The other best part of our vacation: a three-day jungle hike in Pico Bonito national park.
A gleaming, shiny ferry took us from the island of Roatan to La Ceiba on mainland Honduras. A short 25-minute taxi ride later, we were far outside town in the Cangrejal river valley. The destination was an “eco jungle lodge” by the name of Omega Tours, run by a pair of friendly Germans in a beautiful little slice of jungle. This place had the best food of the vacation: four types of German beers (even served in the right glasses), schnitzel, fleidelsuppe, plantains/honey/sour cream breakfasts, and delicious juices. Honduran food is fine but fairly simple, and the best stuff—fruit and vegetables—are usually off-limits due to issues with the local water. This place knows about our delicate digestive systems and cleaned everything carefully, offering us great juices: tamarind, “jamaica juice” (hibiscus), marañon (fruit of the cashew), guava and more. Omega gets our unqualified recommendation: we loved it here, and spent an extra day just hanging around and eating nice food.
Omega offered a range of prearranged tours, and we liked the sound of a three-day hike into the jungle. Two local guides were part of the deal, and they shouldered the big packs and cooked us meals up at the top. While we’re not really used to that level of luxury while camping, it was pretty pleasant, and the guides were great for pointing out wildlife.
And there was some pretty good wildlife. Mammals are shy and scarce, and we saw none. There are many dangerous snakes in the area, and we saw at least two dodgy ones, including a brilliant red-and-black striped critter. The first day of the hike took us up to a small camping ledge on top of a huge waterfall, and the second then took us on a dayhike higher up, circling a ridge around a bowl. From that vantage, we were at most at eye level with a lot of the jungle canopy, and could spot some interesting birds: the toucanet, waving his huge beak around in a show dance. Another bird was described to us as the “koa” and was probably a trogon: like its more famous relative the quetzal, with shiny iridescent feathers. The final charmer was a 15cm chameleon we spotted on a tree trunk. The guy was well camouflaged, and took his role-playing of a “stick on a trunk” seriously: our guide tried to pry him off, and the little reptile just went rigid and played “dead stick.”
Our campsite had its share of interesting features too. We were perched on top of a huge waterfall, but a little upstream was a smaller 15 metre fall which made for a great shower, with pressure massage. The rock pools around here revealed more good critters, like the plate-sized crab who menaced briefly and fist-sized spiders. Nightfall brought more intrigues: at dusk a local type of firefly came out, with brightly glowing abdomens. When the fireflies rested on a branch the abdomen went off, but two eerie green dots remained skittering along the branch: their eyes, as we later discovered. Very pretty, but also a sad scene: we watched one firefly misfire and hit the stream (possibly going for its reflection?) and then get swept over the large 100 metre waterfall. Funny and tragic, all at once.
I’d also bought a new camera just before the trip, the Canon S95. By this stage of the trip, I had enough of grasp of the manual controls to start shooting genuinely gorgeous pictures: striking vistas in dozens of shades of green, misty overcast jungle, orchids and textured tree bark all succumbed to the camera. J gets credit for a fair number of these too, especially the various plant shots.
We had a very wet first day, as the heavens opened and dumped a tropical downpour on us during the ascent. My hiking boots filled up, and it felt like I was standing in buckets full of water. Thankfully, our guides had a great reviving meal of fire-roasted chicken together in short order, washed down with the classic combination of rum and guava Tang. The German influence still came through with tasty liver påté included on the lunch menu; this exotic treat was quite popular with our guides. The rest of the trip was pretty dry, but hard work. The hills were steep, requiring us to haul ourselves up using the tree trunks. Complicating matters, we’d been warned about a particular type of tree: one with near-invisible 5cm needle-thin thorns, capable of going straight through your hand. Not the type you wanted to grab hard and haul up on. No accidents, thankfully.
Looking back and describing the experience, it’s hard to capture how fantastic it felt. The immersion in steamy jungle, the lush, bursting life, the sweaty exercise and the refreshing waterfalls and pools all combined for a truly great three days.
After the three day hike, we attempted to wash our sweat-soaked clothes and took a day off at Omega. The local toads apparently loved the recent downpour and were croaking at full volume, then mating and leaving the swimming pool full of toad eggs. We took a stroll down the road to the town of Las Mangas, and a short canyon hike out there. On the way, we had to admire the amazingly engineered nests of the oropendola bird: a super-deep 1.5m nest, with dozens all hanging from a single tree. They also have a really electronic and liquid sounding call, which I described at the time as Stephen Hawking singing underwater.
Locals in the area seemed unusually invested in the jungle. I think Omega Tours employs enough people (growing food, cooking, guiding, cleaning, making furniture) that the tourism benefits of an intact jungle are clear to people. It’s probably one of the best-kept parks I’ve visited: virtually no litter, comparable to B.C. parks. Something like 75% of the Pico Bonito area is completely off-limit to hikers, a real wildlife preserve.