All night long, a light rain taps on my tent, the damp, cooler-than-usual Honduran evening prompting me to pull my fleece blanket up around my chin. I wake intermittently as the hours roll on, listening to strange nocturnal sounds: the buzz and drone of insects, the metallic clicking of frogs, the mysterious bell-like whistles and hoots of exotic forest birds. Weaving in and out of my dreams is the steady rushing and gushing serenade of the river, its rocky shoreline 100 feet or so from camp.
And the river – this river – is why we are here. In the past two days, our party of six whitewater canoeists from the United States and three Hondurans in a pair of oar rafts has traveled some 25 miles down the jungle-lined Rio Sico, a Class III pool-drop wilderness corridor that sees maybe one group of river-runners per year.
Our leader is the laid-back, contemplative, ponytailed Bob Foote, 54, one of the best-known whitewater open boaters and instructors in the world. This is his eighth year of leading canoe trips to Honduras, a still largely “undiscovered” Latin American country whose plentiful rivers, warm water, world-class scuba diving, and spirited people draw him back every January between teaching paddling clinics. Karen Knight, Bob’s partner in life as well as in paddling instruction, is also a member of our small group. Soft-spoken and petite, she is a former National Freestyle Canoe Champion and a Registered Maine Guide. From Maryland are Dave Bussey, a Class IV open boater, and Colleen Davies, a kayaker who, encouraged by Dave, recently crossed over to the ever-shrinking but dynamic world of whitewater canoeing. Then there is Chris Stec, 26, the youngster among us. A Whitewater Canoe Instructor Trainer for the ACA, Chris earns his living as director of the paddling program at an outdoor camp in North Carolina.
To plan your own trip with Rios Honduras, check their Web site, www.rioshonduras.com.
To plan a trip with Bob Foote, check his Web site, www.bobfoote.com.
For a complete list of outfitters, check the Canoe & Kayak magazine Adventure Paddling Directory, here.
Yes, it certainly is nice to have a strong, flexible group surrounding me when I wake at first light, only to find that the river has flooded our camp while I was dreaming, and some of our boats have drifted away . . . nowhere in sight.
Our trip started seven days ago in La Ceiba, third-largest city in Honduras, smack in the middle of the north coast. While we waited for a van that would cart us inland, Bob informed us that the huge Pico Bonito summit (8,000 feet), part of Honduras’ dramatic coastal mountain range, rises majestically above this hustling and bustling tropical town. We would have to take our guide’s word on that: a storm front had swept in from the north, bringing with it low gray clouds and a steady rain. The streets of La Ceiba were flooded; there wasn’t a mountaintop to be seen.
However, we didn’t have to drive far to see our first whitewater. Some of the best river-running in Central America is found within a 45-minute drive of La Ceiba. With its origins high in the Honduran mountainous spine, the Rio Cangrejal offers Class II-V rapids in the shadow of Pico Bonito. Driving up a rain-slick gravel road to our put-in, we followed the swollen river.
Junior, our husky 26-year-old Honduran outfitter, shook his head at the sight of the turbid Cangrejal. “It’s been a very rainy January-one of the wettest,” he said, speaking the lilting English of the Caribbean. “This time a’ year, the river should be crystal-clear and lots lower. But steady rains, like what we’re havin’ now, can up the water level from 600 to 6,000 cfs overnight. Hey, mon, we don’t need dat!”
Riding shotgun beside Junior in the front seat, Bob was calm and in good spirits, seemingly unfazed by the rising river. Of course, with more than 30 open-canoe runs of the Grand Canyon under his belt, not to mention first canoe descents from California to Chile, he is accustomed to big drops and big chaotic water. Not me. “Think we might have to cancel today’s run?” I hinted, trying to disguise my mounting anxiety.
“Nope, not at all,” he replied. “We’ll run the short, Class III lower section, and depending how we feel afterwards, we can decide about doing one of the more difficult, upper sections.”