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August 29, 2017

Exploring the wilderness

Venturing off the beaten track in Honduras, Hong Weixi soaks in the rustic life at La Mosquitia

Hong Weixi

I WAS getting pins and needles in my legs and tried to adjust my position.

But with four women and a kid squeezed onto a seat that was meant only for three adults, there was no room to shift my body. I could only sigh as our truck bounced along a dirt track to La Mosquitia, Honduras.

The eastern part of this Central American country is a vast area with few roads, and the most remote and undeveloped region of Honduras.

Bumpy ride

The heart of La Mosquitia is the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve.

Previously, one had to first travel from La Ceiba to the city of Trujillo or Tocoa, before catching onward transport to the gateway into La Mosquitia for the boat into Rio Plátano.

But I found a local tour agency that managed to arrange for my travel mate Pav and I to ride in pick-up trucks from La Ceiba to Pueblo Nuevo, where we could hop onto boats for La Mosquitia.

There were only two trucks going to Pueblo Nuevo each day.

When we left La Ceiba, there were more than 30 people, seemingly residents of La Mosquitia who had done their long overdue shopping in the big city and were heading home.

The first half of the journey was on properly paved roads, which made the journey bearable.

But in the second half of it, we went into no man’s land. We were thrown left and right as the truck zigzagged on dirt tracks through bushland.

At one point, we were even driving on a beach.

The truck eventually came to a stop by the waters, where there were several boats waiting to ferry people to the various villages within La Mosquitia.

Pav and I hopped on a boat, and after 30 minutes, we arrived at our first village in La Mosquitia — Raista.

La Mosquitia contains distinct regions, each with its own ecosystems and cultures and populated with villages of indigenous groups such as the Pech, Tawahka, Garifuna and the Miskitos, as well as an increasing number of mainland mestizos.

Raista is one of the few communities along the Mosquitia Coast.

Ecotourism was developing in that region, and the eco lodge we stayed in was one of the first to be built there.

It was a simple wooden lodge that comes with running water (which was considered a luxury).

The simple life

Raista is a very laidback and pleasant Garifuna village.

Little plank-board houses dot the tiny village, and villagers generally sit and chat with one another once their chores are done for the day.

The area around the villages is full of wildlife, so visitors can hire a boat to search the nearby creeks for birds, deer and monkeys.

If you do not fancy the touristy cultural performances, which include traditional Miskito songs and dances put up by the villagers, you can opt to go crocodile spotting in the small canals and mangroves near another village.

The next day, Pav and I set off for the Pech Indian community of Las Marias, which was located in the heart of La Mosquitia.

Our mode of transport this time was a traditional dugout canoe with wooden seats and a very small motor.

During the seven hours of our 10km trip up Rio Plátano, the beautiful passing scenery made the heat bearable.

Huge expanses of coastal wetlands and flat savanna grasslands were juxtaposed with idyllic village life as the locals swam, bathed or did their laundry in the waters.

Las Marias is a much bigger village, but with no electricity or running water.

Gold never gets old

We headed farther up the river the next day in a pipante — a pole-propelled canoe — as the channels were too shallow for motorised boats.

When we got off it, our guide took us on a muddy hike through the rainforests.

There, we were introduced to various flora, including certain plants that are a source of fresh water.

We also spotted quite a few birds.

Towards the end of the hike, we came upon a group of villagers panning for gold in the river.

Apparently, this region is rich in gold, and gold panning is a common activity.

We learnt that this is how indigenous villages in La Mosquitia make a living — 100g of gold is enough to feed a family for weeks.

Additional income is supplemented by eco-tourism and sale of traditional handicrafts.

Back on the pipante, we went farther up to view some petroglyphs on rocks in the middle of the river.

After four days of rustic living, we took a six-hour journey downriver back to Raista, before heading back to La Ceiba.

It was certainly not easy to get to La Mosquitia, but the unforgettable experiences made it all worthwhile.

GUIDELINES

I crossed into Honduras by land from El Salvador.

Flights from Singapore to Honduras’ capital city, Tegucigalpa, typically transit in the United States and involve at least a change of two flights. From Tegucigalpa, you can catch a domestic flight to La Ceiba or Trujillo for onward travel to La Mosquitia.

■ The La Ruta Moskitia Ecotourism Alliance (www.larutamoskitia.com) comprises six indigenous communities that have developed eco-tourism products and services within the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve. All the enterprises are community owned and operated, thus, all proceeds go directly to local communities.

■ Beware of malaria and dengue fever. Bring insect repellent and have some light pants and long-sleeved shirts for hiking or sleeping at night.

The driest months of the year (February to May, and August to November) in La Mosquitia make travelling a bit easier. During the rainy season between November and early January, winter storm fronts can make land travel and boat trips difficult.

There are no banks or cash machines in La Mosquitia. Credit cards are not accepted either. Bring sufficient cash when you leave La Ceiba or Trujillo.

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