Canadian Phyllis Vernon
has long indulged her love of new experiences by exploring
unusual travel destinations with her husband and two sons.
Lately, their jaunts have focused on the flora, fauna and
people of Central America.
My skin didn't burn;
it baked. Seven hours in a tuk tuk on a jungle river in Honduras
does that to you. The two hour hike through dense jungle afterwards
probably didn't help either.
My travelling partners?
My husband and our nineteen year old son.
Our destination? Indian
villages in the Mosquito Coast (La Mosquitia).
The tour description
we found in a South American Tours brochure read, "Travel
by dug-out canoe, overnight in guesthouses in traditional
native villages." A guide, flights within the country, native
paddlers, food preparation and accommodation were to be provided.
We signed up in a burst
of enthusiasm. Yet, as departure day approached, my enthusiasm
was edged with apprehension-- the issues of health and insects
in a remote and malarial area began to assume real proportions.
Our pre-trip visit to
the tropical disease doctor yielded inoculations against typhoid,
hepatitis A and malaria medication as well as an antibiotic
We started our journey
on a Jumbo jet, transferred to a small prop flying over the
jungle and squeezed into an even smaller version, landing
on a grassy field at the western extremity of La Mosquitia.
guide Eli immediately piled us into a tuk tuk (a long narrow
motorized dug-out canoe) and headed upstream. On the river
banks, women, with small children playing nearby, scrubbed
clothes in the river. Our travelling companions, a number
of natives who were dropped off at habitations along the river,
included (if you can believe it) a man with a briefcase who
rolled up his pants and waded to shore at the appropriate
The Honduran Mosquitia
is the most sparsely populated territory in Central America.
Remote, without roads or electricity, it is one of the last
great primary rain forests in the world. We were to explore
the Rio Platano River from the Ibans Lagoon to its headwaters
near the small village of Las Marias. This meant five to seven
hours a day in canoes and a number of one to two hour hikes,
as we made our way from village to village.
One of the highlights
was a day-long trip up the rapids in dugout canoes. Poled
and paddled by natives who strained and struggled against
the white water, we eventually made it to the �petroglyphs�:
ancient etchings on rocks whose origins remain mysterious.
We clambered out and sat in the hot sun, eating cold refried
beans sandwiched between last night's tortillas and watching
one of the paddlers spear fish for our dinner that evening.
At day's end, after a refreshing swim, we set out on the rather
riotous ride downstream, madly bailing the canoe with a shoe
as the water washed over the shallow gunnels.
Certainly, under these
conditions, I felt no danger or discomfort because I was a
woman traveler. However, I did not, for one minute, receive
any special considerations. The picture is outhouses (sometimes
even suspended over the river!), very basic accommodation
(on the floor on sleeping pads with suspended mosquito netting)
and rice, beans and tortillas for every meal. The one time
we actually showered rather than bathing in the river, the
facility was a small bamboo enclosure where we poured jugs
of water over our heads.
And my earlier trepidation
about the trip? It evaporated completely with the excitement
of all the new sights and experiences. Our guide was wonderful,
constantly trying to make our time as informative and enjoyable
as possible. The Indians that we met were extremely friendly,
seemingly pleased to show us their corner of the world. Thankfully,
we were always accompanied by Eli who translated and facilitated.
We really could not imagine what it would have been like to
And, was it a real adventure?
Well, there was the vampire bat in our sleeping quarters -
and the hand-sized spider the next night - and the ankle-deep
mud in the rain forest - and the tree bridge across the deep
river-bed and ......