

Villagers fishing in the rain

The beginning of the trail passed through jungle mixed with plantation crops and the mud was deep as predicted and I was happy to have the rubber boots. We gradually started to climb and soon we were in primary forest and surrounded by the howling of howler monkeys above. We climbed through the forest, passed huge trees and enormous spider webs, looking out for snakes for about 6 hours until we eventually arrived at a small cabin, where we decided to sleep for the night in the rustic shelter. 

Jungle Hike

Me in front of a huge tree

Taking a break by a stream

Howler Monkeys

Scarlet Macaws

Rustic shelter where we slept for the night before climbing Pico Dama

We cooked our dinner while listening to a chorus of rowdy howler monkeys in the trees above us. The area is protected as an indigenious reserve according to my guide and no hunting is allowed so the animsl thrive. At night I slept on my inflarable matteress that I put over the wooden boards of the bed.

Day 5: The next morning we awoke to howler monkeys wailing in the treetops again. I mad eoatmeal for breakfast with coffee and we set off this time on a grueling trek  through short gnarled trees that we had to climb over. Most of the hike involved scaling boulder, roots, trees, breaching spider webs. It was a hard climb that lasted about 3 hours before arrived to the peak of Pico Dama. The last 100 feet was straight up a rock face and required rope to climb so we stopped just short of the actual peak but we were able to have a vantage point of the sorrounding jungles over La Mosquiti that was really impressive.

Fresh jaguar print on the trail

Tree Toad

Giant spider on the trail

Guides son holding up a giant venemous spider

Trail going up the mountain

 

View of Pico Dama

From the top I heard gun shots coming from somewhere below. The guide explained to me that it could be narcos somehwere down below. He complained about how the narcos threaten and intimidate people and are dangerous and that they have even operates out of Las Marias. They pay for community projects to try and win over the support of the communitiy but when someone is accused of being a rat or of not being supportive they may end up dead and murdered or worse their whole family to make an example. Even though visiting these remote places can be fun and adventerous, there is always a sad reality that remains for the people that I visit.

Me in front of Pico Dama

Lead Guide in front of Pico Dama

View from top

Brus Laguna

After the climb of Pico Dama, even though I originally planned to spend another night on the mountain I decided to go all the way back to las Marias and spend a night with the La Mosquitia Indians and eat more of their home cooked meals.

Day 6: The next day I traveled with my hired motirzed boat all the way back down the river to where I started . There I caught a public ferry, a small open top boat with a capacity of about 20 people that traveled at night in pitch blackness across the estuary to the town of Brus Laguna. I walked around in the dark with a few other Hondurans looking for a hotel and luckily I found one that would take me in for the night. The hotel wasvery shocked to see a solo gringo foreigner in town. I later found out that there was a narco shootout just a week prior outside of my hotel.

Brus Laguna

Estuary

Sunset over La Mosquitia

Day 7: The next day I tried to catch a domestic flight on a small prop plane back to La Ceiba but the flight was cancelled because of a lack of fuel so I unfortunately had to travel all the way back to La Ceiba overland the same route that I came. I spent one more night in Brus Laguna, exploring the estuary in a hired boat, and the next morning I spent all day traveling by ferry, and my favorite sitting on to of the cargo in the back of the pick-up truck before arriving back at the same hotel I started at in La Ceiba. The staff was thrilled I was still alive.

Cayes Los Cochinas

Day 8: For my last full day in Honduras I decided to do something relaxing and I booked a local boat trip with a group of Honduran tourists  to the Cayes Los Cochinas – a cluster of small idyllic islands with no resorts about 20 miles off shore in the Caribbean where there is a local willife reserve of jungle and pristine beaches lined with coral reefs and a separate Garifina village island. We did some snorkeling, where my lack of spanish almost left me abandoned in the open ocean without a life jacket. The boat captain asked me if I was good and I said yes not understanding that he meant the boat was going to drop off snorkelers and leave for an hour and that he was asking me if I am good without a life jacket. I didn’t have one and I didn’t even have flippers. So when the bpat left, I was starnded alone a mile or so from the beach while the other snorkelers flew passed me with their fins. I am a strong swimmer but not that strong. I was able to swim full steam ahead and catch up with the group and ask the guide if I could use his fins and with his fins I was able to make it to the beach.

During the rest of the day trip, I explored the islands jungles and came across a wild python that struck at me when I came to close and we had some rum drinks at the Garifuna village. Afterwards I returned to my hotel in La Ceiba to spend my last night in Honduras via a long choppy boat trip. Our motor died on the way back and luckily we were able to get it re-started.

Remote island

Nature Reserve with no development

Garifuna Village

Garifuna Village

Angry pink python endemic to islands

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