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…
Incredible journey thus far-those potholes were gnarly…you’ve got me hanging on wire, looking forward to the story of Mocoron. I hope you didn’t see you that horrendous portrait of me from high school in my mothers living room!
Loved this post (love them all) The ‘dug out’ bought memories flooding back… staying with Bob, my crazy American friend, in his hand built shack with ‘two dug outs’ on the Rio Dulce, Guatamala… and all those horse flies and amazing tinker-bells at night (Fire flies) yes, what a great life you have… A bit scared by the guns they all wield as one of the most special people I met ‘while out sailing’ was gunned down on his boat just outside the shack I was staying in. They wanted his radio! He left a Charming Argentinian wife who was a keen sailor too. He used to bake me coconut bread just like the ones in your last blog… and bring them across to us in his Kayak every morning. Life is cheap in these parts. I’m full of admiration for your zest for it all! All I could think about when I saw your bike balancing precariously over the dug out was ‘Shit, where is his camera?” Typical me! My G2 is fantastic… OK!… I’m starting to ramble (as your Mum says!) Take GREAT care of your self! Hugs X
Hey Cass…you seem to be completely in your element. I keep on thinking back to Paul Theroux and Patrick Leigh Fermor if they had the ability to blog and visually document their journeys they would be doing the same as you. I so hope that there is a Word file on your laptop with a developing story that highlights the character stories that are so vividly displayed in your photographs. Do you want me to make the calls to the literary agents?
Drop me a line when you get the chance…lots of ideas for you to noodle on whilst winding your way South. More video please…
Sarah and Noah send their love…he’s growing up fast…and won’t be winning the King of the Mountains classification.
An epic journey, well worth the effort! Looking forward to read more in preparation for my own, much tamer, cycle tour in SE Asia.
With all those swampy plains, you can see why the mosquitoes love it!
Fantastic stuff Cass. I’m reading every post and loving all the pictures. You are really doing a fantastic service to us all, recording these slices of real-but-very-different life across the globe from dull & grey England.
Keep up the good work!
Cass, I noticed that you have discs and v brakes mounted on the bike. Is that just as a backup? which do you keep hooked up for the most part?
Cass: WOW! I am speechless. I just got done reading the Mosquito Coast as well. Good luck man!
I knew you’d take the hardest possible option!
Looks an amazing route, I can’t believe that single track is so…. single! I didn’t think there was anywhere left like that in the world.
As far as I know the name of the area is “La Mosquitia” not “La Moskitia” . where does the name Moskitia come from? According to my studies of history in my country the name Mosquitia comes from the Mosquito. Could someone tell me where and when the name Mosquitia was changed to Moskitia?
Many theories exist.
I have heard most commonly that it comes from a similar word for bug bite in the early sailor days… or that early explorers used mosquito for bugs that bite. While mosquitoes are common it is more likely the bug causing the bites were sand flies.
Either way, thats the story. The story, but not necessarily the truth.
Linguists and Historians speculate it may have come from the term Musketeer. The area was ground zero for piracy during the height of the pirate era. Many of the great pirates hide there and the Spanish avoided it as much as they could.
OH, and the 2 spellings relate to the fact that area is half in Honduras, half in Nicaragua, inhabited by 6 cultures, even more languages are spoken and it was influenced by the English heavily.
I spent over two weeks in Warunta back in April 1992. Back then, I didn’t see any nice stainless shotguns, but everyone carried a big sharp machete. The only firearms in view were a handful of tired old .22 rifles the locals used to hunt tepescuentes. The people in the village were truly friendly towards me, but were wary of one another (hence the sharp machetes), and especially wary of anyone representing the Honduran government. Even as an outsider, I could feel the tension.
The spelling used at the time was “Moskitia.” Most likely due to the hodgepodge of languages in the area.
I came home with some fascinating memories and the worst sunburn of my life.