Keel Haulers Invade Honduras

By John Kobak

After nine months of planning the invasion was ready. There would be armies of Keel Hauler's coming by land, sea and air. They didn’t have a chance, we’d be attacking their rivers before they knew what hit them.

Nineteen club members were involved and we would arrive in waves over a one week period. Our land attack , led by Chuck Singer in his trusty, rusty van had left with Scott Carrol and Amy Risen. He would head down through the Yucatan Peninsula, through Belize and Guatemala and enter on the Western Border.

Peggy and I planned to take a ferry boat from Brownsville Texas and land on the North West Shore. The rest of the people would hit Roatan or San Pedro Sula before the final assault on our destination La Ceiba.

Our first problem occurred just as we were about to motor down to Texas to catch the ferry. They called and informed us that the ferry broke down and they were declaring bankruptcy. We changed plans and flew out of Houston leaving our motor home at Rich Priem’s house, he join the invasion later in the week.

Syd Reames, from Georgia, was in Paris trying to work out a peace plan. No luck, he flew home and than immediately left for Honduras.

Peggy and I arrived in Roatan which would be our off shore base. We arranged with a local scuba shop for the diving portion of the invasion. They agreed, that such a large group would only need to pay $18/dive including equipment. A real deal.

I left Peggy to guard our Roatan barracks, since Dave Kraus(Indiana) and Melissa Heng were arriving later in the day from their invasion of Western Honduras where they left Copan lying in ruins. I joined the air and land invasion of La Ceiba. Syd, Chuck, Amy, Scott, John Fralick, Kathy Chapman, Ron and Cathy Tomallo all arrived within a one hour period and we took over the Hotel Partenon Beach where we negotiated for our $24 hotel rooms. The hotel had a good pool and would be our staging area for the river invasion.

Dick Eustis from Rios Honduras supplied our kayaks, lunch and transportation. He was great, he made sure everything was to our liking and assigned us Zach & Susan to get us into the rivers where we could sneak up on the indigenous people.

The first day was a scouting trip. Our two couples arranged for a hike to the Pico Bonito Cloud Forest above La Ceiba to observe the area and troop movements. The five of us took on the Lower Cangrejal. Scott & Amy tried her mothers new Shredder raft, while Syd, Chuck and I enjoyed the 78o water temperature in the kayaks which Chuck trucked down from Cleveland. Chuck used a taxi to shuttle back to the put-in. Taxi’s are really inexpensive in La Ceiba, they charge about .40/person to ride anywhere in the city.

Honduras is still an undiscovered country. It has economical accommodations and inexpensive food. The biggest expense is the air fare.

El Nino, caused the weather to be much drier than normal. The river was a couple of feet lower than last year. It was easier, but the likelihood of pinning on the shallow rocks was high. In fact I did this on a regular basis. However I was able to paddle beneath the overhanging rock in Lava that I hit my head on twice last year.

We returned to the city to find that Marc Pender and Elliott Drysdale had landed. . Pegge Drysdale stayed in Roatan to reinforce the barracks that Peggy was guarding since Dave and Melissa would come to La Ceiba on Tuesday along with the last of our troops; Rich Priem, Thury O’Connor, Bob Boyce(Our English spy) and Judi Cleary, who planned to Shred what was left of Honduras.

Monday was our first official river assault. Nine paddlers and two guides headed back down the Lower Cangrejal. We found that unlike yesterday the rivers were void of swimming natives.

On Tuesday the same group did the Top and Upper Cangrejal. The drops are steeper and more technical, however everybody really enjoyed this section of the river which ran through a small canyon.

On Wednesday we would continue from where we left off to run the Middle Cangrejal and catch up with the new group of paddlers on the lower. Dave & Melissa paddled tandem canoe and Judi and Amy paddled the Shredder. It was a long day for the group that paddled all the way down. In fact it took us until 2pm to meet the lower group for a lunch break. Elliott was so tired he opted to stop here. But the 16 paddlers and two guides completed the run.

Now the attack plans even became more complicated. Twelve of us plus the two guides and a raft rower took off for Eastern Honduras. A 6 hour bus ride that jarred our very souls. We were told the Rio Sico would be a great, if fact we were told :

"The terrain is spectacular - steep hillsides shrouded by the lush rain forest. We'll occasionally see campesino homesteads and small villages, allowing us a glimpse into a way of life virtually unchanged for centuries. The people we meet are friendly and curious, and we're always a big hit with the kids of the villages as we give them rides on our boats.

Rivers are a major means of transportation in this region; because the stretch we're running has so much whitewater local boats can't move up and down it. Thus it hasn't been settled, and we see lots of wildlife. In the soft light of early and late day, birdlife is especially noticeable - a raucous clamor from the brightly colored shapes swooping over the river. Parrots and toucans are common. During the day, as we drift silently around a corner, we hear the scurries and splashes of surprised animals. Frequently they're so startled they freeze for a moment, allowing us a great view. Possible sightings include giant iguanas, caiman, tapirs, cutamundies, and otters."

My description would be that it was a nice river in a area heavily farmed and pastured with much pollution. Campsites were on sandbars which had previously been occupied by large herds of cattle.

The rapids were straight forward and fun. However, there was commercial traffic. Honduras Mahogany trees were cut into large timbers, rafted together in 5’ x 10’ log rafts and paddled down the river Jeff Snyder style "Standing with a long stick used as a paddle". When they complete their trip they walk back up on paths paralleling the river. I believe I was told they make about $3/day. Pretty cheap raft guide wages.

John, Kathy, and Ron took another unusual excursion before they left for Roatan. The tour took them to a lagoon where they paddled canoes to view wildlife in the area. The unusual portion of the trip was the narrow gage train ride where the barefoot natives pushed the flat car down the tracks to reach the lagoon. Cathy stayed back guarding the hotel and her upset stomach.

One interesting cultural aspect of our Rio Sico trip was that we brought with us writing supplies, crayons & coloring books to present to a teacher who works in the three native villages along the river. She was very appreciative and we also met some of her young students.

The Sico had more water than the Cangrejal and provided a good challenge for Dave & Melissa in the open canoe. Bob Boyce’s newly repaired shoulders held up well.

The twelve of us headed back to La Ceiba. Syd and Marc left for home following the three couples from Roatan. The highlight of their Roatan trip was snorkeling with the Dolphins at Anthony’s Key Resort.

The major thrust of the invasion had been a success. Mainland Honduras was ours and hopefully Keel Haulers will keep invading each year to ensure that it remains our private winter paddling paradise.

The remaining ten flew to Roatan to start the scuba diving portion of the trip. Thury would spend the week getting his open water certification, while Rich would do his first salt water dives since his dive certification in a Texas river.

The diving in Roatan is world class. A great fringe reef making for short boat rides to outstanding coral and fish habitat. Bob did the more diving than anyone, we also enjoyed their beat up sit-on-top kayaks supplied with our ocean front accommodations at Half Moon Bay cabins ($50/day ). The weather was just perfect, seas were smooth and we enjoyed our $8 Lobster dinners at Light House Point restaurant.

I sure everyone enjoyed their Winter break and were sorry to head back North. Peg & I headed back to Texas to pick up our RV which we had left at Rich’s house and then traveled West. We had planned to do more canoeing but the only trip we made was on the Guadeloupe river. It is a class I-II river that is extremely popular in the Summer. In the Winter you have it to yourself. Peg liked the wildlife and easy rapids.

We had hoped to also paddle the Rio Grande in Big Bend NP. We found the river was very low and extremely polluted. Our inquiry indicated that a run through Santa Elena Canyon would take two days. We skipped it but enjoyed hiking & biking in the park.

As usual when we came back to Cleveland we followed in the worse snow storm of the season. I guess we won’t get to miss Winter after all.