Okay, how is it that I washed my hair this afternoon and yet still have sand in it?!
Anyway, back to Feb.6th and waking up in Tela with no set plan of where to go. Part of my indecision was based on the fact that I’d sent a query email to the Jungle River Lodge the morning before, but no one had replied. I wanted to see if I could fit in a jungle zip line tour with them and then still manage to get the desired six nights on a Bay Island at the end of my trip. My options were to bus it to La Ceiba, then just head straight to the ferry terminal and go to an island, or to take a taxi to Jungle River’s guesthouse in La Ceiba (called Banana Republic) and try to sort out the zip line from there. I’d developed a sudden urge to go sailing through the tree tops at high speed and it would be my last chance before I went home, so I decided to try the latter option.
Ask me how annoyed I was when I arrived at the guesthouse in La Ceiba at 1 p.m. and had Spicer, the staffer on duty, tell me that the jeep transport to the jungle lodge (and subsequent zip line tour) had just pulled away as I was getting out of the cab? Pretty dang annoyed, especially since I had emailed more than 24 hours prior with those very questions. I was also interested in going the next morning, but the free night’s stay that is thrown in with the tour only applied to the jungle lodge, not the guesthouse, so I’d lose that bonus. Plus, I’d be staying a night in a city as opposed to in the jungle, which was half of the whole point of doing the tour.
Spicer’s idea was to stand on the street and try to flag down a cab that could then race along and catch up with the jeep. After about two minutes of that, I said, “You know, that’s just not gonna happen.” He said that he could arrange a taxi hire to take me there for 250 lempiras ($13 USD), so I said, “Super, let’s do it.” He also radioed to the lodge and so that they’d wait to start the tour until I got there. The taxi came within five minutes. I was still pissed off, but I was on my way.
The Jungle River Lodge is only about 30 minutes outside of La Ceiba, but it felt like it was a world away. Built along the banks of the Rio Cangrejal, it backs up against the hills of the Pico Bonito National Park. It is a fantastically beautiful setting. From the restaurant, you look down on a natural rock swimming pool (its sides augmented by cement in just a couple of places), and beyond that, the rushing river.
Our group of five got kitted out with harnesses (very binding, I might add), helmets and a glove, and off we went. The first stop was Canopy Tour School, a short zip line so that the guide could demonstrate the technique – legs out in front, one hand on the harness, gloved hand lightly resting overhead on the zip line for braking – and we could all do a test run. Our guide Denis and his assistant were very diligent in their instruction, and then, off we went to start on the first of the eight lines.
I loved it from the first launch. Up high in the air, flying across the river, I squealed like a little piggy. Denis told us that you can get going up to 50 miles per hour on the fastest lines. Perfect, I thought.
We did half of the runs, and then stopped for a tour through the jungle. Denis found a termite hive and gave it a tap. Out crawled hundreds of termites, up and onto his hand, as well. “They are full of carotene, and taste like carrots!” he said. Offering them around for a taste, I declined. “Squish it first so that it’s dead when you put it in your mouth,” one woman advised. Nyet thanks. I almost tried them, but just wasn’t in an experimental mood.
Walking a little further, we came upon a family home. The owners were involved in aquaculture; in this instance, they had tilapia ponds. While we walked around their property, Denis’ assistant peeled and chopped up some sugar cane for us to suck on. We ventured upon a hill of gigantic leaf-cutter ants, and lots of native plants that Denis explained did things such as lower blood pressure and ward off mosquitos. There are so many natural remedies out in the world that I don’t even know about!
After that lovely little break in the adrenaline rush, we got back on the lines. The last ride was 660-feet long. It started in the jungle and then swept back out over the Rio Cangrejal. I was relaxed enough on the line that I could really take it all in as I zipped along – the dense and verdant vegetation, the subtle tints of color reflected in the rocks, the feeling of soaring high above other mere mortals. This time my soundtrack turned into the kind of whoops you shout to get a concert encore – affirmation that the euphoria coursing through my body felt really, really good.
The rest of the afternoon was just about chilling out at the lodge. I sat and chatted with two other women “of my age category” (they were 55) and a 22-year old named Liz with whom I was sharing a dorm room. When I decided to turn in at 9 pm and do some reading before bed, Liz suggested that we latch the door from outside rather than inside as she didn’t want to have to wake me when she came to bed.
Little did I know that the owners weren’t staying at the lodge that night. When a group of six or seven twenty-somethings, some of them staff, gathered in the restaurant to drink rum, I figured that the party would wind itself down at a reasonable hour. Most establishments have a lights-out policy, after all. Silly, trusting, naïve me.
The music started to get louder at 10 p.m. I’d fallen asleep just 10 or 15 minutes earlier, but a booming bass beat put an end to that. At 11 p.m., I was expectant. At midnight, I was annoyed. At one a.m., the music was pounding so loud that I wanted to claw my eyeballs out. Best of all, I was locked in the dorm room, with just mosquito screens for windows.
I sat up waiting for someone to appear outside the restaurant, and at first sighting, yelled “Hey, turn the music down, please!” The volume decreased for about an hour but was still loud enough to keep me up. At 2 a.m., I got up and wrote a blog post. At 3:30 a.m., I let out a loud string of expletives that were heard by no one. Again, sitting up, I waited so that I could catch someone’s attention. When I heard someone in the toilet, I called out, “Hey, could you get Liz for me, please?” “Huh?” was the reply. “Hey, you in the toilet, get Liz for me. I’m locked in the dorm room.” A minute later, I heard a woman’s voice call “Hello?”
“Liz?” I asked. “No, who’s Liz?” This not-Liz person asked me if Liz had long brown hair. “How many other women are down there besides you?” I asked. “One,” was her reply. The condescension oozed when I said, “Well then, it’s probably her!”
Once let out of my dorm prison, I was one pissed off lodge guest. I stormed into the restaurant and told the gang of drunks to shut the music off and break up the party. It was 4 a.m. Liz passed out in about 2.7 minutes, not even hearing the series of knocks that started on our dorm room door at 4:15. It took me a couple of minutes to register that the person was knocking on our door. When I finally got up and threw it open, I was facing one of the drunken Honduran partygoers. “Do you work here?” I asked. He said yes. “Are you sleeping here tonight?” Again, I got a yes.
He lasted about twenty minutes in our dorm room before I kicked him out. He was pacing, going in and out of the bathroom and the outside, and at one point, even sitting on the bed facing me, creeping me out. Was he going to sexually assault me, steal my iPhone, or just puke on me? Those were all thoughts circling through my head. I eventually escorted him to the door and turned him loose. I was finally able to fall asleep to the sound of the river, as I had originally planned, at 5 a.m.
The next morning I wasted no time in relaying my story to Oscar, the lodge owner. After I finished, he was largely silent. “That’s not good,” he said. No apology, though. He summoned one of the staff workers that had been on site the night before, and then resumed his silence. I drifted over to a table and sat down, as our conversation was apparently over. We didn’t speak again until it was time to pay the bill. When he presented me with the full amount, I asked that he deduct a portion. “What, you don’t want to pay?” he asked. I told him that I felt that a 250 lempira ($13 USD) deduction would be fair, which was about 20% of my bill. “I’m going to charge the guys this amount,” he said, referring to his staffers. I told him to go for it. Ten minutes later, as I walked out the door, he offered a quick “Sorry for the trouble you had last night.”
Needless to say, I won’t be recommending the Jungle River Lodge to other travelers. While the incident itself was probably isolated, I wasn’t at all impressed with the owner’s handling of it. I’ve since heard from others that Omega Tours are the company to go with in those parts, although I don’t think that Omega offers the zip line. I’d like to make sure to say that I thought our guides were really great. Denis showed us a lot of interesting stuff, and they got us through the treetops and back to home base safely.