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arriving in brus, leaving brus and then returning to brus (or: losing it in la moskitia, episode 1)

It can’t be said often enough that the easiest – and sometimes the only – way to travel in La Moskitia is by water. The journey from Belem to Brus is simply achieved in this fashion: dawn start, blue skies, calm water. No worries.

Heading across the lagoon to Brus.

Water, sky, and sketches of human structures.

When I arrive it is still early. Breakfast and exploration are my first priorities.

Exploring Brus. The football field is reassuringly dry and dusty.

It’s not long before I have found a new friend called Alex and while his intentions may not be entirely honourable he doesn’t look like a narco gangster and I am happy enough to accept his company for the moment, receive any information he has to share on how to get to Ahuas and consider his offer of a camp site for the night as a valid option.

Alex sends a guy up a coconut palm in pursuit of coconut water in an attempt to vicariously impress me.

Nonetheless in order to keep my options open and to gather as much information as I can I go to visit Lem, who I met on the river a few days ago. The eclectic history of La Moskitia is evident in the names people bear – Lem is a classic Polish name and my new found friend was named in honour of a missionary doctor from Eastern Europe who delivered half the children of Brus Laguna and the surrounding areas at some forgotten point of time in the past.

People agree that a track to Ahuas exists but I don't get many practical instructions on how to follow it. I visit Lem for afternoon coffee and discover that at some stage in his life he worked extensively on the local cartography. He shows me his collection of maps but, while existing at the other extreme from the tantalisingly sketchy lines on my general Honduran map, they leave me none the wiser for all their detail.

After leaving Lem's house, I meet Alex at the cemetery where he has been tending to the family graves for the afternoon and I am treated - although perhaps subjected is a better description - to a complete tour of every street and foot path in Brus. The streets of Brus boast plenty of typical Moskitian architecture: simple wooden houses sititng up on stilts - no doubt an extremely practical arrangement in times of heavy rain. Not to mention cool and breezy in the afternoon heat.

Colours tend towards cooler blues and greens but this hot pink number stands out from the crowd.

In the morning, Alex promises to set me in the right direction but an array of bikes let him down and finally I make my way out of town alone.

Alex offers to guide me out of town and onto the track but his bike is broken and the one he borrows isn't in great shape either.

In the end, I manage to find the path on my own by dint of asking everyone I pass.

Things look clear enough to start with.

And even as they get fainter, the path runs across savannah which seems, at least, to be firm and mud free.

But soon there are rivers to cross...

...and while the lacy lily pads are beguiling...

... the water is armpit deep and the soft muddy river bed is booby trapped with sharp thorns and treacherous hidden logs lurking in the slime to trip a heavily laden bare foot wader. I make seven trips, in total, to get myself and my gear from one side of the river to the other. One trip to reconnoiter, one for each pannier, one for the bike, one for my tent, one for my handle bar bag with its precious cargo of camera and other valuables and a final one for all the other extraneous bits and pieces that get strapped on here and there - all items carried overhead while feeling out the unseen bottom. The thought of crocodiles only occurred later.

The track steadily gets narrower and narrower. A few feet away, it is completely invisible in the swaying grass.

Uncertainty grows.

The path across the savannah is tenuous and crisscrossed by other fainter but nonetheless distinct tracks created by wandering cattle which graze the savannah in the dry season.

Towards evening I reach an undeniable fork. There is nothing, nothing at all, to indicate which might be the right way to go. I arbitrarily select one and follow it to a creek – a small creek, but with boggy treacherous edges. I flounder across unburdened and search fruitlessly for a convincing looking path on the other side. I return to the fork and follow the other branch. The path swings to the right parallel to the river and then gradually winds towards it a kilometre or two away. There is a firmer gravel ford here but still no convincing path to follow on the other side. I return to the fork and sit meditating on the conundrum until the sun sets when I set up camp.

In the morning I wake to the steady drone, somewhere overhead, of a light aircraft, the preferred mode of transport of Moskitian narco-traffickers, and find myself wondering what, exactly, am I doing here. I get up, breakfast, take down the tent – all the time hoping that someone, but not a narco-trafficker, will come by on one or other of the paths and tell me which way is the correct one to take to Wawina and, from there, to Ahaus. Nobody does and nothing occurs to me and so, perhaps irrationally or perhaps sensibly, I decide to return to Brus.

(Yep, I crossed that river again. I got better at it – I only did in six trips on the return journey.)

Brus, again: it already feels like home.

I revisit Lem's house only to discover that he is away on business but Veneranda, his wife, makes a big fuss over me and welcomes me, with open arms, into the family.

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