La Cangrejal – Honduras

I awake at 6:15 the next morning, eager to get on my way for the day. I start moving around, packing my things. The cab will be here at 7 to take us to Cangrejal.

The road is long and bumpy, although scenic and beau

 

tiful. I am a bit groggy but in the clearings, when you can see the valleys

 

 open up into a wide river splashing amid rock beds in the sunshine, I am blown away.

Rio Cangrejal
Rio Cangrejal The Omega Tours headquarters is up a steep-ish hill, past a charming bed and breakfast. We instantly see dogs running around, a rack of helmets. Hello! A German looking fellow says to me cheerfully as he runs down barefoot. You’re pretty early! He says. He takes us to Room 2 and shows us around the property, although we quite regretfully tell him that no, unfortunately, we will not be able to stay the night tonight. Oh, no worries, he says, and we move our luggage to the main office room.Cyn and I have a quick typical breakfast of a burrito with eggs, beans, cheese and an avocado. I give my avocado to her. We mill around until about 8:30 when another couple arrives and we are ready to do our rafting tour adventure. We have three guides -- Cam, Dena and Al, who take us on a 10-minute hike to the bottom of the river where the two boys meet us, carrying huge rafts over their heads.We’re going to do a hiking session first, they tell us, and then we’ll get into the rafts.debrief session

Around the river we march, occasionally splashing in the cold, crystal clear water. (When you ask they locals if it’s clean, they say that it’s clear). They lead us around rocks, showing us the plant life (there is a little plant that curls up when you flick it or splash water onto it–defense mechanism) and pointing out rapids we will raft past.

amazing little plant that curls up with water contact amazing little plant that curls up with water contact

This river was apparently discovered by some Germans who had wanted to find a place to train kayakers in the winter. When they found this river, they were ecstatic. It is the best river for rafting in Central America, apparently.

They take us up, climbing onto boulders and we jump into lagoons. There is a river hike where we do all this, they say, and I instantly want to do it.

boulder jump
boulder jump

We eventually float our ways downstream again to where the rafts are waiting for us, buoyed up by our life vests, we freestyle against currents, and rest on our bums, feet out, floating with the water flow. It is incredibly relaxing. Here and there, we’ll see locals out, washing clothes and swimming. “Hola!” we yell over.

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Getting into the raft for the first time is rather tricky. You sit (on the right side), with your right leg bent over a circular “bench”, butt pulled back to the side of the raft, left leg at a perpendicular angle tucked underneath the bench. The only ‘raft’ I’d ever been in is that circular one you sit in at Six Flags on the White Water rafting ride… or the inflatable kind you buy at walmart, which resembles more of a canoe than an actual raft, less the fact that it’s inflatable.

Al gets into our raft and teaches us a thing or two about forward paddling, backpaddling, hold on and a hold on, lean in.

We pull out about 30 feet and they stop again to practice some safety skills, like man overboard. I jump out of the raft and Al dunks me and pulls me up into the boat. He turns to Cynthia — your turn! She jumps out of the boat and Al turns to me to pull her up. I grab her by the vest and tried to pull her up. I rammed her face right into the raft.

Ahhh! She says. Lisa!

Try again, Al tells me, and I try to pull her up, ramming her face into the raft. Al gives up on me and pulls Cynthia up himself.

The scene is unreal and we wind down rapids, hitting a few low grades, maneuvering through rocks along the way. It’s not nearly as fast as I think we’re going to cruise (certainly not like Disney World), but it’s fun nonetheless.

coming down a grade 3 rapid
coming down a grade 3 rapid

Left, Left! Al yells and I go in for a hard left and the raft tilts, tilts, tilts and flips. Shit! I scream and fall into the water under the raft. Al is laughing. He did it on purpose.

We climb up a hill and return to camp for a heaping lunch of pasta, with a side of pesto and sauce. We chat with a few new friends and by 1:15, Cynthia and I are in the truck, heading up to a higher level of the river where we’ll begin our descent.

The rapids vary in length and drops. We hit some tough ones, a grade 5 at best, and watch the water cascade down a grade 6 that we cannot raft.

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They point out the water swirling under the rock, sucking down into a hole and spitting back out on the other side. Al tells me that once, a boat guided by Jungle River Tours took a group that wasn’t experienced for the conditions, and a boy had drowned with the group. Omega was called in to do the body recovery. The water just sucks you down, they say, and when it spits you back up, it knocks you against the rocks. You have 38 seconds of air.

Nearly wholly down the mountain, we are all of a sudden asked to stop. We look further down river and our safety boat, with Cam and Alfredo, is stuck in a rapid. Upon closer look, the water from the rapid is pouring over the raft and its force weighs down the raft. Cam and Alfredo pull on ropes tied to the raft, but the thing doesn’t budge.

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Al docks our raft and jumps out to help. For a full hour, they are assembling a wide range of pulleys, wrapping rope around rocks, connecting them to one another, pulling, one, two, then all three together through the river. None of it works.

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Somehow, through a mixture of pulling from different vantage points on two different rocks, the three boys manage to budge the raft, just an inch or two. For just an inch. An then, inch by inch, they manage to pull the thing out. It takes one hour.

Cyn and I are terrified that we have to hit the same rapid, but Al assures us that we’ll hit the rapid from the left side. There are two close calls when I think the water is going to flow over the raft and we’ll get stuck as well, but by dark, we are pulling back into shore and we head up the hill for the cabin. Cam offers to buy us a drink.

When we get back to Omega Tours, we realize that it’s already nearly 7. Shit, I think to myself, Jason got into San Pedro Sula hours ago. I’m SURE he’s going to be at La Quinta by now and he probably hates me. I run over to the computer, desperate to send him an email about how we’ll be there soon.

Omega calls a taxi. Half an hour I say, wanting to take a shower first. No worries, she says, it takes a taxi half an hour to get up here anyway.

Before we leave, Dee asks us if we’ve consumed the local medicinal drink yet– a mixture of rum infused with local herbs, roots, medicinal plants really. No, I said, although my Dutchman had told me about the garifuna drink (“they’ll tell you that there’s no marijuana in it, he had said, oh but there is..)

giffitty
giffitty

No, I tell Dee. Will you take a shot of it with me?

She laughs and says yes, pulling out a bottle of the potent shit stuffed into an old glass bottle. There are sticks (I assume roots) sticking out of it. She unscrews the top and Cyn and I take a whiff. I cringe. It smells like my grandmother’s Chinese medicine.

Dee and I bravely take shots of the stuff, and the taste is so awful, I instantly reach for Cynthia’s rum and coke to buffer the pain.

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Cam then swings by the bar, telling Dee, whatever we want, we’ve got a drink on him. For the rafting incident, he says, but no top shelf! He adds with a wink as he heads over to the communal dinner table for his supper with the others.

I had just ordered a half Flor de Cana when they tell us our cab has arrived.

Oh crap, has it been half an hour already?” I say to Cyn. Crap, let’s get the bill.

No, it’s okay, the staff tells us, if we want to hang out, the taxi will wait. No problem.

We pay our bill, about 24$ US, and head to our cab, asking him to bring us to La Quinta. Half way down the mountain, he goes, you know at night, it costs more! He says.

Dammit, we’re already halfway down this damn thing. I forgot that in Honduras, you should always negotiate a price before you go in, although hell, we were coming down from a mountain. Not a huge bargaining opportunity considering we had wait half an hour for THIS cab to even get up there. Let’s be serious. We were going to pay whatever he was asking, period.

For $20, he takes us on the half hour trek down to La Quinta Real in the pitch darkness. The only glimmers of color down the long, winding road are the beams of our taxi’s headlights.

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