Roads? Who Needs Roads? Travels in the Mosquito Coast


Photo, Photo!Photo, Photo!Photo, Photo!

Every kid in the Mosquito Coast insists on having their photo taken, usually repeatedly...
La Moskitia (or The Mosquito Coast) in Honduras is the most sparsely populated region of any of the countries I´ll visit on this trip. There´s hardly anybody out here, and the small number of indigenous Miskito, Pech and Tawhaka people that do live out here commute between villages in dugout canoes (usually fashioned from a single tree trunk) along the many waterways out here - there simply are no roads. Instead of people and roads, La Moskitia is home to the largest tract of primary rainforest in all of the Americas north of the Amazon, which means the trekking and nature out here pretty much has to be seen to be believed...

(Oh, and don´t let the name put you off either, the name "mosquito coast" is actually an english corruption of the name of the largest of the indigenous groups out here (the Miskito) - there aren't really any more mosquitos out here than in most other tropical locations).

I first learnt of the existence of the Mosquito Coast via the 1986 Warner Movie titled simply, "The Mosquito Coast" , starring Harrison Ford (who considers it his favourite of movies he´s been in), Helen Mirren and a young boy called River
In The WaterIn The WaterIn The Water

Because they live near so many rivers, kids in the Mosquito Coast learn to swim about the same time they learn to walk
Phoenix. It was based on the novel with the same title by Paul Theroux which oddly enough I´m currently reading. It´s the story of a crazed American inventor who wants to run as far away as he can from where civilisation has ended up, and start again somewhere completely remote. If remote was what he was looking for, then the Mosquito coast was probably a pretty good choice - for me it was the crazy mission just to get out there that really made me realize just how god damned far away from everything I was once I got there...

The journey to get reach La Moskitia began at stupid o´clock in the morning, when I left the good folks at Casa Kiwi in Trujillo and caught a bus to the middle-of-nowhere town of Tocoa. From there I had to find a pick-up truck going 5 hours away, I found one fairly quickly and for the next 5 hours I shared the back of it with a Miskito Indian family of 5 and two tonnes of shopping that they´d done in a larger city and were taking back to the village. There was only one hard wooden plank to sit
Not much room in the back... Not much room in the back... Not much room in the back...

Since all the seats inside were taken, myself and a Miskito family of 5 had to sit between all the junk on back of the tray for 5 hours
on, so I shared that with the mum and dad while their 3 kids curled up on the tray of the pick-up at our feet and in between all the shopping (which ranged from crockery to clothes to new chilly bins).

The next 5 hours was a fairly crazy ride, first of all on dusty dirt roads and we all got filthy. Then the roads kinda ended and we were driving along Caribbean beaches for a while with the sea only a couple of meters away from us. We had to cross a couple of deep rivermouths too, and they have these small rafts that are big enough to drive a pick-up on to and then a couple of locals pull the raft across the river using ropes. I guess its the only way to get across! The Miskito family I was sharing with were pretty nice though, I shared some bread I bought earlier in the day with them, and then they later produced a plastic container full of homemade cakes which I was apparently supposed to help them eat, so of course I did ;-)

5 hours and one seriously sore pair of buttcheeks later, I
Rafting Our Pick-Up Rafting Our Pick-Up Rafting Our Pick-Up

There was no other way to get over the rivers...
arrived at the small town of Batalla where the roads (by this stage they were more like sandy trails rather than roads) came to a final conclusion and we transferred to a long wooden dugout canoe with an outboard fastened to the back of it for a 2 hour ride along some of the many rivers and lagoons that replace roads out here. We eventually arrived in the Miskito village of Rais Ta, a seriously chilled out place with no electricty or running water, where everyone lives in stilt houses among a thick canopy of trees, but with enough clearings to get a decent game of football going with some of the locals. They hang out in hammocks a lot in Rais Ta, and also spend hours just sitting around in circles gas-bagging and laughing lots too. It was a nice place to chill out for a bit. A pale sand beach and the Caribbean sea were only a couple of minutes walk away too, so spent some time chilling there. I spent a day wandering up and down the different villages on the coast (which are so close together that its actually a little difficult to know when you´ve
Stilt Houses and Tree CanopiesStilt Houses and Tree CanopiesStilt Houses and Tree Canopies

In one of the many Mosquitia villages
left one and arrived at the other), taking lots of photos which included the shouts of just about every child in the area to take one more of them, usually to be followed by them nearly wrenching my digi-SLR out of my hands to see the image on the back.

After a couple of chilled-out nights in Rais Ta, I spent another 4 hours on another canoe heading inland, up and away from the coast to the even more removed village of Las Marias. Las Marias was similar in some ways to Rais Ta (stilt house, children insisting on having their photos taken, people relaxing in hammocks everywhere, etc), but it was way more spread out; I´d often think I´d come to the end of the village only to find another few stilt houses tucked into the bush over yonder, and would then think that that must be the end of the village, only to find more houses hidden in the bush yet further away - basically the village was a series of little groups of stilt houses all seperated by jungle with trails leading from each "suburb" to the others.

Once I got there, I had the
Up the creek... Up the creek... Up the creek...

Heading up narrow waterways in a small dugout canoe, heading towards Las Marias
obligatory chat with the "Sacaguia" (the head guide), and we arranged for me to go on a 2 day-1 night trek deep into the Honduran rainforest and 1000m up to to the top of this highest peak out here, leaving at 7am the next morning. As part of the preparations I had to go to a local food shop and buy my own food (like rice, beans, tortillas, etc), although the 2 guides being sent with me would do all the cooking - I just had to buy the grub.

With all the preparations made, we set out bright and early and headed into what´s known as Secondary Rainforest, before slowly moving into Primary Rainforest. I´d heard these phrases before, but didn´t really know what they meant - basically "primary" refers to rainforest that has been completely undisturbed, whereas secondary rainforest is still rainforest but has had its different natural layers disturbed - although not necessarily by humans, just sometimes by changes within the rainforest itself - if you really wanna know more, click here . The long walk through the forest was pretty cool, with the trail at times barely discernable through the forest and both my guides needing to
Guides on the trekGuides on the trekGuides on the trek

Miguel and Plutarcho
do a bit of WHACK-WHACK machete action to make the trail more recognisible. The rainforest was pretty cool, and there seemed to be an abundance of Toucans with their novelty-like long beaks flying about and squaking.

After a few hours, we came across a small clearing halfway up the tallest peak where a small Cabana (or Cabin) had been built, where we could ditch everything we didn´t need for the final 90 minutes which was a fair bit more of a vertical ascent to the top. It was pretty hot work climbing the last stretch to the summit of the highest peak in a stinky hot, tropical rainforest, but once we got to the top and all I could see was rainforest for miles in most directions, it was all worth it. I asked the guide if there were many village out in the forest, and they said the one we started from was the last one for ages - and that the rainforest I could see rolling off beyond the horizon was just that, with simply no people at all. When standing on the top, I couldn´t help but think of how far away the nearest outpost of
Pulling Faces... Pulling Faces... Pulling Faces...

Its probably predictable that pulling faces at kids gets an identical resposne...
civilsation was - to get back to the nearest town with proper services it would be a 6 hour walk back, followed by a 4 hour boat ride back up the river, followed by another 2 hour boat ride to where the pick-ups start, followed by repeating the 5 hour pick-up truck ride again back to the town of Tocoa..... it seemed like a long way from civilisation!

We headed back down the Cabana to chill out and start collecting fallen logs for firewood, and made a small fire and started getting dinner ready. As dusk was falling, a huge troop of Spider Monkeys appeared in the treetops just to one side of the Cabana and amid all their shrieking they started settling down there for the night. And then a troop of Howler Monkeys gathered in the tree tops to the other side of the Cabana.... so as as the sun went down we had competing monkey noises coming from different sides of the Cabana! Which was kinda cool, and also just as cool at 5am the next morning when the buggers all started up with their shrieking again. I don´t usually like being woken up at 5am in the morning, but if I´m on a jungle trek and the nature wants to start screaming at 5am I´m quite happy to grant an exception - twas actually a pretty cool thing to wake up to.

The next morning we trekked back to Las Marias via a different route, occasionally stopping so the guides could show me how you can extract fresh water from certain trees and other clever indigenous jungle insights. I then spent the afternoon alternating between chilling out in a hammock or taking photos of the ever-demanding kids that really, really thought they all needed to have their photo taken as often as possible, even when I was beginning to tire of the game!

And thats about all for now. Since then I´ve arrived in Nicaragua and spent a cool week doing things here, but more about that in my next blog. Nicaragua is my last stop on this trip, which means it can´t be too long until I´m see all you UK folk again. And about time too ;-)

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19



Me and 8 or 9 locals crammed into a dugout canoe for the ride from Batallan to Rais Ta
What else are you supposed to do?What else are you supposed to do?
What else are you supposed to do?

When so many places in La Moskitia effectively say "Chill Out Here"
Girl in Rais TaGirl in Rais Ta
Girl in Rais Ta

But her brother tried to get in the photo too...
A New Canoe in the WorksA New Canoe in the Works
A New Canoe in the Works

Fashioned from one tree trunk

27th December 2008

Your travel
Hi, I have done a bit of research regarding this island. My mother was held captive by a tribe in the Mosquita nearly 25 years ago- this was brought on so much pain for my self and family. The curiosity of these people and their island has plagued me for the last two decades. The more I read, the less pain I feel. Thank you for posting and sharing. :)

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