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Pico Bonito, Honduras

HONDURAS | Monday, 22 December 2014 | Views [459]

Pico Bonito Lodge and National Park, Honduras


My daughter and I flew into Tegucigalpa from the U.S. supposedly for an afternoon and night before catching a plane to La Ceiba, but our plans got a bit derailed with the cancellation of the morning flight.  It all worked out well, though, as the extra day in the capital allowed us the time to go to the cute, albeit very touristy, artisan town of Valle de los Angeles about 40 minutes outside of the city in the cloud forest. Whereas Tegus, the local name for the capital, is a sprawling mass of primarily white concrete and tin up and down the surrounding hills and valleys, the village’s one-story houses are brightly painted and often have beautiful murals gracing their walls.  One large wall section that stretches around a corner of a street is lined with about a dozen individual murals that are made from multi-colored plastic bottle caps.  It is an amazing feat, and a wonderful work of art.  The local school has a mural which depicts creation, mother earth as part of a mountain, man in a leopard skin showing the connection between man and animal, other local species, including toucans and coatlmundi, and the sky.  It is a nice teaching tool as well as a good painting.  The village is known for its handicrafts, and it seems that almost every house in the center is dedicated to selling some, including those that come from outside of Honduras. I recognized a lot of very Mexican looking souvenirs and a few Guatemalan woven purses and bags.  They do have dedicated leather factories, where they make belts, purses, and well-made handbags; lots of pottery shops with typical Honduran designs on the bright glazes; a variety of galleries showcasing local artists; and at least one very good stone sculpture studio, with a friendly artist who speaks English as fluently as he does Spanish. It was pleasant side-trip and is a great excuse to get out of the city. 

The next morning the flight to La Ceiba did take off and land at the given time.  A word of warning to those new to Honduras, the flights in and out of Tegucigalpa are often cancelled as the planes can’t land in cloudy weather given the close-in surrounding mountains; it’s advisable to make your flight plans with lots of flexibility built in.

We are not staying in the town of La Ceiba, but instead at Pico Bonito Lodge, which I found through skyauction.com.  The setting is magnificent. It is on the edge of the National Park and the trail system extends into it.  There are two beautiful swimming holes in the Rio Coloradito off of the main trail not too far from the lodge as well as four good lookout towers for birdwatching.  From one of them one can see out to a couple of the islands in the Caribbean. The loop trail is well marked and takes in an area between the Coloradito in the West and Rio Corinto in the East. The path can take as long as one wants it to. If one does it as a normal hike without stopping to see the wildlife, it takes under two hours, as it isn’t very long, but does have some fairly steep pitches, especially on the downwards section.  The Nombre de Dios mountains shoot up from sea level to 8,000 ft. quite quickly.  The best way to do the trail, though, is to meander, stopping often to look and listen to the sights and sounds of the rainforest.  Within an hour we saw both spider and capuchin monkeys, keel-billed toucans, lots of agoutis, lizards, toads and more birds of various species than I can remember. While the trail only covers a miniscule section of the almost 415 sq. miles of the park, it provides a wonderful sense of a pristine rainforest as the lodge staff keep human predators out and protect the natural cycle of the region’s flora and fauna.

The lodge is known for its birds, and birders from all over the world flock to this part of Honduras.  The staff and the nature guides have become specialized in recognizing bird calls and in spotting them amid the thick brush.  Luckily, for those of us whose eyes are not so trained, they have feeders around the main reception and restaurant areas.  The hummingbird feeders hanging from the rafters by the restaurant terrace attract a number of different species, including Rufous-tailed, Long-tailed, white-necked Jacobins, Violet Sabrewings, Purple Crowned Fairies, Crowned Wood Nymphs, Long-billed Hermits and Striped-throated hummers. They fight and play amongst each other at the feeders in and bushes below.  One little Long-billed Hermit likes to sit in the middle of the bush near our table where he shoots out his tongue – which is even longer than his bill – every so often as if tasting the smells of the leaves. It’s really quite a funny sight.


There are a number of other places in the area to see wildlife, not the least of which is the Cuero y Salado Refugio, which supposedly houses the largest manatee population in Honduras.  We went in search of them, but instead found a howler family, a number of crocodiles, a caiman, and a multitude of birds, from red-ringed loriots to sungrebes to toucans and various species of herons to name just a few. We didn’t see any trogans, but that is probably because we didn’t have the binoculars with us. To get to the refuge one takes a mini train which follows the tracks laid by the Standard Fruit Co. to move their produce from Barro Salado to the village of Porvenir, which was at one time the center of the company prior to it moving further down the coast to La Ceiba. The mini-train goes through pasturelands replete with cows and sheep, before it arrives at the river/mangrove estuary.  From there a boat takes one up the river into three side slots. We saw most of the wildlife in these inlets. The boat trip makes a final stop at the mouth of the river, where we were able to get out and walk along a strip of land that had cormorants and herons on it before we arrived to disturb them.  The sandy beach had lots of small stones and some shells to collect amidst the debris from previous storms.  Unfortunately, much of the debris was man-made.  Plastic in various forms, colors and sizes littered the entire area.


Another excursion we went on was horseback riding through Porvenir and on the beach by it.  The two-hour ride took us through the village, the beach, by and through a river, then through farmland.  It was a delightful morning.  For a snack, we enjoyed a Mayan Gold pineapple, which is very juicy and sweet. Even the horses liked it, and I’ve never known a horse to eat pineapple.


Pineapple fields cover this entire region. The Dole Co, the former Standard Fruit,. remains the largest business and major landowner in the area.  This is monoculture at its height.  They have been harvesting pineapples in the same place for over twenty years. Their produce is sent to No. America and to Europe and most of the population here has someone in their family who works for the company.  One of the main parks in La Ceiba even has a series of plaques extolling the history and generosity of the company, along with some of the old railroad cars that carried both workers and produce.  It is a complicated history, in that clearly the company did not treat its workers well, but at the same time it did provide jobs where there weren’t any before. On the other hand, in order to cultivate the land, they destroyed large tracks of rain and mangrove forests. This company’s history and the environmental damage done should be a lesson, but even now, new sections of land are moving from old cocoa plantations to palm oil.

The history of this region is intricately intertwined with that of the company.  In La Ceiba there is another wall mural with paintings documenting the history of the city, starting about a hundred years ago with the first bank the company opened for this part of the country, early hotels and casinos up to the beginning of the water water rafting industry on the Rio Cangrejal. It’s a wonderful way to publicly share a town’s heritage.


Before coming to Honduras, I was warned that things had changed, and that it is now a very dangerous country; in fact, the murder capital of Central America. I’ve found that the region is well patrolled by both the military and police.  Even in the mini-train to the refuge a soldier with a rather large machine gun accompanied us. Many of the houses in La Ceiba and Porvenir have fences, and sometimes coiled barb-wire around them. I was told this is simply as a precaution, but it does seem to keep people jailed within their houses as much as it keeps criminals out. The local horseback riding guide, Eric, told me that the crimes started when the U.S. kicked out gang members, who when they returned to Honduras took all the bad traits they’d learned in L.A. and elsewhere and transferred them here.  It’s interesting to learn that not just the CIA is detested, but that their crime is also blamed on the U.S. Eric also told me that the Hondurans wanted to shoot down any unidentified plane that illegally entered Honduran airspace along this coast in an attempt to limit drug trafficking, but that the U.S. didn’t want that to happen as the CIA makes money off of the drugs that come through this county.  What reality is, is anyone’s guess, but clearly at least some of the people here believe that their problems were created by the U.S. 


There is much to learn in this part of Honduras.  Pico Bonito has a wealth of wildlife; jaguars and ocelots have been caught on film at night by the trail to one of the swimming holes, and a healthy rainforest to explore.  On the terrace at the lodge we have been surrounded with birdlife and have enjoyed the antics of a couple of agouti racing across the lawn.  We avoided the small coral snake that one of the maintenance guys found this morning not too far from our cabin.  So far, as long as one doesn’t do anything stupid, like walk barefoot through the underbrush, I have also found it to be perfectly safe, and the people exceptionally accommodating and friendly – even with my lousy Spanish.


We will be heading over to Roatan for a day, and it will be interesting to see the differences between island and mainland life.












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