Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cayos Cochinos

Christmas came early for our family this year!  Pam and I have long wanted our children to have the experience of snorkeling in tropical waters, so it was voted in family council that our Christmas gift to each other would be a vacation to the Bay Islands off the Eastern Coast of Honduras. 

            After research and discussion with those familiar with the islands, we set our sights on Cayos Cochinos - a lesser known, and largely undeveloped archipelago of 16 islands one hour’s boat ride off the coast.  Thanks to Elsee, a Honduran friend who made all the arrangements, we ended up in a little outboard skiff headed for the islands on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 8 (Elsee came with us as our guide and translator).  The islands range in size from coconut-palm studded sandbars rising out of the azure sea, to a mountainous main island of approximately 400 acres. 

            Our destination was a little fishing village on the main island.  The village operates a guest house to benefit the community.  We were a little taken aback to find that the guest house was right in the middle of the village!  But, in spite of our initial dismay, we were quickly “adopted” into the village culture and found the residents very unobtrusive and eager to make our stay enjoyable.  The accommodations were Spartan, but clean and adequate.  The view from the front porch was fabulous: coconut palms, sand, coral reef, clear blue sea, islands, and a mountainous coastline silhouetted in the distance.

            With 4 boys in the family, there is no such thing as a “relaxing” vacation!  As soon as our bags were in the room, they were eager to be off and exploring.  Due to the lay of the beach and coral reef, the area in front of the guest house was not good for swimming.  After a little inquiring (with our very inadequate Spanish skills), a young boy was commissioned to guide us to a swimming beach.  He led us on a 10 or 15 minute hike skirting the shore, then through the jungle, and finally over a hill until we looked down on a dream beach - secluded and empty.  This became our own “private beach” during our 5 day stay and we never had to share it with another soul!


 Friday morning, sitting on our porch watching the sun rise over the tranquil scenery, was exhilarating!  After worship and breakfast, our first business was to do some snorkeling.  Unfortunately the rental equipment available was lacking in comfort, quality, and quantity, so we had to take turns and deal with leaky masks, and missing snorkels, etc.  In spite of these obstacles, the children got their first introduction to the amazing world of tropical reefs.  The snorkeling and scuba diving around these islands is supposed to be some of the best in the Caribbean!  We all saw enough to want more.

            By Friday afternoon, the sky was looking like we were in for some bad weather.  Upon consulting one of the local fishermen (who was from Roatan, so had an English background), he read the clouds and declared that this was a cold front coming in that could last from 24 to 48 hours or longer…!  He said we could expect heavy rain and strong winds - not exactly the forecast you want to hear for a beach vacation!  Oh well….we determined it was not going to dampen our spirits or our enjoyment of this island paradise.

            Sabbath dawned quiet but cloudy.  In the morning, we enjoyed some good family fellowship and worship together and then our boys were past ready to get active!  We decided to attempt a circumnavigation of the island.  We consulted some of the local fishermen who assured us that there was a trail around the whole island (the fact that they were drunk should have raised some red flags).  By this time the wind was picking up and it was spitting rain.  Things were stacking up for an unforgettable adventure!

            The hike started off uneventful enough - walking through tall grass as we followed the Eastern shore of the island.  The path was clear and the rain was soft.  But, as we scrambled up some rocks to get our first glimpse of the North shore, the wind hit us with gale force.  The sea was boiling and the waves were crashing on the rocks with a throaty roar.  About the same time, we lost the last remnants of the trail.  We were left with two possible paths:  one was to work our way around the bottom of the cliffs - where the rocks met the raging sea.  The other was to trailblaze over the steep, muddy hillsides through dense vegetation.  We spent the next hour and a half alternating between the two paths.  We would scramble over and around the jagged rocks, drenched with sea spray - often having to time our moves with the waves; moving quickly when the wave receded - trying to avoid the next pounding on the rocks.  When the rocks ahead seemed impassable, we would take to the hills - clawing our way up and over the many obstacles.

            By this time, we were soaked to the skin and beginning to shiver from the howling wind.  The daylight was waning, and we knew we were still a long way from home.  We were unwilling to retrace our steps - thinking the way ahead couldn’t be as bad as what we had already been through, but yet it seemed like we were never going to get around this rocky, North coast!   Finally, as we were slipping and sliding down one of those treacherous hillsides, we spied the metal roofs of a building.  Civilization at last!  We were met by barking dogs and a man who seemed incredulous that anyone would be out in this kind of weather (he thought we had been shipwrecked).  Fortunately, Elsee was with us, and she explained our plight to the man.  He said we were an hour and a half walk (by the shortest route) back to the village, and we only had half an hour until sundown!  Our pitiful condition must have tugged on their heartstrings though, because this family had a young man who volunteered to guide us back to the village.  What an angel he was to us!  We started off, sliding and tripping through the gathering darkness.  If you’ve never hiked through the jungle on a dark, stormy night, you don’t know what you’ve missed!  An hour and a half later we stumbled into the village, chilled and dripping, but with another grand adventure under our belts.

            Sunday was still rainy and cold.  Fortunately we had lots of good reading material to preoccupy active minds!  By that afternoon, however, the boys were suffering from cabin fever, so I took them back to “our beach” to cool them off.  Before we arrived at the island, I had forewarned them that there would probably be no waves - so they should not count on any fun in the surf.  But that was before the storm…!  Now the surf was up, and we were able to enjoy a few hours of bodysurfing.  Every storm cloud does have it’s silver lining!

            Monday dawned cloudy, but calm.  This would be the day to explore the jungle - looking for the Boa Rosada (see Zack’s blog for more on this).  We had a grand time boa hunting!  We also found an abandoned lighthouse tower on the highest point of the island.  Everyone braved the 100 foot ladder climb up the inside of the lighthouse, and when we came out on top, the view was breathtaking - a 365 degree view of this idyllic, island-studded sea!  It was also a little breathtaking to feel the wind (which had picked up again) moving the tower as we held on tight! 

There was more bodysurfing that afternoon (this time with the ladies included).  Some of us also continued our exploration of the island - finding two more secluded beaches inviting us to stop and stay a spell.

            Money was running out, so we knew Tuesday would be our last day on the island.  Many earnest prayers had gone up for a sunny day to enjoy a little more snorkeling.  When we awoke Tuesday morning, we saw the sun’s rays beginning to penetrate the cloud cover.  By the time we ate breakfast and packed our bags, the sun was definitely gaining the upper hand, Praise God!  We hurried with our snorkeling gear down the shore to a promising reef we had spied from the lighthouse.  The water was not it’s usual clarity, due to the rough weather we’d experienced, but we were still able to enjoy some very nice coral and brightly colored tropical fish.  We saw just enough to whet our appetite for more - with better gear and calmer seas!

            All too soon it was time to load our gear back in the boat for our return trip.  We left Cayos Cochinos with our minds (and camera memory cards) full of unforgettable scenes from this dream vacation.  Someday we would love to go back - and take you with us!  How about it?


  1. Greetings from the Eagans! Book us on your next trip! Miss you all, but are thrilled at how the Lord is blessing you. Christmas hugs!

  2. Sounds fantastic. What are the dates? :) We are missing you all but hope you have a wonderful Honduran Christmas! :)

  3. Loved the post, Uncle John!
    Beautiful pictures.
    I've so enjoyed keeping abreast of your family adventures through the blog!
    How's the spanish coming for you all? ;) I would love to get my tongue rolling down there. :)

  4. Whats Zach's blog address? Does any one else have a blog address?
    Hope to see you all very soon! :)