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Notes from La Miskitia

Oct 14–All my bags are packed, as the song goes, and I am ready to go. So, Station O. H. I. O., signing off. Hondo here I come.

• Leave CMH at 0600. I will meet the team from Missionary Air Group in Atlanta and then on to San Pedro Sula. There we won’t even leave the airport but will change to the light plane that will take us into La Miskitia.

• You can be poetic and say the trip really began at some amorphous point back with the unknown genesis of an idea to someday go somewhere. Sure ideas and dreams and planning and logistics are important and I have been accused of having a fetish for packing my bags even when I have no solid plans to go anywhere. But the trip doesn’t really begin until you look around your living room for the last time, hoist your bags and lock the door behind you. That is the moment and you have to get to it. Everything else is incidental.

Oct 15—I woke and showered, put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, looked around my home for a last time, hoisted my bags and put them in the trunk of the car. I held open the door for my wife, Kristina, then locked it behind us and handed her the keys.

• Kristina dropped me at the curb of Port Columbus in front of Delta and I kissed her goodbye in the pre-dawn. I met the construction team, Craig and Mike and Steve at the Atlanta airport. They picked me out, figuring the guy in the safari jacket and camera bag must be the photographer they were looking for. Michael has never flown before or been farther from his North Carolina home than South Carolina (Which, admittedly, is a pretty strange place.) Still, it promises to be a day of firsts for him and I admire his Southern élan in facing two jetliners, entering a foreign country and flying in a small plane to a distant jungle airstrip.

• We were met at the familiar San Pedro Sula airport by Westley Wiles, our missionary pilot. He bought us lunch and Michael found it strange that, on the verge of an adventure into a strange land, his first meal was a perfectly normal Wendy’s hamburger. Then we reentered security and were out on the tarmac, loading the Cessna 206 and then quickly were airborne, racing the clouds that build and build their towers in the sky that become sudden and dangerous storms.

• Below us the mountains grew from the plains and the strange silver light of the season played across the patchwork fields and the deep shadows of the clouds. The land grew less and less settled, fewer roads and less patchwork as cultivation was replaced by untouched forest. Then we were flying lower, following the course of the Rio Patuco and deep jungle hanging from vertiginous cliffs, then higher again over endless miles of pine savannah then down and down and bumping along the grass strip of Rus Rus.

Oct 19–Deep thunder rolled across the Miskitia. Heavy dark clouds roiled on the horizon, coming from the east. I set up my tripod with the D800 to take a time-lapse film of the airstrip’s windsock as the storm approached. The construction team began to tarp up the building site. I listened to the thunder as the camera clicked away and thought I ought to record the sound. I went into the house for my recorder and as I dug in my bag for it I heard the sudden roar of rain on the roof. I sprinted out to the D800 and clapped my felt hat over it and ran, laughing in the jungle rain, under the shelter of the Cessna’s hanger where we sat then and told stories of places we had been and of our wives and homes.

Oct 20—I rose a little after dawn, 0515 or so and slipped out on the screened in porch. Mist hung heavy over the grassy jungle airstrip and I lay in the tattered, green Guatemalan hammock and watched the world come awake.

• After a couple hours at the computer off to the building site to document the process of pouring a concrete roof then, probably, into the village with Carlos Paz.

• Pine Savannah. A unique, almost otherworldly environment, stretching as far as one can see and a mile away is thick, tropical jungle.

• The rain began as an almost imperceptible mist. Then harder. Then harder. Now work has had to cease as it comes down with a steady roar and we are confined to the porches and hammocks.

• After a brief respite from the rains and a short hike, the rain began again like it had never let off. I lay back into my Guatemalan hammock, deep in the Honduran forest, and read Sir Richard Francis Burton’s “The Land of Midian” on my Kindle.

• It was a good day. The rain gave us rest. When the rains stopped I went into the village with Carlos Paz and took photos of a local woodcarver and the Catholic lay preacher and their families that I feel very good about. I went down to the river where the North Carolina boys and their New Hampshire friend were cane pole fishing and we swam in the river and they played on a dugout canoe. When I got back I found two ticks, one on my sock and one on my knee. Found two ticks before either got into my skin! It was a good day…

Oct 22–It is always amazing how quickly the strange becomes normal, how adaptive is the human and how fast time slips by. We have been here a week now and the heat and tarantulas and remoteness are simply our lives. Men we had never heard of a week ago are our friends and the day’s tasks are underway. I am at a computer editing photos. The construction men are at a jobsite pouring concrete. We do our work and that we are in perhaps the most remote region of Central America makes not a whit of difference now.

Oct 22–The construction team poured the roof today under clear, hot skies. It being noon and the project very nearly finished, we had an excellent lunch marred only by the building heat. With little warning the wind picked up and the rains came down, blowing into the porch, wetting boots set out to dry and the also wetting the monkey Jack who expressed his displeasure by shaking a tiny brown fist at the sky like some miniature Kong challenging the air force to a duel.

• Carlos, Westley and I went house to house in Rus Rus compiling a list of people’s full names and family relations today as well as photographing them.

Oct 22-They tell that last night, while we were watching a movie (as is the evening custom) that a huge spider crawled over my shoulder, across my back and onto the floor. The man behind me waited until it reached the floor and dispatched the arachnid without letting me know of its passage cross Terra Andrew, lest I jumped and the beast sank its pointy teeth into me. Of course it might well have been totally harmless but I do not mourn its passing.

Oct 23–Hey, hey it’s chloroquine Tuesday!

Oct 24–The monkey sunk its fangs into Michael’s leg. I cleaned the wound. The monkey took a small chunk. Don’t mess with the monkey.

Oct 25–As we hiked down a jungly road a large iguana crawled out of the forest to sun itself on a spit of dry land in the middle of a large puddle. I quickly, but without making any sudden moves (not wanting to spook the big lizard) switched to my telephoto lens. I needn’t have worried. The iguana had no intention of moving. It flared its crest and hissed and slapped its tail at us as if to say, “I am a dragon and this is MY road. Thou shall not pass.”


Oct 27–We hiked to the nearby village of Mabitah this morning where the endangered wild scarlet macaws congregate. The hike took us into the pine savannah east of Rus Rus past the jungle near the river and across a wide-open grassland interspersed by oasis-like areas of short palms surrounding deep, clear streams. The town was on a grassy flat spot, tree-shaded and pretty. The women pounded rice to clear the chaff from the grain with a steady thumping. The macaws were high in a tree taunting us, out of the range of my lenses but it was enough to see these magnificent birds flying free in the forest.

Oct 28–I awoke at 0500, slipped on my shorts, khaki shirt and Tevas. I screwed the Nikon to the tripod and walked out onto the mist covered grass airstrip. I set the camera to begin a time-lapse sequence and as the shutter began clicking away a flock of green parrots landed in a tree across the way and began a racket inappropriate to the hour.

• Soon everyone else was awake, drinking coffee and finishing their packing. It has been two weeks and this morning, a few minutes ago, the construction team left. Men I had never heard of before, now fast friends, climbed into the Cessna 206 along with the missionary pilot and his wife and were suddenly speeding down the runway and climbing into the morning sun, banking West and heading out of the forest, step by step on their way back to the rest of the world.

Oct 30–After five dry days it rained last night. The moon was bright and Carlos and I sat out on the edge of the airstrip, alternately telling tales and speaking of the nature of the Divine. The clouds covered the face of the moon but its brightness illuminated the sky in a glowing white blanket. The trees of the forest were black shapes against that sky and I thought of our place on the map, there in one of the most remote regions of the Americas north of the Amazon. Then there was one drop, then more and soon we were driven inside along with a nightmare of mosquitoes and other insects.

Oct 31–We awoke in the pre-dawn and by 0530 Carlos Paz and I were hiking up the road into the strange pine forest and rolling hills the missionaries call “Narnia.” There was mist on the airstrip and in between the tall thin trunks of the Caribbean Pines. I found a good spot and as the sun came up in the east it cast long shadows as another day streamed its light and promise across La Miskitia and the far eastern province of Gracias a Dios.

• Flying to Puerto Lempira in the morning. It may be a dusty, dull, nowhere wretched hive of scum and villainy port city in the back of beyond of the Miskito Coast, the farthest from anywhere city in the whole country, but I have always wanted to go for all the aforementioned reasons.

• Editing a short film on the Aquamira DIVVY portable water purification system installed here in Rus Rus.

Nov 1–Back from Puerto Lempira, a rather pleasant coastal town all in all. But the best view of Puerto Lempira is looking out to sea….

Nov 2–We drove out, mostly west of Rus Rus, to a remote cattle ranch and I witnessed Carlos baptize an old man and his wife in the running water of a clear jungle stream.

Nov 3–We were going to hike back to Mabitah early this morning but it rained hard all night and the trail would have been a well nigh impassible nightmare of mud. And pausing for a few hours the rain has come down hard again. Last day, one hopes anyway, here in Rus Rus. Mañana we fly to La Ceiba, take a bus to San Pedro Sula and spend the night in comfort before flying home Monday. I look forward to a place where some insect isn’t chewing on me at any given moment and to being home with my wife but not to trading the sun and heat for winter in Ohio…

• It has rained nearly all day, at times less and at times much harder. Pretty much packed. Files copied to different drives, passport check, wallet, flight etc. But it is a long way from Rus Rus to Columbus.

• Shutting down the laptop. Leaving early in the a.m. for La Ceiba and then San Pedro Sula… This is Station Rus Rus signing off.

Nov 4–Sometime in the night the rain stopped. I awoke before dawn and showered, zipped up my bags and lay in the hammock watching the sunrise over La Miskitia for the last time. The flight in the Cessna 206 was beautiful and uneventful as a flight should be. We arrived in La Ceiba and the ridges of Pico Bonito were deep blue and wreathed in clouds. We found a taxi van and negotiated a price all the way to our hotel in San Pedro Sula. We checked in, turned on the football game and I went and bought an ice cream.

Nov 5—It was a good night, sitting by the pool until late, telling tales, relishing our escape from the jungle by light plane and relishing as well the tension between longing to return to home and the sadness of departing the heat and light and adventure.

• I had a Wendy’s hamburger before going through security. I have eaten at the Wendy’s at the San Pedro Sula airport more often than at any single Wendy’s in the United States.

• Home safe…

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