Somewhere down there, there's some awesome singletrack...
For the next part of the trans-Moskitian adventure, I'd planned to hop on one of the lanchas
plying the waterways linking Ahuas and Puerto Lempira, before picking up the main road - well, a potholed unpaved track - down to Mocoron. But after scrutinising my map and making various enquiries, the general consensus seemed to be that an overland route was rideable at this time of year, by following a network of footpaths that link one Moskitian village to the next.
Although it wasn't a journey most locals advised doing alone - due to dubious security in the area - the route seemed straight forward enough, so I figured I'd give it a go...
This is my map to guide me onto the right trail out of Ahuas - my little moleskin notebook was often mistaken for a bible in these parts. With my head swirling with potential hazards, warnings and advice (watch out for the tigers/only stay with Christians/get yourself a gun, or at least a decent sized machete) I pedalled off into the heart of La Moskitia...
It wasn't long before I was leaving the last of Ahuas' wonky, weatherstained houses behind.
Singletrack through the pines. If conditions continued to be so dry, the two day ride promised to be fantastic.
Then I hit stretches like this... The mud was thick enough to hold the bike up by itself. I lost my sandals here, and delved around for a while with my hands to retrieve them.
Later, I sank down right to my waist while looking for a route through this swampy section...
In Warunta, the pastor paddled across the river to pick me up, with the news that he'd been told to deliver anyone who looked 'different' to a nearby army checkpost - the area is rife with narcos and other insalubrious characters. Luckily formalities were quickly dealt with, and after feeding me a massive platter of wild pig, a soldier was assigned to guide me by horseback onto the correct trail out of town.
The collection of bizarre Meskitian names continue. I bumped into Jose Emeliano Alfred James, son of the late Rudigan James, as I was informed. As chance would have it, Emeliano was a resident of Coco, the next settlement on my route. He'd made the 2 1/2 hour walk to Warunta to make a phone call, where there was cell phone coverage - thanks to the solar powered towers mushrooming up across the plains. The meeting proved fortuitous, as the route we took - via a muddy, jungly shortcut that was awkward to drag my bike through - would have been tricky to navigate and manage alone.
The trail finally emerged onto this pebbly beach. It was too deep to wade across, so Emeliano kicked off his wellington boots and stripped down to his underwear, swam down river, and reappeared a little later with the village dugout.
Note to self: don't leave home without your shotgun.
We balanced the bike across the dugout, handlebars stirring the water as he paddled.
This is one of Coco's handful of houses, set above the shallow, meandering Rio Coo on the edge of the savannah. No electricity. No running water. And no cell phone coverage... Still, it didn't stop a rousing hymn-singing session around the fire that evening with the local pastor, who had also ridden there on a bicycle.
This is Emeliano's two month old baby, Kishnita, who was suffering from a fever. The remedy: wild garlic and some mysterious herbs, chopped up straight on the floorboards. Dinner was a bowl of rice mixed with milk power and sugar, and a few lumps of boiled yukka. His mother lamented, 'We are poor. We have no money. All we eat is yukka every day.'
The kitchen was on a raised platform, under a rusty, corrugated roof. In the morning, I was handed a bowl of fish and yukka for the ride/push ahead.
Again, my camera went down a treat with the children. With no mirrors in the house, they took the opportunity to don a variety of guises, to general guffaws and amusement from the family.
All that's missing is the cell phone accessory. I heard this girl whispering words to her baby sister: So-ni Erik-son. Blac-be-ry.
Back on singletrack through more pine forest.
And across open savannah.
Past weird, stumpy outcrops. Emeliano and his cousin Joram had insisted on guiding me thorough to a spot where the trail would become more distinct.
In the jungle once more, dragging the bike along a rough, muddy trail cut through the undergrowth, and fording chest high rivers.
One last river crossing, this one in a dugout.
On the other side, I was relived to see the muddy forest had given way to expansive plains. From here, I was told vehicle markings through the grass would lead me all the way to Mocoron, my destination.
After a couple of days of riding singletrack and dragging my bike through swamp and mud, the hardpack road I emerged onto felt like a super highway. Now I was rolling!
I was met by a warm welcome in the first grocery store I came across. Lem (centre), an ex lobster diver, took me on a tour of the village, a dozen men and boys in tow... I'd planned to stop here a couple of days, as Mocoron was also the home of Gigi's mother Norma Love, who runs a health clinic in the village. The relief of having arrived is always a moment to be savoured...