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CASKE 2000 Expedition Journals
HONDURAS: June 99 - April 2000


Honduras Introduction

Days in Honduras are so hot that we are constantly wet with sweat, even sitting next to a fan after a cold shower. We have no choice but to start paddling before dawn and try to reach our destination before 9:00 A.M. We drink lots of water and splash ourselves regularly to try and keep cool, but it isn’t enough to fight off dehydration during the heat of the day. To make progress under these extreme conditions (and avoid a repeat of our mistakes in similar conditions in Belize and Guatemala) we knew we had to adapt our schedule to the moods of the sun and sea.

We are back in action after a few weeks of break. I used my time to study Spanish in Guatemala while Luke took his scuba diving certification on Utila Island. We returned to Omoa where we had stored our equipment after paddling into Honduras from Livingston Guatemala. The frame of my kayak had broken just before our arrival in Honduras, so I spent the first day fixing the tubes with duct tape, a task Luke had to do with his own kayak a mere few weeks earlier in Livingston (View photos). We repacked everything and sealed all the gear in our dry bags. We waxed all the zippers, oiled all the metal parts and silicon lubed all the joints of our waterproof Pelican cases and underwater camera equipment. With fresh-baked bread added to our bags of dried food we were ready to paddle south to La Ceiba.

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June 26, Sambo Creek, Honduras "Baila Conmigo" Garifuna Festival Dancing - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

July 1999, Cut Throats Who Can Cook: A Few Weeks on Utila Bay Island - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

August 21, Omoa to La Ceiba: "Bug Spray, Advil and a Rain Fly, The Essentials" – Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

Insect Asylum

Link to Luke's Journal

September 3, La Ceiba: "Portal Town" – Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

September 8, Raista, Mosquito Coast: "Details, The Nitty Gritty of the Rio Platano Trip"

Link to Luke's Journal

September 12, Las Marias: "Expectations Gone Awry"" – Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

View our Cultural Section on Pech people

September 24, Weiknatara Farm, Las Marias: "Down from Big Man" - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

Return to Las Marias -  9/24-25/99

After a week with Bernardo’s family, we returned to Las Marias for a couple of days during which I met with Ubense. He taught me how to make a thatched roof with the suita leaves we had collected the week before. Collective the leaves from the forest was labor intensive, and setting up the leaves between two long strips of bamboo was time consuming. Unprompted Ubense said to me, "We are poor people and cannot afford the corrugated roofing. We still make our roofs from jungle leaves." After having spent enough time under both types of roofs, I reassured him that the modern types were not any better. The only advantage they offered was their quick installation. The roof built out of suita leaves is equally as waterproof and it isn’t noisy during downpours. The biggest advantage is its insulating properties that keep the space below cool during the heat of mid-day. The galvanized sheets pass on the heat and transform houses into saunas. I left Ubense’s family after taking numerous photos of the children and returned to meet Luke and Arden, an eco-tourism consultant working for the US Federal Land Management Agency who is helping the people in the Biosphere develop successful programs. The reserve has enormous potential for eco-tourism and if well planned it could become a model for conservation and small-scale, environmentally sensitive economic development.

The Pech culture is in danger of disappearing. A visit to the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve will give you a glimpse of a common problem worldwide. The future of the Pech people of Las Marias depends on the Honduran government and international support, both non-existent at the moment. There we enjoyed an incredible experience. Our only hope is that other travelers will be as touched as we were by the generosity and warmth of the people and by the smiles of the current generation of children the hope for the next generation of Pech. (View photos)

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September 27, Las Marias to Raista: "45, 44, 43, Only 42 More Miles to Go." - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

The next day we folded our kayaks and stored them in Eddie’s house and spent more time in Elma’s kitchen. Her fame is well-deserved. She is the best cook we have met so far in La Moskitia.

From Raista, we returned to Palacios by "colectivo" canoe (a local water taxi), and then flew to La Ceiba to renew our visas and update the website. (View the section on Las Marias and La Moskitia).

September 28, La Ceiba: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

October 22, Raista town, Mosquito Coast: "Winding Down" - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

October 24, Raista, Mosquito Coast: "Tiempo Feo" - Foul weather! - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

October 25, Raista Town, Mosquito Coast: "Stewed Godzilla" - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

Malaria, Insights on the Traveler's Plague
  by Jean-Philippe 3/10/2000
Read the full story in the coming book.)

Account of the malaria attacks and some insights on the disease

Winter Break – December 99 – January 2000

With the unabated rain no available transportation to anywhere interesting, there wasn’t much documentary work for us to do. Instead we focused on organizing the material we had already gathered during our weeks in the jungle. The weather was also a sign that it was high time to leave Central America and spend the New Year holidays with relatives and friends while catching up with work.

We took a two-month break from Honduras. I went to the highlands of Guatemala to document some of the most interesting and colorful Mayan communities in all of Central America (read my accounts from Guatemala). Luke returned to the States. We have returned soft, fat and unprepared for one of the most challenging paddling stretches of the entire expedition. We embark next week on a two-month leg along the full Mosquito coast, from La Ceiba to Bluefields, Nicaragua and down into Costa Rica.

The Biggest Challenge — Documenting the CASKE 2000 Expedition from Central America
(Winter Break - December 99)
by Jean-Philippe Soule
(story featured on Native Planet)

March 2000 - Guatemala: A Mixture of Ethnic Groups, Latin Music and Colors

04/05/00 Limon, Honduras “Riding El Norte” - Luke

Link to Luke's Journal

Arriving in Palacios - 4/08/2000

Today almost turned into a bad one. We paddled part of the night hoping to be guided by the distant glow of a lighthouse. We quickly figured out that the lighthouse was out of order. When we actually paddled by the dead lighthouse at 6 AM, I saw a large fin and tail passing by in the water not far ahead of me. I first thought it was a small whale or a dolphin, and then I realized that the tail was vertical and not horizontal and that the fin wasn’t the main dorsal fin, but just a caudal fin. That meant that it was a large shark. With a dark gray color, a shark of this size was most certainly a big bull or tiger. 6 AM is feeding time and these sharks aren’t known for being very smart. They prey on large marine mammals such as dolphins and sea lions and usually attack them from below. All they see is the shadows and shapes and they have been known to mistake other long narrow floating objects for their prey. I thought it was wise to wait for Luke and paddle close to each other for a few minutes.

Later in the morning we took a small break on a beach. After launching again through the small surf, I realized that my GPS drybag was gone. It was tied to two bungees and strapped under 6 others. I just couldn’t figure out how I had lost it. We thought that maybe it would float and we returned to the beach to look for it. We realized then how dependent we had become on this small instrument. Without it, our night navigation would be very complex. We would have no way to evaluate how much we drift and how much we need to correct our compass course to compensate. Also during the day we rely on it to gauge our efforts as it tells us our progress and our remaining distance. This seems secondary but it is a great boost to our moral. Also with the large-scale map we use, coastal navigation would be most imprecise. Losing the GPS was a catastrophe I berated myself at that moment for not having brought a spare.

As we paddled back toward the beach where we had rested. Luke saw a man go in the water, pick up something and leave. As we combed the beach and water surface, the man returned and asked Luke if we had lost something. After describing the GPS, the man took Luke to it. It was soaked but after drying it inside and out, it was still working. We were relieved.

We arrived late morning in the town of Palacios at the northern edge of La Moskitia. We checked in a guesthouse and celebrated with a good meal and a few sodas. It felt good to have reached this place. Ten days ago while leaving from La Ceiba we were excited to be back on the water, but were a bit apprehensive about our conditioning. All things considered, we were very satisfied with our accomplishment.

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A Hell of a Day to Escape from Hell

We covered 150 nautical miles (about 300 km) in 10 days and most against a strong headwind. For 10 days we pushed hard and our bodies felt heavy from the irregular schedule we imposed on ourselves to adapt to the weather and sea conditions. Lack of sleep and intense physical workouts don’t work well without a proper diet. We were tired and our muscles screamed for a break. Regular dosage of Ibuprofen were no longer effective. We had planned to stop for a rest day in Brus but were so shocked by the filth of the town that we decided to move on.

At 4:30 in the morning, we carried our kayaks back to the canal and loaded them, trying not to touch the decomposing garbage and foul mud on the shore. It was appalling and the smell was atrocious. I paddled out with my legs set on deck until I could rinse them in cleaner water before folding them back inside.

Brus was our worst layover since paddling off from Baja, Mexico a year and half ago. What surprised me most though, was that the pollution created an incredible bloom of bio-fluorescent plankton. Each paddle stroke was illuminated for a few seconds and the wake from our bows and sterns produced a constant stream of fluorescent green. We could also follow the fish for they left trails of light. It was like being inside a computer game with special effects.

The Laguna de Brus is large and to exit we had two choices. One was to paddle back to the only entrance, 10 miles in the opposite direction, the other one was to paddle 4.5 miles to the nearest shore and portage over the sandbar to the open sea. We choose the second option.

When we arrived at the sandbar shortly after sunrise, the sight that met our eyes did not excite us. The ocean seemed out of control. Brown, silt colored waves were breaking all over. We did not even think about trying to launch on this mad ocean. My experience of a few days ago (see "The New Rush: Kayak Back Surfing at Night (4/06/2000)") had taught us better.

After portaging all the equipment, Luke took a nap while I read a book (News of a Kidnapping from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the perfect book to read just before crossing the border to Nicaragua). Later in the morning the ocean seemed a little calmer. In spite of the strong headwind we would have to fight, we decided to try to make some distance.

I paddled out first while Luke filmed my launch. It was not a technical launch, just a matter of powering through a series of. big rollers. Most people I have kayaked with describe me as a powerful paddler, but when I reached the last couple of sets, there was nothing I could do to get through. I charged full speed and barely made it over. Then I had to power paddle into the next one, and the next one and the next one. Rollers were coming without halt. After over three minutes of intense effort, I had been hit and half-submerged by numerous waves and had not progressed an inch. I was exhausted and entirely out of breath. I had nothing left in me, but the rollers didn’t stop. No matter how hard I tried to keep paddling, I was losing ground. I thought I would not make it. They were one-story high walls of water coming at me and pounding me. I started to worry that if I exhausted myself any more, I might not even be able to safely surf back to the beach, but I hated the idea of quitting. I noticed that on the right the break didn’t look as hard to pass so I put all I had left into angling my kayak into the waves and making my way toward that narrow window. When I finally made it I let out a whoop and rested outside the surf zone and watched Luke. I could only see him every few seconds when the largest swell lifted me up. It had taken me 8 minutes to come out, so I knew Luke wouldn’t meet me soon. I saw him battling the first roller, then nothing. He disappeared and even when large swells lifted me up, I couldn’t see anything. It was as if he had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. All I could hear were the waves breaking. I worried. Then I caught a glimpse of his kayak. It was floating empty. Words instantly came to my mind, “Shit, he capsized!” I looked for him for a few seconds but still didn’t see any signs of him. When I started to paddle toward the beach to assist him, he reappeared. He was pulling his kayak back to shore. Reassured, I remained behind the surf zone and waited. I knew he would be exhausted and would probably need a few minutes to empty his kayak from water and rest. After 10 minutes, I could see that Luke was all right, but he wasn’t doing anything. His kayak was set on the beach while he walked back and forth. It was very frustrating not knowing what was happening. Sometimes he seemed to be leaning over his kayak like if he was fixing something, or getting ready to try again, then he would walk back toward the highest beach doing nothing. He never gave me a sign to return, so I just continued to wait.

After half an hour I was boiling with rage. Luke was still on the beach while I was trying to keep my kayak from capsizing and from drifting in the current. I didn’t want to return to the beach unless he called me. It was too much effort coming out the first time. And I began to wonder, “Is he going to give up without even a second try? Did he break something? If so, why doesn’t he signal me? What the hell is he doing?”

Finally after half an hour, he tried to launch again. I followed his progression wave by wave as he disappeared and reappeared every few seconds. He aimed for the best place, an opening where the waves weren’t breaking as hard. Once out, he explained to me that he had capsized on his first attempt, and then could not get off the beach. He missed on four consecutive launches, which I could not see. All I could see was when he had returned to the beach to empty his kayak. Then he said he never signaled me because being short sighted he couldn’t see me and had no idea where I was. He didn’t even think that I was watching.

When we started to paddle, the wind was already blowing hard and right in our face. Our progress was slow and painful, as we had to fight the swell, the wind and the current. After an hour and a half it was Luke’s turn to be furious. “Why the hell are we doing this? We’re not moving!” he said. I had had it as well. I was drained. For a few days already we had been pushing our physical limits and were near exhaustion. After two hours and less than four miles we gave up and returned to the beach. We would have many more of these kinds of conditions during the day, and the waves were too large to launch at night. The Mosquito Coast was exceeding our expectations as one of the most difficult legs of the journey. “Persevere, persevere,” I told myself that night as I fought off depression and tried to sleep.

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04/11/00 Out of Brus Laguna “Man Overboard” - Luke

Read Luke's account of the same day!

Link to Luke's Journal

Lost Equipment and Brief Review of our favorite gear

On our way to Patuca we restarted paddling at night. The waves were never as big, but ironically it is in these conditions that we have lost the most equipment. On one launch I lost my Nalgene water bottle that I had forgotten on deck. The next day, a wave took Luke’s bilge pump away from under the bungee ropes. The next day I lost my primary pair of sunglasses. Luke also lost his large sponge (to remove the water from his kayak) so now we must rely entirely on my bilge pump and hope it survives until our arrival in Costa Rica. Finally, I lost my small machete that I had acquired in Brazil. It was my favorite and it packed well. The problem isn’t really the price of these items, it is the necessity we have for them and the impossibility of replacing them until we take a trip back to the States. The next few weeks will be a struggle. All this reminded me of a question that a Japanese magazine asked us last year, “What is your most important equipment?” It is hard to say. We need the kayaks and paddles to go anywhere. We need dry bags to keep things dry, camping equipment to make each beach we land on feel more like home, cooking utensils to eat, navigation equipment to orient ourselves, medicines when we get sick, camera and computer equipment to document everything, etc. Instead of listing all the equipment we really need, I will mention the equipment we use daily that has impressed us the most. Use the following recommendations to outfit yourself for an expedition:

  • Pelican waterproof protective cases: The safest and most durable thing we’ve found to protect our camera and computer equipment from the water, salt, sand and shock. We use 6 of these boxes, and what they take up in weight and space, they make up for in the peace of mind we gain knowing that our precious equipment is always safe.

  • Dromedary water bags: The best water containers. They contain 2.5 gallons but pack very well when they are empty. They are easy to transport. After a year and half of abuse, they still look almost like new. They never gave a strange taste to water. Full or half full of air and/or water, they make the most comfortable pillows. A winning product for any camping trip or heavy expedition.

  • MSR Stove: Luke constantly sings its praises, and I understand why. Not only has he used it to prepare amazing dishes (view his cooking page), but also after a year and half of abuse, in spite of the corrosion, it has never failed us.

  • SealPack dry bags: The most convenient, totally waterproof belt bags. We use them to keep our passports and important items at hand. They are always soaked in saltwater on the bottom of our kayaks but unlike most other drybags, they have never leaked.

  • Five-Ten Nemo Shoes: We wouldn’t dream of any other shoes for this trip. They are comfortable and well designed. Not only for water sports, but we actually ran and scrambled in these shoes.

  • REI desert pants (detachable shorts): Light, easy to wash, fast to dry, as good in the fields for bug protection as they are in town for casual dinners. We love these pants and shorts.

  • REI Explorer shorts: I wore out 4 pairs in the last 8 years. I can’t live without a pair of these. They look cool and have tons of great pockets to carry everything. My favorite travel shorts.

  • Thermarest sleeping pads: We use the ultra thin, but just love the way they pack and the comfort they provide for the weight and size. In the last year and half, we must have spent over 300 nights on these. We love them.

  • Snap Dragon spray skirt: We found these neoprene sprayskirts to be a dream. Month after month, they kept us dry and never lost their shape. They hold well on the kayak even when we capsize.

  • Garmin GPS: The GPS is an essential piece of equipment for us. We love the compact Garmin because it is small, light and easy to use and it has all the features we need.

  • Toshiba Libretto computers: Although Toshiba has turned us down for sponsorship, we have to admit that we love the two Librettos we use to produce our website. With all the sun, sand, salt, humidity and sweat we have exposed them too, they still continue to do the job well. They are the smallest, fully-operational palmtops out there. When we need to upgrade, we will certainly upgrade to the newest Libretto. I have produced the full CASKE 2000 website with these.

Note: Some of these products come from our sponsors (Pelican, REI-MSR, Five Ten, Garmin), others don’t (Cascade Designs, Snap Dragon, Toshiba). Sponsorship has not influenced us to produce this list.

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From Patuca to Puerto Lempira - 4/13 - 4/15/2000

Paddling south from Patuca, we went through the poorest villages we had seen on the Honduran coast. People seemed to only have one question in mind: “How much does this cost?” They asked about everything they could see, the kayaks, our compasses, etc. Some even asked us exactly how much money we had and that made us feel very uncomfortable. We tried to hide ourselves on beaches at night, but people often walk miles to tend to their fields of yucca and often found us. We worried about surprise visits at night but usually people were just curious, and in spite of our worries we never were threatened.

On our last day, we paddled to a small village on the Barra. We hired five men to help us carry our equipment across to the laguna side. From there we paddled to Puerto Lempira finishing the first stage of our La Ceiba to Costa Rica section of the journey. We paddled 216 nautical miles (400 km) in 15 days (with one day rest in Trujillo), during which we averaged less than five hours sleep a night. We got up between 1:00 and 3:30AM daily to paddle over 15 miles of heavy seas. The only protein we consumed was in villages, mainly from iguana meat. And all the dried food we subsisted on, mainly carbohydrates, wasn’t enough to replenish our bodies. Our muscles ached and our skin itched and we looked forward to the plane that would take us back from Puerto Lempira to La Ceiba, to spend a week resting and working on our computers.

From a distance, Puerto Lempira looked like a post-card paradise. I wondered why numerous people had described the place as a dump. The closer we got, the worse it became and the more I understood. We checked into the closest hotel to the beach, an old room with a dirty floor and broken screens on the windows. The toilets were filthy and didn’t flush. The showers smelled as bad as the toilets. For all this luxury, we paid more than we had in much nicer places in most other places in Honduras. The reality is that there wasn’t much choice in Puerto Lempira and that for lodging, and food, we were captive consumers.

After moving into our quarters, we went to the immigration office. Not surprisingly, it was closed. We wanted to know the situation at the border and the real story about the dangers of traveling to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. We knocked on the door of the private house of the Immigration officer. A man named Cristobal invited us in. We interrupted him in the middle of a movie and felt bad, especially as we had heard that the immigration in Puerto Lempira was the worst to deal with. Cristobal spent a half an hour telling us all he knew about Nicaragua with a genuine interest and respect for our expedition. He even agreed to write us a letter of recommendation for the immigration officers in Puerto Cabezas. It would later prove to be a great help. He was in fact the nicest and most helpful immigration officer we had ever met.

Our other great fortune was to meet a man named Jacinto Molina. A local Miskito leader and political activist, he was fascinated by our project. He immediately agreed to keep our equipment for us and help us plan the next stage in Nicaragua. Through his job as an indigenous emissary, he has traveled all over the world. He too took great interest in our expedition and showed great concern for our safety and gave us contacts further south in Nicaragua. We now return to La Ceiba with much more assurance that our gear is safe and that our passage through Nicaragua will be a smooth one.

by Jean-Philippe Soule (view profile)

1 km = 0.62 statute miles 
1 statute mile = 1.61 kilometers

1 Nautical Mile = 1.85 km
1km = 0.54 Nautical Miles

1 Nautical Mile = 1.15 miles (statute)
1 mile (statute) = 0.87 N. Miles

From Honduras:

View our selection of Photos from Honduras

View our page featuring Honduras Travel Information


View our Outdoor Cooking from Honduras     View our section on Survival or sharks

View our Travel Story Selection and Culture Stories

CASKE 2000 Expedition Journals by Jean-Philippe Soule and Luke Shullenberger