Trip Report
Rio Platano Honduras
Saturday July 19, 2014 12:09pm
We had a topo map from a Honduran Government office in Tegucigalpa. It was a good map but still had white squares scattered about saying “topography not determined”.
Green Kingfisher, Platano
Green Kingfisher, Platano
Credit: Q- Ball

After 180 miles of rafting, hiking and mules we reached the ocean. We descended the Rio Platano from the headwaters to the Atlantic Ocean.

This area is considered the largest intact lowland rainforest left in Central America.

I grew up visiting family in Honduras. I had heard about the Platano/ Nothern Moskitia region since I was young. On a whim I took my wife to visit Copan Ruinas, a beautiful friendly town that asks you to stay. I added this expedition before her arrival.

The usual Honduran arrival begins in San Pedro Sula. While waiting for the bus, water started filling the airport terminal. In broken Spanish I tried to tell the Hedman Alas employee the situation. He said, (translated) “no worries”. I sat back down while putting my luggage on nearby chairs as the water rose. Then all hell broke loose when employees noticed it. They plugged the leak!

From San Pedro Sula, I took a bus to the formal calm coastal city of La Ceiba. As a child I have memories of a small concrete block building and waiting hours for a plane. You could bribe them to get where you wanted. As a friend says, “I have never met a Honduran you couldn’t bribe”.

The bribes are from the drug guys these days. At least you don’t have to worry about the banditos!

I never realized going to a Pollo Express (counterpart to KFC) in La Ceiba would have me patted down by local security with big guns.

Aside from not being able to sleep for a few nights (because of gunfire) I was ready for the Rio Platano!!!

Jorge met me at the door and asked if I needed anything. He then said he had to run to the Congrehal river to pick up folks.

As soon as Jorge left a Canadian couple came by asking about rates to stay there. I said, “I am just a customer and don’t know how to call Jorge”. They decided to check the establishment. A screech came out of a room and they were not far behind it.
They were yelling, “there is something in the toilet”. I started asking questions “was it a bug? Or snake?” A Pech Indian emerged from a dark room next to us and went in while smiling. He walked out with a chunk of Tapir he had salted and was drying in a vacant bathroom. His name is Humberto, Pech Indian, and master of the upper Platano River.

I met in La Ceiba with my brother and friend a few days later. Aside from having coffee with my uncle I felt La Ceiba has changed a lot. (always good to have family in these parts).

With our contact/Guide, Mino, we drove 14 hours from La Ceiba to a village called Bonanza in Colon Province. We spent hours looking for rubber boots in Juticalpa and Catacamas. We found them at a country store just outside of Catacamas, where Mino’s former Biology teacher was working!

Through dirt roads with no signs we drove for hours. The roads got rough, and the Hondurans got tougher. We ended up at the end of the road in the headwaters of the Rio Patuca, a one-day hike to the Rio Platano’s headwaters. As we roared through Bonanza I asked Mino, “do you ever see gringos come through here?” He laughed and said, “Alone? No, it is too dangerous”.

A wonderful family cleared out a room in their house for us to sleep. They fixed us dinner, while we negotiated for mules to help transport gear the following morning. At this point I was arranging my sleeping spot and asked Mino where the “sleeping sheets” were. He looked perplexed, and asked, “you didn’t bring sleeping sheets”? I replied, “You said you had them, I brought the tents”.

Situated at around 2,200 meters it was a bit chilly (Honduran standards), and I was glad for the various fleece clothing I brought. We ended up buying a few sheets from the family. In the morning we would descend to the hot and humid lowlands.

Sunrise came quick, and gear was assembled. We ended up hiring 4 mules and their drivers to haul gear. When confident everything was going to be loaded we said thanks and goodbye to our host family.

I quickly realized why Mino had insisted on finding rubber boots for all. The path, more of what in Tennessee we call a “man-way” was a bit muddy. Rain was coming down in sheets but Mino was still pointing out birds and plants. We passed through recent slash and burn by locals and some by the narcos. Switchbacks are unknown around here, just up and down with the trail a running soup of mud and water. We made good time and by 11:00 am we were on the divide between the Rio Platano and the Rio Patuca. All downhill from here!

We caught up with the mules and drivers near a small tributary an hour later. Mino was somewhere behind us helping escort a member of the crew that signed on the morning we left La Ceiba. This virgin forest was spectacular. We had lunch while I played in the creek picking up snails and catching crabs, waiting for Mino and hoping we had gone the correct way.

A few hours past, and the rain set in good. Remnants of an old lean-to were nearby so we decided to put some leaves over the top and try to not drip with water. I was joking with Ted and Zeke, “I bet these leaves are toxic”, as we stacked them on. “I wonder why no one has cut these. Mino’s going to get on us”.
Poisonous something leaf
Poisonous something leaf
Credit: Q- Ball

He did. They showed up and he asked loudly, “Did you build this? That plant’s sap will make permanent birthmarks on you”. He checked our makeshift shelter gave a “Hmmm” then sat down with us (under it).

We followed this tributary to an old clearing with an open mahogany shelter built 50 years ago. We were greeted by six Great Green Macaws and a couple Scarlet hanging out squawking just past the shelter. We were at the Rio Platano! Here two creeks flow together and become the Platano proper. Thanks to the rain, we decided we could inflate the rafts and start here in the morning. As well as have a dry place for the night.

The river had dropped during the night but we decided to start floating and quit walking. It was a bit bony in stretches and machetes came in very handy throughout the day to clear trees blocking the channel. Gathering water from numerous tributaries it quickly turned into a river by days end. Nothing over class II.
Tropical Downpour
Tropical Downpour
Credit: Q- Ball


As we floated, Mino would point out birds. This here, a that there. Mino is a Moskitia Indian and knows almost all the flora and fauna. Though his English is great, it became confusing at times when discussing various species and more scientific stuff. It became a game of telephone starting with the language Pech (between Humberto and Mino), to Moskitia, then Spanish, and broken English at the end. We all laughed while trying to turn a Pech Indian words into a direct translation in English.
Ocelot, Ted faust
Ocelot, Ted faust
Credit: Q- Ball

The campsites we made were great, a couple big tarps, pull the raft under one (for lounging) and always a fire. We caught fish for dinner when daylight allowed. If not it was always a bunch of goodness we packed in watertight blue barrels.
Nothing like Honduran Grey poupon!
Nothing like Honduran Grey poupon!
Credit: Q- Ball

Each night we would hunt for herps (my brother Ted’s specialty). We ascended mountain creeks listening for calls and looking for eyeshine. We found glass frogs, other species and many other nocturnal creatures. I finally admitted that my 10 year-old Black Diamond headlamp (first generation LED) has been outpaced by Walmart specials for 15 bucks. I love new BD LED as well!
Credit: Q- Ball

The river was pristine. I would take a picture of a 15 foot dbh tree, with hundreds others around. An untouched place.
Credit: Q- Ball

On day three we entered Subterraneo . The river doesn’t go underground, yet is blocked by a series of sieves/ giant house sized boulders and tough rapids (maybe class 5ish). Definitely runnable, but we were here to look at fauna, the rapids are a bonus.

We portaged 3 sections. The first, we left gear in the boat and lined it down. Humberto made sure we carried the bananas over the rock pile (while our gear was left). The banana backpack was constructed. You don’t want to cross a Pech Indian with lost bananas!
The bananas made the portage!
The bananas made the portage!
Credit: Q- Ball

All the portages went smooth, no fer-de-lance, or other wild critters getting us. When warned of the fer-de-lance, Mino said, “beware of the fer-de lance”. A person among us was confused and said, “fertile ants, what will they do?”
5-7 footer
5-7 footer
Credit: Q- Ball

The river opened up a bit after Subterraneo. I walked many of the sandbars that now appeared. Fresh Jauguar and Tapir tracks on most, but no mussels! Mino kept saying this is the last rapid each time we put the life vests on. We soon coined the phrase; “last rapid until the next I think”.
Upper Platano, Honduras
Upper Platano, Honduras
Credit: Q- Ball

As we approached the village of Las Marias, I noticed a lean-to on a small island. I asked Mino, “Poacher?”. He said, “No. Humberto’s hunting camp”. Then Mino shouted to Humberto, “did you shoot the Tapir?” I started laughing about the incident in Jorge’s bathroom full of dried tapir.
Humberto, My Pech Indian Guide
Humberto, My Pech Indian Guide
Credit: Q- Ball

We hired a boat at Las Marias for the coast. 50 foot Mahogany dugout with a 40 hp Yamaha. We reached the sea. It was then a 4x4 12 hour drive along the beach to get to a road, and back to La Ceiba.
we found people!
we found people!
Credit: Q- Ball

Sorry to say no rock found.

  Trip Report Views: 914
Q- Ball
About the Author
Q- Ball is a mountain climber from where the wind always blows.

Comments
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eKat

Trad climber
  Jul 19, 2014 - 12:21pm PT
Absolutely fantastic. . .

WOW.

TFPU!
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Jul 19, 2014 - 12:44pm PT
Whoa. Adventure. Beautiful snakes.

Great pic here

overwatch

climber
  Jul 19, 2014 - 12:59pm PT
Nice write up. So many cool places to see.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Jul 19, 2014 - 01:17pm PT
Awesome! Luv me some Bear Gryls or, even better, some jaguar groals!
I'd have asked for me money back if I hadn't seen a Fer-de-lance! ;-)
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 19, 2014 - 02:40pm PT
Reilly- I am always happy to not run into a fer-de-lance. I hate jumping when I step on them.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Jul 19, 2014 - 02:47pm PT
Bet you didn't know there is a Fer-de-lance that lives as far south as
the Fitzroy area? They only get about 30" long, are quite shy, and
are mainly found on sandy north-facing river banks. You would be hard-pressed
to step on one there. So, how high does one jump when he steps on one?
And you must be a fast jumper to avoid getting bit, como no?
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 19, 2014 - 03:58pm PT
Yes sir, I can jump very high. I have always figured my high school long/high jump would be bested by a Bothrops asper. Not on purpose and not yet! How about the Rio Platatno!!!!!?
-
Not trying to shout snake stories, just real stories of not seeing anything. As a Herpetologist I am happy to answer questions.

I am aware of Bothrop species in Patagonia. No harm meant.
The Larry

climber
Moab, UT
  Jul 19, 2014 - 03:20pm PT
Super kewl!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 19, 2014 - 05:41pm PT
A great adventure, thanks!!!!
H

Mountain climber
there and back again
  Jul 19, 2014 - 06:11pm PT
Hugh, great trip report; sounded like fun. Sorry I missed it. I'll get back to you about the next one. Happy trails.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Jul 19, 2014 - 10:14pm PT
hey there say, Q-ball... oh my... you did the trip report up ...wow...
say, glad to see it all went well...

the photos are very very special...
and the trip very well done, and spoke of, here...
thanks for sharing, very nice...
Randisi

climber
  Jul 19, 2014 - 10:25pm PT
Well, damn.

Sure looks like a horrible time was had by all.

heh.
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jul 19, 2014 - 11:13pm PT
Wonderful old school style off the grid, in the weeds exploratory expedition. Seems like a rich trip and many memories made. Thanks for the great write up.

These kinds of adventures are the stuff of guys like Shackleton and Shipton where getting lost was all part of the plan. Good test gentlemen. Good test.
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 20, 2014 - 12:11pm PT
Micronut- thanks for the upbeat thoughts. Please do not compare me to Shackleton, etc... That would be an insult on them! I am flattered by the comparison.
Pech indians poling up river
Pech indians poling up river
Credit: Q- Ball
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Jul 20, 2014 - 03:10pm PT
Fascinating, really enjoyed this TR. Thanks.
lars
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 21, 2014 - 11:20am PT
Thought I would add a picture guide Mino, and Humberto (with his family). We dropped Humberto off at his house in Las Marias. His children came running down after he whistled our approach from upriver.

Humberto, wife and two of his three children
Humberto, wife and two of his three children
Credit: Q- Ball

The man, Mino!  With a great fish dinner in the works!
The man, Mino! With a great fish dinner in the works!
Credit: Q- Ball
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jul 21, 2014 - 11:31am PT
That's awesome, thanks for sharing! My favorite memory from La Ceiba was the ribs at Applebees, they sure were good after so many fried platanos and fish!

That's a big fer de lance! I met a guy in Costa Rica who had one arm because his friend chopped the other one off when he was bit by a fer de lance out in the bush, tough dudes.

Thanks for the TR, looks like an awesome adventure and some good herping!
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 21, 2014 - 11:45am PT
Limpingcrab- just to clarify, that picture is of a Boa Constrictor . But that would have been a world record fer-de lance! Also my brother isn't quite dumb enough to grab a fer-de-lance by hand, I hope!

-Q-ball
skcreidc

Social climber
SD, CA
  Jul 21, 2014 - 11:58am PT
Very nice report. Very unique! Thanks for posting this up.

On one trip to surf Central America, as we drove towards the coast I was reading up on Fer-de-lance facts. One "fact" that stuck with me was for some reason, that snake would "regurgitate" its venom and that it's smell would be like dog sh#t. I read this out loud and the boys were laughing there ass off... but later we parked to check out a particularly nice reef break and one of the guys stopped dead in his tracks saying "I smell dogsh#t. ..... I'm getting back in the car." Supposed to be really abundant in the lowlands and canefields.
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 21, 2014 - 12:32pm PT
skcreidc-Not sure on that one. Most snakes can release musk that is quite foul smelling. I don't have a good nose but smell snakes from time to time.

Nothing wrong with being aware of your surroundings! Happy surfing!
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jul 21, 2014 - 03:02pm PT
I thought the Central American species got like 8 feet or something? But ya, that obviously looks like a boa and now I feel dumb :) I skimmed and thought it was a headless one since that's how the locals I met would leave them.

Again, really cool trip. More pictures!
thebravecowboy

climber
hold on tight boys
  Jul 21, 2014 - 09:18pm PT
This. River. Looks. Rad.

So I am approaching an offer to climbguide downthereabouts. How might one best avoid that troublesome old statistic of "civil homicide"?
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 22, 2014 - 09:06am PT
thebravecowboy- I am not familiar with the term "civil homicide". The danger is very regional in Honduras. Where are you looking to go? Not much climbing opportunities in the Rio Platano watershed. A few caves though and small rocks.

Upper Platano Cave
Upper Platano Cave
Credit: Q- Ball
Roxy

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jul 22, 2014 - 10:38am PT

sweet adventure, thanks for sharing it!

the snakes, ocelot and kingfisher pics were beautiful!
labrat

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
  Jul 22, 2014 - 12:33pm PT
Thanks for sharing!
Dingus McGee

Social climber
Where Safety trumps Leaving No Trace
  Jul 22, 2014 - 05:40pm PT
QBall,

interesting country.

any pics of RSin? Wasn't he once going?

Rain this year in Laramie Range and only a couple fires.

Dennis
Braunini

Big Wall climber
cupertino
  Jul 22, 2014 - 05:46pm PT
Cool trip.

No bot fly stories?
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 23, 2014 - 05:01pm PT
Dingus M.- No Rsin on the trip. I decided he would be a threat to the guides and wildlife, and fellow participants (worded nicely I believe)!
Thanks for the Laramie Range fire report. I guess a big one flared up last year on the North Laramie River, between turtleback and true ranches (Fletcher Park area). I hope you didn't loose anything there or on all the other fires! Glad you got snow this winter. Thanks again!
-Q-ball
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 23, 2014 - 05:09pm PT
Super neat trip! I've got to do something similar.
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
where the wind always blows
Author's Reply  Jul 25, 2014 - 09:24pm PT
A few more photos, just to show what the territory and trip looked like. Nothing of quality just snapshots.
The road through Bonanza, a muddy mess!
The road through Bonanza, a muddy mess!
Credit: Q- Ball

Clearing a small strainer
Clearing a small strainer
Credit: Q- Ball

Drying off and making coffee at camp
Drying off and making coffee at camp
Credit: Q- Ball

scouting a rapid
scouting a rapid
Credit: Q- Ball

We just had to dodge the log sticking out where all the water is pushing.

Just remembered I had a waterproof camera, that is where the unknown pics went.

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