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The Road to Palacios, Honduras (cont'd)

by Don C. Litton

Walking Palacios

Palacios was about what I expected, a small village lining a lagoon, but the airstrip (pictured) was bigger and in better shape than I had expected. We had heard that the reason that no commercial flight has gone in there in over a year was due to a quarrel between the airlines and the local authorities over who would maintain the strip. Other than grass tPalacios Honduras Airstriphat needed mowing, I didn't see any major problems with the strip. It is still useable, and apparently IS used occasionally by light planes. A Twin Otter, a Cessna 206 or 210, Caravan or an Islander could land there easily. My guess is that the strip is 5000 feet.

As I walked through town I sensed no danger. I was with my wife's family (Hondurans from Tela) and a gentleman from Ceiba who knew Palacios. It had been 4 or 5 years since he had been back. We both noted the many new and quite nice wood and cinder block houses going up in Palacios. The largest of the 4 hotels had a fresh paint job; its radio could be heard transmitting clearly. One property had 4 or 5 big beautiful horses, not the usual stunted or emaciated ones.

Every boat had a new Yamaha outboard. Some had two. In a town with no roads into it, 3 or 4 kids spent the evening racing their new motorcycles up and down the airstrip. All this while the Garifuna village across the lagoon is still dirt-poor. If tourists have not flown into Palacios in over a year, how is it the village seems to be doing so well? "Los Negocios" we began to joke among ourselves. I had heard that Palacios had become a main transfer point for northbound drug traffic. Though I have no more than circumstantial evidence, I find that plausible. I doubt tourism will ever compete with that kind of cash flow. Thus, why bother with a commercial airstrip? Trucks can make it. Boats can make it. (Try to ignore the sound of someone practicing with his AK-47 across the lagoon there. At least I hope he was only practicing.)

Though I would return to Palacios, I would be sure not to appear nosey, not take too many pictures in town, and be sure to stay fluent in Spanish, or travel with someone who is a local. All along the way everyone we met was friendly and helpful, but it is a bit of the "Wild West" or in this case the wild east. It was my sense, and experience, that once everyone knows why you are there and that you are not a threat, their natural hospitality will pour out, making you feel more than welcome.

Reflecting Back

I went to Palacios to look at property and houses that the Fundacion Bayan is selling there. They face the airstrip and are adjacent to the clinic founded by the foundation. My hope was that it could make a good eco-lodge since in the past Palacios was considered the gateway to the Rio Platano Reserve. With no flights now, I don't suppose they'll be able to claim that anymore. Flights now go into Belen, Brus Lagoon and, of course, Puerto Lempira. Next time I will look into the Belen connections. It is possible that may be the new gateway to the Reserve and up the Rio Platano, but I am not sure.  For now, I decided Palacios is not yet a good place for an eco-lodge,  at least for me. Someone else might disagree.

The lagoon area is very interesting. It is easy to see howler Howler Monkeymonkeys (pictured), caymans, sloths and many uncommon birds very close to Palacios. You can hear the Howlers from town and when the fruit ripens, they will come in close to houses to collect it. A European development agency, I believe Swiss, helped dredge out a canal from Laguna Bacalar to Laguna Ibans, the next big one down the coast. It is kind of a mess, but I suppose the vegetation will cover over the sides of the canal in a couple of years.

Once out into Laguna Ibans you can see the plains and mountains that lead back south into the Rio Platano Reserve and you get a small taste of the vast, largely unknown, rugged jungle topography. I didn't make it there. I could only see it hazy, blue and shrouded by clouds in the distance. It is inviting. Next time I will make sure to bring tall, rugged rubber boots; strong enough to fend off a bite from the yellow-beard snake. I never saw one but everyone it seems has a story about them. The bite will ruin your day.

I was warned about the sand-flies (no-see-ums.) Sure enough I never saw them, and they even bit me through my socks. (Yeah, I'd recommend socks in Palacios for the sand flies.) But I didn't suffer the agony some have described. Ammonia (for bites and stings) and cortisone cream can help. Broad-spectrum repellent is a must. Sunscreen and long pants and long sleeve shirts can prevent a lot of problems too. Bring a broad-rimmed hat! This is one thing Honduras could learn from Mexico. BIG HATS! They are hard to find down there, other than cowboy hats. A big straw hat sure is good for a gringo head down there.

They claim at the clinic in Palacios that there is no malaria in the Mosquitia, but there is Dengue fever. Also, bring lots of water, a filter/pump and clorox or iodine tablets too, just to make sure. I have only been to Honduras twice but got "la turista" both times. For me it was uncomfortable and draining, but not debilitating. Funny how the hot, sweet coffee in the morning settles the stomach. The second time I got it it wasn't so bad, so maybe next time I won't get it at all.

For now, I decided Palacios is not yet a good place for an eco-lodge, at least for me. Someone else might disagree.  Many readers will wonder, is it possible to start a trip up the Rio Platano from Palacios. I would guess yes, it still is, but it would be better to let an eco-tour business put the trip together for you. Though I was not there to research that specifically, I would guess most trips are starting now with a flight to Brus Laguna which is about as far from the Rio Platano as Palacios is.

Don is a 48 year-old sixth-grade math and science teacher living in L.A. In a former life, he was a river guide on the Snake, Salmon and Colorado. Don's wife is from Honduras. When not traveling, Don entertains a vague dream of retiring somewhere tropical, owning an eco-lodge. The journey continues.

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Road to Palacios (pt 1)
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