Rio Platano Expedition: Across the Moskitia Coast

Travelling downriver via dugout canoe

Travelling downriver via dugout canoe

Under the thatched roof of a small stilted hut in the tiny jungle village of Las Marias we enjoyed a hearty lunch while our rafts were being deflated and loaded into a dugout canoe. The canoe also included a small outboard engine because that afternoon we would finish the longest leg of our journey down the Rio Platano and venture even further through Caribbean mangrove forest, eventually arriving in the Caribbean village of Rais Ta where we would spend the night.

Back on the river we made our way downriver towards the coast tucked into the skillfully carved trunk of a once mighty tree. With six people and all of our gear, the dugout rode alarmingly low in the water and even a slight shift in your seat tipped the entire boat. Just down river from Las Marias, the jungle faded and the land opened into wide grassy plains scatted thickly with quick growing cercropia trees. The land nearer the coast has a long history of human habitation and much its forests were cleared centuries before.  That does not mean it is devoid of wildlife. The fruit of the cercropia trees attract numerous species of birds, especially toucans which are populated so densely they could be considered the crows of Las Marias.

Our Garifuna captain steers us through the dense mangrive forests

Our Garifuna captain steers us through the dense mangrove forests

While the stilted wooden homes which we occasionally passed looked much like those in Las Marias, their habitants did not. The population along the coast is of a predominantly Afro-Carribean descent known as Garifuna. Throughout the centuries of Spanish colonialism the Moskitia Coast remained largely ungovernable. Here runaway slaves, pirates, and British mercenaries mixed with the Pech population to create settlements untamable by foreign control.  Really not much has changed in that regard.

Our captain gazes across the lagoon as we travel the waterways of the Moskitia Coast.

Our captain gazes across the lagoon as we travel the waterways of the Moskitia Coast.

Daylight was fading as we left the river for a narrow channel. The next hour we wound through dense mangroves that eventually gave way to a massive lagoon painted with the brilliant reds and purples of twilight. Here is Rais Ta, a quant garifuna village that’s home to a CO-OP guest house, and our first box-spring bed since we left La Ceiba. Unfortunately, the gaping holes in our mosquito net meant a full night’s sleep would continue to evade us.

The narrow waterway opens up into a vast lagoon

The narrow waterway opens up into a vast lagoon

The next day we left Rais Ta before dawn in pouring rain. At dawn, after a chilly, wet boat ride, eleven of us piled into an awaiting truck for an exhilarating three hour cruise along Honduras’ deserted Moskitia coast. The rugged ride across the beach was followed by five more hours on gravel before being dropped off at a bus station in Tocoa – only three more hours to La Ceiba…and two more to San Pedro Sula thereafter.

Eleven of us pack into the truck for a long ride up the coast

Eleven of us pack into the truck for a long ride up the coast

The first two hours of the drive we careened through sand and waves along mile after mile of nearly uninhabited coast

The first two hours of the drive we careened through sand and waves along mile after mile of nearly uninhabited coast

The desolate coast

The desolate coast

Fishermen make their way out to sea

Fishermen make their way out to sea

In a region devoid of road and infrastructure, vehicles are pulled across rivers by hand on pontoons.

In a region devoid of road and infrastructure, vehicles are pulled across rivers by hand on pontoons.

The long drive left much time for reflecting on the majesty and uniqueness of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve. While watching the endless miles of cattle ranches and palm farms (commonly referred to as green deserts) we also observed what the biosphere could easily become should the park boundaries remain unprotected. While the settlers appear to be the most immediate threat, they are really just pawns- a means of opening more land to production ultimately feeding international demand. This exhausting day of travel put the utter remoteness of the Biosphere into perspective while simultaneously illustrating the ill-conceived consequences of growing consumer demand.

This is the final post in a series based on an eleven day rafting expedition to the Rio Platano Biosphere in Honduras during the winter of 2012. Our trip was organized through Jorge Salvaterri of La Moskitia Eco Adventures (https://www.facebook.com/moskitia). They offer a variety of well guided trips throughout the region

2 responses to “Rio Platano Expedition: Across the Moskitia Coast

    • Thanks! Sure was! We used mosquito spray with a higher percentage of DEET during daytime, but actually there were relatively few bugs on the river. The sand flies at camp were the biggest pest nuisance.

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