Bye bye road…
After a gruelling 580km stint from Puerto Cabezas, I’m now reached the colonial idyll of Granada, with access to my computer once more – thanks Richard for carting my plug all the way from Honduras!
There’s a lot to catch up on, so here’s a start.
La Moskitia is a vast swathe of sparsely inhabited land, covering lagoons, mangroves, dense jungle and unexpectedly open savannah. It overlaps Honduras and Nicaragua, and simply reaching its fringes takes hours of multi modal travel. The first part involves travelling along a paved road eastwards through massive palm oil plantations, beyond the relative metropolises of Trujillo, until it dwindles down to a dirt track, hugging the coastline, and finally petering out into nothing more than a white sand beach in Iriona…
The faithful Mongoose had found another owner! Chicagan Spanish teacher Elana, a keen cycle commuter back home, took up the challenge of riding it to the the Moskitia. I lent her a front bag and she roped down her rucksack to the rear rack. Alena planned to backtrack to Trujillo, and either continue cycling or sell her steed on again before returning to the Yucatan.
Pre ride morning feed. Egg, chicken and sweet, soft fried platanos maduros. My favourite.
Out on the road, pavement soon gave way to dirt. Only jeeps piled high with people and cargo, and the odd dusty chicken bus, plied the road.
Decapitated palm trees – collecting their oil is one of the main industries here, and has resulted in violent land rights disputes.
Wispy moss hanging like an old men’s beards.
Dusty conditions make for interesting tan lines. We washed off in the sea at the end of each day.
In Limon, we were invited in to stay for the night by a local garifuna family, and fed simple yet delicious fresh fish. Garifunas speak both Spanish and their own creole-derived language, Women are called Mama, men are called Papa, and little girls Madrecita. Little Mama!
Fording the odd murky stream…
Passing beautiful, unspoilt white sand beaches.
The Garifuna settlement of Punta Piedra.
A small, quiet fishing village.
Where, appropriately enough, we stopped for one of the tastiest fish meals I’ve had in a long time.
With views like this, you’d expect the area to be have become a little tourist haven. But Punta Piedra was a strictly local hangout.
A little further down the road, these poor creatures were destined for the pot, carried home from the beach by kids cycling by on broken, beat up bikes.
One of the cool cats I rode with. A side note for my football-obssessed brother. This remote and sparely populated stretch of the coast is famous for producing top class players, several of whom play internationally and in the Premiership – like Wilson Palacios, for Tottenham, and Henry Thomas, for Wigan. I later met Wilson’s cousin!
In seedy Iriona, the road came to an abrupt end, so we hopped in a passing ‘collectivo’ boat for the short ride to the village of Cocolito.
There, we were quickly descended upon by a mob of Garifuna kids who vied for our attention.
With little encouragement, they set about braiding Elana’s hair with great zeal in the local church.
I’d planned to catch a boat along this section of the coast, but nowadays, it’s only linked by 4WD jeeps who tear up and down the coastline through chicanes of mangroves. They churn up ankle deep sand, turning any efforts at cycling into a slow, sweaty trudge.
Hm. Not as rideable as I’d hoped…
A bemused local watches as I toil onwards. Upturned dugouts lined the beach, and families waded through the shallow waters fishing.
‘Balsas’, floating jetties, transport the daily run of modified jeeps across bridgeless rivers. As payment, the owner of this human powered raft asked me for only the equivalent of a can of coke to enjoy when the day was done.
Oops. This one didn’t quite make it. It took an hour to dig it out.
The riverside settlement of Nuevo Puerto wasn’t much more than a few houses and an enormous mango tree. Under its shade, a dozen boats were pulled up along the sandy shore. A few sinewy fishermen, in string vests supping bears, swung in hammocks. Surly Mama Patty, who vigourously upheld a reputation for shortchanging her customers, seemed none too impressed with Madrecita Elena’s braids.
Then it was time for anther collectivo boat ride to Belen (once Bethlehem, as it was named by the church missionaries), with magnificent views across the expanse of the laguna. The fabled Moskitia at last!
It’s not all idyllic though. The quiet communities here are squeezed along an elongated finger of land, between the lagoon and the Caribbean, stretches of which are heaped with sea junk. They’re also slap bang on the international drug smuggling route. Bags of cocaine are regularly washed ashore from abandoned speed boats, escaping US-funded helicopter patrols. Just a week earlier, the local kids had found a clutch of jettisoned guns.
That aside, these forgotten settlements are the perfect places to relax and catch up on some reading, before the next push through the waterways further into La Moskitia proper, and on to Nicaragua…