There has yet to be an instance on this trip, (and I hope there will not be again) in which I find myself as close to giving up on the whole thing as I was on that particular night, overlanding honduras, a small distance from Puntal Sal and the Janette Kawas National Park in a very rural part of the country.
Despite (or possibly because of) its terrible reputation internationally, the worlds ‘highest murder rate’ and its ‘Red Zone’ foreign office status, we had been enjoying overlanding in Honduras. We had found the people friendly, the towns interesting and some of the natural scenery spectacular, plus it’s always exciting to travel for days between seeing another white face!
This particular evening, after a rather special drive up a sandy spit, through tiny off-grid Garifuna communities, we eventually pulled up on a beach in a little gathering of wooden huts and at the end of the spit. We now had a huge inland lagoon on one side, the ocean on the other and it was not until we had flown the drone that we realised how incredibly isolated we actually were.
We negotiated our passage to the park the next day with a local guy, agreeing on the price and the early morning start. He also took the opportunity to warn us not to let the dog get too close to the water’s edge, for fear of a croc snapping him up and we decided that was probably all the warning we needed not to venture too close ourselves.
We put in a chilled afternoon, chilled in the shade with the sea breeze gently blowing through the palms, reading a book and drinking a beer. Later, after a candlelit fish dinner in a locals living room, we returned early to our bed anticipating our 5:00 am start.
I’m not sure exactly what time I awoke, pooled in my own sweat, disorientated and confused. My skin was electrified, pins and needles across the entire surface of my skin, sharp, itchy and panic inducing. I started swatting at my skin as I reached for the light, and as my eyes adjusted to the illumination of our small rooftop, fears I had not realised I had were recognised. A literal swarm of tiny biting sand flies had made their way through the gaps in the mosquito netting and were now coating the inside of the vehicle, every surface, every object and worse, our own bodies were covered.
As an eczema sufferer who is agitated in the heat anyway, this was not good news, and the multitudes of tiny persistent itches drove me to immediate insanity. In any other circumstance I would have packed up and left, but being miles from civilisation, with no road, just sand for at least the first 20 miles, and being 3.30 am in Honduras all contributed to the feeling that this was not exactly an option. If nothing else, the cardinal rule of overland safety in sketchy countries is never to drive after dark! This in mind, and having no choice but to do something about the dire state of affairs, we chose to zip up the sides (despite the heat) to at least prevent more sandflies from getting in. Grabbing tea towels and t-shirts, and swatting away at the swarm to try and at least thin out their numbers.
Half an hour of tossing and turning later, the heat with the sides zipped had hit critical mass. This coupled with the fact that there were still a few thousand in the car meant abject defeat, I must admit I was almost in tears at this point. With nothing else to do, we got up, covered up and set off for a 4 am walk down the beach, needing to be in constant movement to stop them landing.
This was but one of many moments that test you and remind you that this lifestyle is not all secluded beaches and relaxing in hammocks, there is a level of necessary adversity that you almost must surpass to be rewarded with a lifestyle this permanently adventurous.
It was a stroke of luck that we were in for an early start, so the second 5.30 arrived and our guide emerged, we eagerly threw our gear into the little fibreglass boat and readied ourselves to go. Before long, the sputtering of the outboard drowned out the early morning sounds of the jungle and we pulled through the lagoon and out towards open sea.
My limited Spanish discussion with our captain suggested that the ride might be a little rough, but as we rounded the corner and pointed out into the Carribean, I realised what he was trying to say. To leave the lagoon, we had to power the boat through the one tiny inlet (visible in the drone shots above). The tide low and the swells high meant that this had to be timed perfectly with an incoming wave to ride us over the sand bar. The motor slowed to an idle and we waited as our guide judged the timing, and as a particularly large wave curled up, he floored it. With a surprising punch from the little engine, we took off. Literally. We hit the wave, and the timing was awful, the whole boat jumped into the air, and while pitching, crunched down. We had all lifted from our seats, nearly rolled from the boat and came down with a crunch on the hard bare fibreglass. A few yelped in pain, cracking down hard on their coccyx, but I was smart, sitting on my lifejacket for padding instead of wearing it like intended like those other mugs. Instinctively, I grabbed the panicked dog and looked wide-eyed at our captain, who had clearly realised his error and looked genuinely worried himself. In the shallow water and with the breakers still rolling in, he was not to be afforded the opportunity to try again, instead, having no choice but to keep the boat on full power and try to hit the second nose-on, less it push us back into the sandbar and capsize us. Again, the timing was wrong, and this time, the wave crashed over the bow, soaking us all and almost washing us from our seats. On the third, he got it, and our rickety little vessel lurched forward out into the swollen morning waters.
With seldom a moment to breathe, especially between comforting Dee and the Dog, the choppy waters did little to smooth out our reasonable amount of nerves and as the land diminished into the distance, we all looked at each other in one of those crystal clear moments that say in no uncertain terms “f*** this, I want out”.
Soon, a pod of investigating dolphins swam alongside the boat and distracted us from our fears, and before much longer still, our destination started to become more than a speck on the horizon. I have to admit, I love the romanticism of trying to reach isolated and untouched places. I love how seldom they are visited, I love the quest; drive to a point only accessible by 4×4, barter with a local for passage on his boat, embark on foot etc. This place, as it became visible, was the most densely forested, isolated and entirely untouched I had ever seen.
As the boat pushed up on the sand of a much calmer beach, we jumped off and agreed a 3-hour timeframe for our guide to pick us up on the far side of the island. Thankful to be back on dry land, and slathered in insect repellant, we set off on the barely visible trails into the most remote place I have yet to visit.
The hike was not aimless, this place was famous for its azure waters and secluded bays, and the overgrown trail map and our pigeon Spanish had pointed us in this way. The jungle was the densest we had come across, and were it not for the small trail, would have been entirely impassable. Being the kind of guy that has always entertained the notion that not only would I be great in a ‘desert island’ situation, the whole experience was a little bit of a blow. I have a newfound respect for Mr Crusoe for sure, if not for his ability to forge through impassable undergrowth, then just for putting up with tropical insects.
When we reached our destination, it all became clear. The isolated archipelago boasted no trace of man, just golden sands meeting tropical waters, but in a way that feels like it is real, not like the tropical beach you were supposed to see. The shores were mostly littered with rotting fruit, seaweed and coconut husks, there was no space to lay out a towel and sit beneath a beach umbrella. There were pockets of perfect golden sand, however, just enough to serve as a launchpad for the drone, and get an ariel perspective on this incredible and remote landscape.
We sat and chilled, enjoying the sounds of the jungle and the gentle lapping of the waves as we awaited our boat, and took the opportunity to photograph some of the local birds as they dived for their dinner.
Due to the nature of the spray and moisture, there were only a few short opportunities to get the camera out, and most of the day was shot on GoPro, a GoPro that was lost to the bottom of a canyon only 2 days later, the footage along with it. Due to this our only recorded experience is in the few photos I managed to shoot with the drone, and with my DSLR from the land itself, but this matters little as I was left with a memory of a place that defines the nature of adventure travel. It is through the adversity, through the challenge of reaching a destination and through the swarms of sand flies and sweaty, sleep deprived nights that I connect most with my surroundings. It is inspiring, invigorating and just flat-out cool to get to a place hardly visited by others and through the challenge of just getting there, there is a feeling of having earned the right to your surroundings. It changes your perspective in fascinating and unimaginable ways, it shows you a different side to the world, a one where the evidence of humanity can only be seen in the odd plastic bottle floating on the shores. It shows you a world you would hardly imagine still exists on this planet, and takes you to places where people still forge a way of life from their surroundings, building from the driftwood and cut off from the rest of the world. It is humbling and evocative, educational and rewarding. If nothing else you learn never to camp where there are sand flies and that life jackets are probably always a good idea.