Still, it's a world apart from anywhere else I’ve visited, so the awkward journey in pickup trucks, motor boats and dugout canoes was well worth our while. It was a lot easier to get around than we expected and in most areas we were either well received or laughed at. I’m fine with either reaction, so long as no one throws anything.
The Mosquito people (not to be confused with the nasty blood sucking insect by the same name) are really good fun. No one is really sure if the region and its people were named for the presence of mosquitoes (the insect) or the musket toting reputation they earned (Musket / Musquito) defending British interests in the region from the Spanish in the 18th century. I would argue for the latter since a spring day in the Canadian bush is far worse for the pesky bugs than the Mosquito Coast.
Life isn’t easy, but they seem to get by on what they’ve got. There are at least a few ways to make a decent living in the region. Given the lack of roads, with good motor boat you can provide collective transportation through an elaborate system of rivers and man-made waterways carved out of the mangrove swamps. But gas is expensive so you are still reliant on the ability of others to make a good living. There’s lumber to extract from the jungle and plenty of cash crops to be churned out.
Given the region’s large number of unmonitored airstrips and its isolation from the rest of Central America, drug running from the Caribbean coast through to the Pan-American Highway seems to be a popular option for some. One of the tools of the trade is a good gun – thus opening up an opportunity for local gun dealers – anything from pistols to AK-47s. We were told that the Honduran military does their best to sweep in and disarm the good people of La Mosquitia, but to no avail. They are fiercely independent and determined if nothing else.
A slightly safer way to make a living for you and your family on the Mosquito coast is to get your name into all of the tourist guidebooks as the ‘Go-to Guy’ for transportation to the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve. This is how we learned about Eddie Bodden. Sadly, he was murdered 6 months ago. I suspect Eddie Bodden’s death is no more a mystery than your average gangster hit – no disrespect to his family. There is a lot of money to be made in tourism and he had the monopoly on the Biosphere for transportation and accommodation. The family has worked hard to keep up the business so they can maintain the life they are used to. It costs a lot of money to pay for the fuel to run the electricity generator to power the Direct TV satellite. But once you've got it, it`s hard to give up.
Our boat men turned out to be Eddie Bodden’s brother Sergio, the local dentist who sported a very telling toothless smile. He was traveling upriver to Las Marias anyway for his regularly scheduled tooth extractions. Evidently it was the only dental procedure he knew (40 teeth in total this trip). Along with him was his son, the local Moravian pastor. They skillfully navigated us up a river congested with forest debris left over from the many hurricanes that have flooded the region – some 13 hurricanes and storms in total last season but they were only flooded out of their homes by five or six.
From Las Marias we traveled further up river in a Pipante, which is a dugout canoe maneuvered by three men - one at the back to paddle and steer, and two in the front to muscle us up through the rapids with really long sticks. We sat in padded high-backed seats marveling at their strength and skill. From there we hiked through primary rainforest and visited petroglyphs along the waterway. It`s a lovely way to spend a day.
We were set to hike the next day, but we only got as far as the ravine at the edge of town before my feet flew out from underneath me causing my chin to make noisy contact with a rock. It would have required stitches except we were as far from any hospital in Central America as you could get. My fist aid kit had mostly everything I needed including a triple antibiotic cream and some big ol’ chin patches. As luck would have it, the other two foreigners we met along the way were an RN and a paramedic who patched me up as best as they could without a needle and thread. My jaw was still giving me grief a few days later, so when we finally arrived on the Island of Utila I decided I had better see the doctor.
When Dr. John came out to greet me after 4 hours waiting on his porch, he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt that clashed with his loud flowery shorts. His long, scraggly, wiry hair was held back with a knit Rasta cap and his coke bottle lenses in severe black plastic frames added to his eccentricity. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. The best part of the visit was when he called me into his office and lit up a smoke while he wrote out a referral. If it were 20 years earlier, I would have suspected that Dr. John was a draft dodger, but I suppose he just likes being a little strange. It works for him. (Click here for pictures of Dr. John… really, you have to!!)
Dr John took a good look at my chin and decided that I ought to have had stitches and that I can’t (*shouldn’t*) SCUBA dive for at least a week to ten days. He also decided that I may have fractured my jaw and may never eat chewy food again. NOT POSSIBLE!!! So he sent me off to La Ceiba, and hour and a half back to the mainland on a ferry that can only be described as a puke fest, to get an x-ray of my jaw. Although Dr John might be radical in his appearance, he airs very much on the side of caution with his medical practice.
The X-ray was all clear so I signed up to do my diver tune-up course on Monday morning and my first dive sometime there after. I guess that’s only 4 days but I can’t wait a whole week –too much to see…