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losing it in la moskitia, episode 2

Setting off from Brus the second time I don’t really have any more useful information than I did the first time but I am determined. I make it back to the confounding fork without incident (apart from my third river crossing). I pause to investigate the left option for a second time and then take the right hand route for the very practical reason that it leads to a passable ford.

Once I am on the other side of the river by dint of assiduous searching I find what appears to be some kind of track leading along the river back towards the other crossing and decide that maybe the divergence exists solely to assist in passing the river. I ride across the savannah on what might be optimistically considered a path.

Back on the track, such as it is.

Before too long I come to a house and stop for directions. A young couple and their new born baby are the inhabitants of the small wooden dwelling. It is siesta time but the man comes out onto the verandah, limping painfully. He throws me into confusion by announcing that I am on the path to Wasma, not Wawina. This is not good news, as far as I am concerned, but I brighten a little when he tells me I can get to Ahuas via Wasma. I must looked a crestfallen still, however, because despite his leg injury he dons long trousers and sturdy boots, than gathers together a shot gun and a sizable pack of dogs and tells me to follow him.

A happy guide, despite what appears to be a painful leg injury sustained falling from a horse.

We soon leave the open savannah and abruptly enter dense jungle. Our path has only been very recently been cleared and the felled trees still lie every which way across it which does not make for an easy passage with a loaded bike. It is dusk when we emerge into a clearing where there is a scattering of rough thatched structures by a muddy brown river flowing steadily between steep red earthen banks. The boy calls out and an old man – his father, it transpires – appears. They consult briefly amongst themselves and then the boy leaves me in his father’s care, continuing into the twilight towards Ahuas in the company of his cousin.

We arrive at my guide's father's finca where he divests himself of responsibility for me and continues on his way to Ahuas with his cousin.

The cousin is a Honduran cowboy with baby parrots.

In the morning, I receive instructions from the señor and he sets me on the right path but I only make it as far as the milpa, or cornfield, before loosing both the path and my courage. I go back and the farmer’s hand is prevailed upon to guide me as far as the first river – an hour’s walk away. At the river, he kindly assures me there are no crocodiles to contend with and sits watching me make the river crossing – six tedious trips back and forth carrying my belongings aloft.

I am a little wobbly at the thought of being alone after the river crossing. The path winds endlessly through the jungle – tenuous enough for me to lose it from time to time. Vines, thorns, fallen trees are all obstacles and impediments. It’s a long and, sometimes, frightening day. I come across the site of some recent lumber work and lose the path in the messy clearing. I have run out of water and without water none of my food is edible. I lie on my back and contemplate my options. They are limited. Go back again or continue through the jungle hoping I’ll arrive somewhere, anywhere, before I get too dehydrated and hungry.

Jungle and bikes aren't a really good combination. The path is seldom used and frequently it is so vague as to be disconcerting.

So I plough on and finally reach a river that I believe, hopefully, to be Patuca. Relief. I filter some muddy water, only managing half a litre before the pump is clogged with river slime. I drink and then sit, immobile, by the river for a long time.

A river, finally.

I finally return to the bike just as a young man appears out of the jungle I emerged from myself not long ago. His eyes widen.

“Where did you come from?”

“Brus.”

They widen further.

“This is the first time I have seen a bike here.”

I can believe it.

“Is this Patuca?”

“No.”

I am crushed.

“It’s not far.”

I guess my face gives me away.

“I will help you,” he adds quickly.

He grabs the bike and we push through tall grass, each blade sharp as a razor but viciously serrated. It is not too long – but long enough for me – before we emerge from the brush on a fast flowing river with wide sandy beaches glowing in the gold afternoon light. The boy pushes my bike across the loose sand and I see a couple of open thatched shelters.

“Can I camp there?”

“Yes, of course!”

He pushes my bike into the shelter and we sit on benches made of bamboo roughly lashed together. The young man asks me about Australia and its economy. He wants to know which countries are “third world” and I’m not sure if he is soliciting my opinion or if he considers that I may have some authoritative knowledge. He is tall and thin, young and charming. We talk but I am tired and I want to wash, cook, eat and sleep.

He checks again that I don’t want to walk to Ahuas tonight. I cannot. When he leaves, I go to the river and wash myself, change into clean clothes and sit to pump a bag of full of water. The water here is clear enough to make it possible. I return to set up camp.

As I start to cook I see two men down on the sand in the twilight. I try not to attract their attention even though I am beginning to lose my anxiety about encountering strangers since I have only ever encountered kindness from those I meet.

Nonetheless, while I feel almost certain I will be met by kindness I can rarely count on understanding and trying to endlessly explain myself can be exhausting. It has already been a long day. Also, my residual fears tell me that this is narco territory and two men on a sandy river beach just might be waiting for a boatload of cocaine – who knows? So I cook and eat in the dark. The is sky is hazy, rendering the stars fuzzy, the air soft and damp and warm. Fireflies flash on and off with their uncanny green light.

Camp.

I wake at dawn, the clouds dark rosy pink, the air still. A wind blows, relentlessly, during the day but the cool early morning is still. I pack up camp in an apathetic fashion unsure what my strategy for the day should be. I have two options; try to flag down a passing boat or try to cross the river and find the path to Ahuas.

A repetitive ringing sound attracts my attention. A man is standing close to the river whacking a dead tree with a machete. Machetes are always slightly intimidating but every man, and many women, in rural Central America carries one so I am getting used to them. I decide to approach and come bearing my saucepan to fill at the river.

“Buenas dias!”

The man back off, without acknowledging my greeting, singing casually like he was simply out for a morning stroll.  I fill my saucepan, call out another greeting, also ignored, and return to the thatched shelters. As I light my stove the man is still standing on the sandy beach swinging his machete and gazing suspiciously in my direction.

The cloudy river water boils and I let it bubble for a few extra minutes before pouring some onto my coffee grounds and adding oats to the remainder to make porridge. The zapote I have been carrying with me from Brus seems ripe now so I open it. I am mid breakfast when I spy a group of people approaching; two men, purposely swinging their machetes, and a group of women and children trailing behind them, scattered across the beach.

“Buenos dias.”

The men glance about suspiciously. I tell them that I have ridden from Brus, that I am alone, and I am not really dangerous. They ply various questions. “Where do you come from?” “Where did you come from by bicycle?” before relaxing sufficiently to sit down. I try to stress that I am just a crazy lost gringa eating my breakfast by way of reassurance. Finally, they laugh. The women approach but remain silent. I ask about getting to Ahuas and they gesture across the river.

“It’s close. One and a half hour’s walk.”

“How can I get across the river?”

“There is a pipante.”

“Where?”

Another wave of the hand.

I have eaten half the zapote. I offer the other half still containing the seed to the head man. He becomes suddenly animated.

“Thank you. Thank you very much. I will plant the seed.”

He pulls the seed out carefully and hands it to the woman before dividing the fruit up between the three of them. I finish eating and start packing my things onto my bike under the steady gaze of three pairs of eyes. When I am ready, I ask again for directions and the leader stands up.

“I will help you.”

He walks to the beach and I push the laden bike onto the sand. He wrests it from me and we proceed along the river bank negotiating tree trunks and treacherous muddy patches and steep drop offs. We arrive at another sandy beach where the man puts down my bike and plunges into the water, swimming to the other side. He returns in a parlous canoe.

The ferryman in a canoe.

I put my foot down. I am not putting my bike in this thing.

I veto the canoe so, undeterred, the man returns the way we have just come and reappears with a raft which, of the two options, I consider more sound.

The raft seems like a more reliable craft.

We cross the river and as we are unloading the bike, Angel, my rescuer of the previous evening, appears on the river bank on his way to wherever he is working in the jungle on the other side. He has a two and half hour walk each way to reach the site.

The men point me towards the path that leads to Ahuas.

Finally in Ahuas - a little worse for wear.

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