Sunday, February 15, 2009

#12 Las Cascadas Bejuca, Pico Bonito, Honduras

I am currently lying on the couch with my slightly battered left knee elevated on pillows, but it is entirely worth it. The other three volunteers and I spent the last two days hiking and camping in Pico Bonito National Park along the Cangrejal River outside of La Ceiba. A Honduran friend,Queso (yes it is a nickname and, yes, it is the Spanish word for cheese) offered to take us up to the top of the waterfall and camp there for the night after our failed attempt to reach the falls on an afternoon hike last Monday.

Lessons learned on that Monday hike:
Lesson #1. Do not count on a dog as your guide. Tonki, the pudgy Rottweiler who belongs to the owner of a lodge along the river, decided to tag along with us and would run ahead on the trail and then wait for us to catch up. No one informed us that we were actually looking for an offshoot of the loop trail, so we missed the turn, and although we found some lovely smaller falls, none of them were the 180ft falls we were expecting to find. Whenever we see Tonki now we call him “Mal Guia” (bad guide.)
Lesson #2. Water droplets on a carpet of moss look like liquid emeralds.
Lesson #3. You don’t have to reach your destination to have an incredible journey.
Lesson #4. Leafcutter ants will go one hell of a long way down the mountain to find good leaves to carry back to their colony. And they form their own little highways as they traverse back and forth by the thousands. Also, smaller ants will hitch rides on the leaves being carried by the larger ants. I could watch them for hours.
Lesson #5. Sitting in front of a water fall and listening to it is like sitting before a wise teacher who speaks in poetry, so that you must take in everything you hear and await the day that you will understand it. And all the time you are listening to your own inner voice.

We camped at the top of the falls, about 200ft above the valley floor. From our fire we could see far up into the Cuenca (Spanish for “watershed” and used to describe the valleys formed by the river and its tributaries.) As the sun set and lights in houses below were turned on, we could sit at our fire and look south into the mountains. We could see that electricity has not yet been installed far into the Cuenca, and as night fell it became an inky black void. From our tents we could see north all the way to the city and where the river meets the sea. Sitting near the edge of the falls, I was far enough out from under the canopy of trees to see the eastern sky filled with more stars than I could count. As the clouds began to form yesterday afternoon (this is after all a cloud forest) they were actually below us, we were so high up! This morning we hiked down to the base of the falls and then to the river valley floor, stopping along the way to enjoy a dip in a beautiful swimming hole.

Lessons learned on this weekend’s hike:
1. The floor of a cloud forest is a loose, peaty dirt mixed with dead leaves that is more than willing to give way at any moment beneath your feet. The only things holding it in place are the tree roots. It really brings home the fact that this soil is not meant for agriculture or ranching and that deforestation is the worst thing you can do.
2. Trees, their roots, and thick vines are my nearest and dearest forest friends. My fall this morning would have been much worse were it not for the strong vine I was able to hook my arm across and thus stop myself from going down the steep slope below the trail. My bruised armpit is a small price to pay for not having to figure out how to get down a steep mountain with broken bones. (Big Honduras lesson: Life hurts sometimes, so get over it. Keep your eye on the positive.) I have endless respect for my students and their hikes to get to school because I know some of their paths aren’t much better.
3. Soaking in cold river water is as good as ice when your knees are hurting.
4. The Cuenca is a beautiful place, full of vibrant life of all kinds, and I really feel like I am a member of the community sometimes. Coming home in the back of a pickup, we were greeted by many of our students playing along the road or in the yards of their homes.

5. Sleeping in a tent with the other 4 volunteers just doesn’t compare to having Lempira, my pygmy jaguar friend, wake me up in the morning by biting my nose.
6. I am definitely closer to 30 than 20 and my body knows it. I should listen better.
7. Caterpillars come in all shapes and sizes.

8. If you crush termites and rub them on your skin, you won’t get bug bites. (I already knew that they taste like carrots.)
9. Mountain spring water tastes delicious!


  1. You had a much more exciting weekend than I did! Glad you got to see such beautiful things.

  2. That sounds awesome! Exactly what I'm looking for. I'm here in Utila, just finished some training... but I want to head to La Ceiba and then find a way to camp/hike in Pico Bonito and stay over night , etc.

    Any tips on making this a reality? Sounds like you got a full adventure story.