Our plan was to take a hike along the fringe of the park near Rio Cangrejal. We had read that in order to start the hike we would need to take a rickety cage-like cable car over the wide river basin below.
Intrigued, we set our for the Visitor Centre at Rio Cangrejal. When we arrived, we were shocked to see that the cable car was in the process of being replaced by a bridge and that neither above ground route was passable. In order to get on the trail we were now faced with fording the waist deep water of the river. Given the partially completed state of construction on the bridge we were given a discount on the park entrance, which left us with a few dollars to hire a hiking guide. Generally, the entrance fee is L114 per person and we were able to get by with paying L100 for the two of us, which is around $5 CDN. We met a young 14 year old boy named Marvin that agreed to take us into the park for a nominal fee. The hike up to El Bejuco waterfalls was estimated to be 2 to 2 ½ hours one way. A guide was not a bad idea seeing as how we tend to get lost quite a bit.
We scrambled to make sandwiches and pack water and granola bars before meeting up again with Marvin to start the hike. The path down the side of the ravine was slippery dust covered rocks. Regardless of footwear, it was difficult to take a full weight bearing step. It seemed as though we were hoping from foot to foot to get down the steep slope. At the bank of Rio Cangrejal, we decided to take off our boots to cross the river as we had hours of hiking ahead of us. Carrying boots and a small pack made it difficult to wade across the water that had a relatively strong current.
From where we started on one shore, we ended up 5 meters down river on the other side. Since Michael had his hands full, the job of assisting the non-swimming Geraldine across the river was left to Marvin. The current was so strong that in the middle of the river she was not able to lift her one leg. She simply shuffled her feet under water to make baby steps across. It worked! With our gear all back on, we were then faced with a long gruelling climb up the steep slope on the other side of the river. We were both quite exhausted just getting to the trailhead. Marvin stopped at a clearing along the path at the edge of the jungle. Here, we received our warning to watch out for snakes. Uh, what? This was not in the brochure. Snakes are a common threat in the dense forest and jungle and we believe that Marvin was just being extra caution to make sure we kept our eyes on the path in front of us versus our usual gawking around at the scenery. Keeping our wits about us was not a bad idea.
The hiking path was in amazing condition. Bridges over the small rivers showed signs of constant repair and the steeper sections had rocks half buried in the hillside to act as rugged steps.
Immediately upon entering the jungle the humidity was overwhelming. To say we were sweating profusely is an understatement. Michael actually had to tie a bandana around his head to keep the sweat from blinding his eyes. We were astonished by the bright and stunning shades of green on the various plants and trees. With limited light under the forest canopy, the colours still seemed to shine. The path was intertwined with the natural landscape and it felt as if we were part of nature that day.
We passed by numerous small waterfalls and checked out every insect that we spotted along the way. There were brilliant blue butterflies the size of our hands that would drop in to check us out from time to time. We stood in wonderment that their size and colour. The most peculiar thing we passed was a large rock with symmetrical carvings on its face. According to Marvin, the rock is a Mayan artefact that at one point was part of a large statue or other structure. It was difficult for us to see any defining characteristics that is usual in Mayan carvings, but the shapes in the rock did not appear to be natural. Somewhere, somehow, some being had a purpose for this creation. As the path winds around the face of the mountain there is a lookout high up in the trees that provides a breathtaking view of the Rio Cangrejal and the large river valley. We stopped to rest there for a long while and watched two adult vultures teach their young how to fly. It was like watching 'Discovery Channel' without the commentary.
The trail led back into dense vegetation after the lookout spot. Michael found a bunch of vines and wanted to try his hand at being 'George of the Jungle'. He hesitantly pulled on the vine to see how much play it had and was surprised when it appeared taught. Marvin finally caught on to what Michael was up to and he walked back and took the first turn swinging on the vine. Marvin leapt out over the rocks in a sweeping arch and landed with ease on a flat area on the other side. Tossing the vine back to Michael it was now his turn.
Michael tried the same move as Marvin, however in mid-swing, the vine let loose from above and Michael was required to make an emergency landing halfway across the gap in the path. We had fun! The lesson to be learned here is that what a 90lb adolescent can do, may not be feasible for a 200lb adult.
The sound of the El Bejuco waterfall was now within earshot. As we rounded another face of the mountain, the massive waterfall came into full view. We stopped in our tracks and strained our necks to see the top. We could not see to the top of the mountain and the water and mist seemed to be coming from the clouds. Rays of sunlight cast a divine glow over the entire area. It was beautiful. Marvin was first in line to race down to the waterfalls and cool off with a natural shower. We soon followed suit. We played around climbing rocks and getting pounded by the cascading water for a long time before we tired of it. Both of us wanted to hike down a different route so
Marvin had scoped out what he thought was a path and when we were all geared up again he announced that the decent would be quite the adventure. It was not until later that we saw the raw truth in his words. There was a small path that led down the rocks at the base of the waterfall, however shortly thereafter we were scrambling our way down a riverbed with only a trickle of water. The path would reappear for short spurts and then abruptly end at the river bed again.
This went on for quite some time. At one section we actually had to slid down a massive rock to resume hiking on the trail. Sweaty and exhausted, we were taken to a small waterfall with a pool of crystal clear water to swim in. We all took a dip to refresh for the rest of our journey. The trail dumped out at the Rio Cangrejal, however we were about 2 kilometres from our van. Marvin motioned to the water as our next route and we spent about 30 minutes trekking 1 kilometre upstream toward the Visitor Centre. Aside from seeing some birds, insects and weird worms in the water at the falls, we had been safe from any encounters with snakes. That was until we were about 50 metres from the van along a dirt road when a 3 metre black and yellow snake decided to cross our path and slither down the embankment toward the river. Still creeped out, it was a safer setting for the encounter. We thanked Marvin for a wonderful hike and paid him the fare for being our guide. In addition, we gave him a 'Canadian' ballcap that he was most gracious for. Marvin hopped on his bicycle sporting his new red hat and rode off down the road.
After the hike we washed up in the van and headed back to La Ceiba. We had a few errands to run in town, which we knocked off rather quickly. A street vendor was selling chicken empanadas, which is in essence deep fried dough filled with ground chicken and spices topped with a salad of cabbage, onion and tomato. What a tasty little treat. Since we planned on coming back to La Ceiba for Caribbean Carnaval the following week, we decided to scope out a place to camp. The ladies at Casa Kiwi had suggested dropping their names at Dan's Hotel. We had the address for Dan's and after consulting a city map, we had a general idea of where to go.
The area of town was called Barrio la Isla and was a mix of Latino and Garifuna residents. The main strip was covered with bars, nightclubs and hotels. We seemed to be looking in the right place to stay for Carnaval. After an hour of driving up and down unmarked roads, we were at a loss at how to find Dan's. Asking the locals was of no help either. No-one seemed to know of Dan's Hotel nor where it was located. We ended up at a dead end street that proved to be most difficult to get out of. Finally, after scraping 'Nilla's back end on an elevated driveway and impacting the front end on a small concrete barrier wall, we flagged down a couple that thankfully spoke English and offered us some assistance. They loaned us a cellular phone to call the hotel and we finally had some formal directions to follow. The directions were somewhat helpful as they got us to Street 3, which we had been searching for. Unfortunately, we were told to turn the wrong way and ended up driving right back toward where we came from. Oh man, this was a confusing time. We finally located Dan's and were greeted by the friendly owner Shirley. We made arrangements to camp the following weekend in the secured compound of the hotel for a measly L30 or about $2. Success at last!
It had gotten dark outside during our wanderings around La Ceiba and we were both famished. As we drove out of town toward the highway we spotted a traditional Mexican taco stand. We parked 'Nilla right out front and sat down to a familiar fare of cheap and tasty tacos. The drive back to Finca El Eden was slow going at night as most locals like to drive with their high beams on. It took a few days for the light spots to leave our eyes. Back at Finca El Eden we happy to be at camp for the night. Berndt was sitting around a small fire with another traveler Theodore. Theo, a German, had shipped his vehicle form Germany to Halifax and drove a similar route down to Central America as we had. It was nice to see familiar faces and relax by the fire after a most tiring day. We made some arrangements with Theo to take us hiking the following morning to a mountain cabin in the hills behind the Finca. The cabin was named Mayabell after the famous camp area in Chiapas Mexico. Berndt and Birdie, the owners of the Finca, spent nearly two months camping at Mayabell on their trip around Mexico and fell in love with the place. Naming their cabin after the campground was a small way for them to always reminisce about the good times they had.
Photos of May 21, 2007: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=16xvaj2z.21568viv&Uy=z46uq5&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0
We slept in a bit later than expected on May 22, 2007, however after a quick oatmeal breakfast, we geared up for another hike. Theo brought along his golden lab Ben and we all headed out for the hills. We had set a rather fast pace from the start and motored our way up the mountainside.
Everyone was sweating buckets by the time we were only two-thirds of the way up. The trail followed a small creek uphill which connected with a larger stream at a flat spot in the land. Here, we stumbled into the horses from the Finca as they grazed in the grass and drank the cool water.
Theo was an excellent guide and he pointed out the types of trees on the land, areas of vegetation killed by large ant populations and warned us about the dangers of the sharp edged long grass on the sides of the trail. The 'cutting grass' is barbed and when it hooks onto skin it literally slices like razors.
We were careful. The trail leads uphill from the forest to a clearing and the cabin is in full view atop a small hill. It is rustic. Light is provided by candles and the only water source is a natural spring a short walk downhill. We headed to the spring first to wash up and rinse out our sweat drenched shirts.
We sat around at the cabin to enjoy the sunshine and the marvellous view over the flat lands to the ocean. The hike back down was uneventful and went by rather quickly. At camp, we showered up and said our goodbyes to the guys at Finca El Eden. We hit the small town of Santa Ana that was only a few kilometres down the road to check our e-mail and reconnect slightly with reality. As we were getting gas in Santa Ana, Geraldine met Luis, the friendly owner of the gas station. Luis was most impressed that we at least had some limited Spanish to converse with him. We talked about the weather in Honduras and Canada and he wished us safe travels. It was a nice encounter.
The drive back to El Triunfo de la Cruz only took about an hour. We missed our turn-off somehow and Michael decided to make a u-turn and head back. As we were in the process of turning around we could see a police checkpoint about 500 metres up ahead on the road. We figured that they would not be bothered by us and continue about their business, however we figured wrong. We had not made it 20 metres off the highway before a pick-up truck with three armed officers sped past us and blocked our path. Ooops. We followed their instructions to exit the vehicle and supplied them with all the necessary paperwork on the van. The officers were not too impressed with us as they assumed we were avoiding their checkpoint. We chatted for a while constantly explaining that we simply missed our turn. It was not until we mentioned that we were staying with Presidente Braulio that the entire mood changed. The officers politely handed back all of our information and wished us well on our travels. Problem solved, luckily.
Back at the familiar El Triunfo we were greeted with smiles and waves from the villagers. Geraldine spotted a lady that was folding laundry and when one item was finished, she would stack it upon her head. As we drove by she had nearly an arm length of shirts stacked on her head perfectly balanced. Interesting. Not surprising, Fermin was sitting at Lito's Place and greeted us. We shared stories of our adventures in La Ceiba and Trujillo much to his excitement. Some of the local kids came by Lito's Place to play a quick game of pick up soccer, while others tossed a hard green mango back and forth. Michael joined in on the soccer, but he could not keep up with the youngsters. We sat and visited with the locals until nightfall. Presidente Braulio agreed to check up with the Municipal Office the following morning to determine if they would provide us with a wedding certificate. We had expected to have had an answer from him by the time we returned, however it appeared that nothing had been done in our absence. Down here it is always mañana, mañana, or tomorrow, tomorrow.
Photos of May 22, 2007: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=16xvaj2z.4ggwxa8n&Uy=wrae4t&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0
In the morning of May 21, 2007 we were advised that the entire Finca had no water. This phenomenon of the random shutting off of water and power by the municipality is very common in Central America. We were not in need of showers as we had planned to take an arduous hike in Pico Bonito National Park. We drove the short distance back to La Ceiba and then took a half paved road inland leading to the best known park in Honduras. Pico Bonito National Park covers an area of 500 square kilometres of which much remains essentially unexplored. The park features a habitat of diverse flora and fauna. The forest changes drastically with elevation from lush and dense green leafy vegetation at lower levels leading to massive evergreens, coastal cedar and mahogany trees higher up. The mountains are filled with numerous rivers and waterfalls, which are the scenic attractions. The wildlife includes jaguars, armadillos, wild pigs, squirrels, monkeys, and countless species of snakes, birds and insects. The actual mountain called Pico Bonito stands at 2436 metres and according to locals is one of the toughest mountains to ascend. Many groups of experienced climbers have attempted it, however few have succeeded as the hike takes several days and crosses through thick, humid and unforgiving terrain.