Going Places: Tales from the road: Honduras--Paradise in the Rough

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Mayan ruins abound in nearby Copan
If the Rio Congrejal is any example, Honduran waters will attract visitors from around the globe who are eager for Class V adventure and unparalleled natural beauty. The Congrejal is a short drive from the thriving city of La Ceiba; the rich rural community unfolds the moment you turn off the highway and first glimpse the campesinos hanging out their clothes, cooking their meals, and tending to scrambling flocks of children. The road winds through a beautiful, wide-open valley offering vistas of the wildly diverse emerald forests and spectacular views of Pico Bonito, the highest point in the country, not to mention waterfalls, waterfalls, and waterfalls. The largest of these is El Bejuco or "The Vine," and a mere 20-minute hike from the river's edge gives you the transcendent experience of being directly under its source.
Cave kayaking, what river
guides do on their day off
With the boating adventure under our belts, it was time to take in the countryside with an assault on the ridge just below Pico Bonito. The route we mapped out began just out the backdoor of Kent's still-in-development eco-resort and wound upward through untrammeled, virgin territory that would require a machete to hack our way through the loamy, bamboo-filled jungle.

As we climbed up through the property, Kent outlined his future plans. Located between two fast-moving rivers, the resort will consist of 22 bungalows based around a central area, and it will offer river outings, day trips to local conservatories, and guided walks through the surrounding area. Honduras, the locus of both overt and covert Central American military operations, lags behind Costa Rica in tourism infrastructure. Having my own personal eco-tour guide pointing to the flora and fauna was revelatory, though I did have to hold back a chuckle as he stooped to break open feces: "Herbivore, see?"

Soaking up the positive ions
at El Bejuco waterfall
The hike proved more of a vertical crawl, as we climbed along the point of an incredibly steep ridge and navigated the unbelievably thick bamboo--at times literally pulling ourselves up to the next plateau by climbing a tree's roots. The earth was so moist with nutrients and water that it acted as a corrosive agent, literally eating away at our shoes and leaving rotted-out holes where the soles used to be. Unlike any kind of earth native to North America, the soil here is a constantly evolving mix of degrading leaves, bark, and assorted detritus which catches in the roots of the trees, creating a false layer of topsoil. It's so porous that you can sink knee-deep in it as if it were the freshest powder and in places pass all the way through to find nothing but pockets of air.

"Hey Kent," I called ahead, "this snake in the brush, is it sleeping or dead?"

"What does it look like?"

"Brown on brown, looks kind of deadly."

"Oh, uh, that kind, I'd have to say you want to pass with extreeeeeeme caution."

When we consulted the glossary back at the apartment, this snake turned out to be a pit viper (bothrops Nummifera) otherwise known as the Jumping Tamagas for its ability to leap far distances from a coiled position. "Poisonous" and "lethal" were two rather prominent adjectives in the entry.

The author, right, pictured here with
local boy El Forté
And though we didn't see jungle cats and only spied one monkey, as we clambered through the backcountry, we did manage to spot a troop of yellow-eared toucanets, then later played voyeur to a pair of red-capped manakins in a mating dance. I've never been much of an ornithologist, but near the end of an exhausting hike we found ourselves in a massive clearing (brought about by a fallen tree wiping out everything in its path) primed for bird-watching. As we sat, taking in the surrounding polyphony of jungle birdsong, 331K (.wav) | 41K (.ram) a pair of beautiful blue-hooded euphoria came into view, alighting from tree to tree in a spectacle of movement and light that left me without words the rest of the way down the mountain.

In addition to the whitewater and rainforest excursions, Honduras offers the traveler Mayan ruins at Copan that date back to 1000 B.C. and other cultural touchstones such as the colorful Garifuna community with their native dancing to the Punta beat. Hondurans as a whole, I found, are incredibly nice, and while crime does exist, you're sure not to have any problems if you stay on your toes. The incredibly cheap liquor--which can be both a good and a bad thing--leads to colorful evenings exploring the active La Ceiba nightlife and greases the wheels of entertainment with great ease. And while you're sure to hear people say, "Yeah, but it ain't Costa Rica," it's good to remember that Costa Rica ain't Costa Rica anymore either.

Todd Krieger is a freelance writer from San Francisco.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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