Rio Motagua by Cayuca

Crossed the Rio Dulce on a rickety ferry to Livingston with Dennis and Chris, my friends from Lago Atitlan, for more R & R. Couldn’t get a visa for Belize so I decided to try to get to Honduras by hitching a ride on a boat going down the Rio Montagua…

18 Enero, Martes                                                       Brisas del Montagua, Honduras

Only I, with my adventuresome spirit (or stupidity) would attempt such an expedition and, only I, with my fabled good luck, might pull such a stunt off.

Got up early at the hotel and walked over to the airport to see my friends off on their flight to Flores and Tikal. See ya later. Spaced back to the mercado and bought a little bread and cheese. Packed my bike and rode out of Puerto Barrios.

My plan, if you could call it that, was thus: I’d ride my bike to Entre Rios where my map showed a railway spur running 35 kms towards the coast. It ended approximately 15 kms (according to my map) from the Mar Caribe. I figured I could find a trail from the terminus to the coast. If not, since the track ran near the Rio Montagua, I could cop a ride with a cayuca to the mouth of the Rio and then bushwhack to the road 12 kms down the coast to Masca, Honduras.

Riding to Entre Rios was easy. I took a side road down to the tracks. Entre Rios looks like a blast from the past. I parked my bike and walked up the wooden sidewalk to the station where I watched the dispatcher take a telegraph message. As I was standing there, a kid came up and asked me where I wanted to go. I showed him on my map and he said OK. He had a ‘carra’ and he’d take me there for 5 Quetzales. OK I said, not knowing what a carra was.

Turns out a carra is a pint-sized flat car that this cat pushes down the tracks. Far-out. I threw my bike on and off we went, down past huge banana groves. Chinook, Hopi, Eskimo, all the names of fincas, or ranches. At El Chinchada, according to my map half-way there, he said that that was as far as he would go. I said I wanted to go to the end. 10 Quetzales he said. 8 I said. 9 he said. 8.5 I said. Get on, he said.

The jungles started to get thicker and the bananas started to thin out. The tracks got more and more overgrown. Soon they were completely overgrown and to continue by carra was impossible. So I paid the guy, took my bike off and pushed it along the trail where the railroad ran in earlier days.

Let me tell you, pushing a bike loaded down with gear over railroad ties aint’t easy. Supposedly it was 6 kms to Finca la Inca, figured I’d check it out. After a couple of kms the trail got quite obscure. Pushing my bike got to be a real drag. Ankle-deep mud and only wide enough for one…either me or my bike. I lost a pedal to the jungle. Soon I came to a small rio. Forded that, waist deep. A little bit further I came across an old man hacking away at the grass with his machete. He said he lived at Finca la Inca, up the trail, two kilometres. Great.

Here’s where the going really got rough. Evidently in the dim past a railroad ran through here. But all that is left was a trail corduroyed with ties. The dirt between them washed away. Bounce, jerk, wham. Took me an hour to go two kms.

Then a clearing. The Rio and on it were some cayucas. This was the landing for La Inca. Talked to the guys there and it turned out one of the cayucas was going to Honduras later on. A stroke of luck. I parked my bike, filthy from the mud, and walked with these guys to La Inca, a few houses with pigs and chickens. I met Jose, the guy with the cayuca and he said he’d take me down river and some other stuff I couldn’t understand. Sat around, drank some coffee for a while then we walked back to the Rio. Threw my bike into a gigantic dug-out canoe with a 25 horse Merc and took off.

There is a real strong current and we just flew along. The lowlands bordering El Rio contained thick, low jungle. Impenetrable. Soon it started to pour. Hard. Then harder still. After two hours we stopped at a very small riverside village. Turns out this is where Jose lives. Now I understand. We’d stay here for a couple of days then he’d take me to Masca, connected by road to Puerto Cortez. He said 10 Qs for the ride.

His village, however, is in Honduras. Far out. Another country. Ate a good supper of fish stew and tortillas. That night Jose and I helped each other learn English and Spanish.

Kilometers       21                                To Date           1335

19 January, Miercoles                        Brisas del Montagua, Honduras

Up early. Spent the early AM just spacing around the riverside village. Watched some women turn corn into tortillas. Straightened my stuff out and washed my bike off. Then I helped Jose plant some cocao seedlings. Ate a lunch of beans, rice and fresh tortillas. Muy bien. A very simple life here. Mostly hung out for the rest of the day.

20 Enero, Jueves                                Puerto Cortez, Honduras

What a day. Up real early. The people in the little riverside village of Brisas del Montagua are surpassed in their friendliness only by their generosity. I ate a fine desayuno of fresh tortillas and arroz and frijoles. These people don’t have much but they shared it willingly with me.

Afterwards I threw my gear in Jose’s huge cayuca and off down the Rio Montagua we went. The weather lately has been lousy and today was no exception. Coldern’ shit. Cloudy with an ever-present threat of rain. Jungles, high grass and bamboo lined each side of the Rio. Every once in a while a small thatched hut occupied a slash in the bush while one or two cayucas were beached on the mud bank. Birds were everywhere. Elegant white Herons flew off at our approach. We floated past some hunters in the reeds. ‘Tigres’ said Jose.

Soon I could hear a roar over the motor. The Mar Caribe. We rounded the final bend and there was the surf. We beached the cayuca in some reeds. I unloaded my gear while Jose and Martin, another friend, took off the Merc and the two gas cans. Jose was going to Cuyamel and Martin to Puerto Cortez. It would be too rough to motor to Masca, where we could pick up the road, so they shouldered their gear and off we went down the beach towards Masca.

After two kms we came to a little hut where a friend of Jose’s lives. They dropped off the motor there. On down the beach we walked. Soon we came to the Rio Cuyamel. There was a little outpost there with one soldier. Turns out to be another friend of Jose’s. He looked at my passport and said OK. We crossed the Rio in a cayuca.

On down we walked, fording a few semi-shallow streams. Just behind the palm trees that lined the sandy beach the mountains rose right up into the clouds. The beach was strewn with all sorts of fancily-shaped mahogany driftwood. Quite a place.

Twelve kms from the boca del rio we came to the little village of Masca. A tar road ran to Puerto Cortez. Far out. Success. I’d made it from Puerto Barrios to Puerto Cortez overland thru the bush. And they said I was crazy!

So I said Adios to Jose and Martin, hopped on my bike and set off for a quick 28 km jaunt to Puerto Cortez. Real nice road, smooth and flat. However a couple of bridges were out, evidence, I guess, of a hurricane a couple of years ago. Real nice coast.

I buzzed off the kms in no time, hitting Puerto Cortez at 3pm. Went straight to a bank and cashed $20 of Travellers Checks for 40 Lempuras, the Honduran dinero. Then to a hotel. I picked a crummy one.

I straightened my stuff out, drying it off. Went for a walking tour of town. Kind of a funky town. Lots of pool halls. Lots of big boats. Ate a good meal for 1.40 Lemps (.70 cents), not bad at all. Retired to my sleazy hotel and read and wrote a bit. Manana to Migration then rail connections to La Cieba, port gateway to Roatan.

Well, I’ve been on my trip for three months, 90 days. $437 left, I’ve spent $425, or $4.72 per day average. Not too shabby.

Kms                 40                                To date                        1375

Published by Phil Parent

Phil Parent is a geographer residing in Queenstown New Zealand.

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