The Story Continues and Now the Work Begins

Corn Island, Nicaragua
March 1978

It was pretty hard to get a truck out to our place

There was so much work to do on our newly acquired property. No-one had ever lived on it so there wasn’t even a road to get to it. Just a sandy track that was mostly used by Mr. Campbell and his horses. It was sure to get most vehicles stuck. We were happy to see that the middle of the island, which was a true swamp, was filled with popta plants. From living with the Misquito Indians in Honduras, I had learned the technique of building a thatched house using only the popta palm tree.

Let the party begin

The plan was to build 3 small houses leaving room for 9 others along with a communal cook-house/rec center. Finding someone to help us was almost impossible. One of our friends said that no one wanted/needed the work, but if we could somehow turn it into a party we might have a better chance of getting help. Sounded reasonable, so we made a plan! We bought a bunch of food and beer, and asked any abled body male if they were interested. To our surprise they all showed up.

That’s me hauling out about 500 popta leaves out of the swamp. We needed 30,000 just to finish one house!
Boy them are some short-short pants.
Now the serious construction work began. We also needed about 200 popta trunks for one house.

In no time at all – really about three months of hard-hard work – we were beginning to see the makings of our first house. The only tools that I had to work with were a machete, a hammer, a drill and my most useful tool a 99 cent kitchen knife.

Looking good!

The islanders thought that we were indeed crazy. They called this type of house a “trash house.” No one, they said all too often, in their right mind would live in something that only their great ancestors would build. Most days, a group of them would come down to Shallow Water, sit on the beach, have a smoke and a drink, and watch us work. Even though on Corn Island this type of construction was only used for building temporary structures, I knew that the popta leaf, if aged and properly laid, was good for about 20 years.

Alligators and Crocodiles, Oh My!

Puerto Limpera, Honduras
December 1977

Back in Mocoron we still had a week to wait for the next government 4-wheel drive truck to take us back to Puerto Lempira. Once there we settled into the only pension (hotel) for a well-deserved rest, when who should arrive — Russel the Alligator Man. I had met Russel at a coffee shop on my last trip to the capital Tegucigalpa. He had spun a tail of having a farm in the Moskitia that raised and sold crocodile skins exclusively to the French. Honduras, in those days, was filled with many weirdos so, though I enjoyed his tales, I never really believed them. Still, he did show up and offered to let us come out to his place.

A Googled photo

He picked Rainy, Nevada and I up in his roughly built plywood-sided boat with a 4 HP in-board diesel engine. We cruised along the Laguna de Caratasca at what seemed like a break neck speed of 2-3 knots per hour. The engine, thought small, was really loud, and sent black diesel plumes off in all directions.

After several hours of this, I couldn’t think of anything really intelligent to say so I shouted, “Hey, Russell how much land do you have?” His reply was puzzling.

 “Well. I don’t really have any land, but you’ll see shortly.”

Shortly turned into evening when we reached a homemade dock constructed entirely of jungle popta sticks. We had seen that the Miskito Indians had used popta  (Sabal sp.) quite a bit, but here, everything including the roof was made of popta. It is a very straight palmetto topped tree that grows freely in the mangrove swamps. The hard-hollow wooden trunk is about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. It is a perfect building material, and Russell had built his entire complex out of these sticks. He was right, he had no land. Everything was built up above the swamp on raised sticks. There were wooden walkways that led to maybe 10 different structures. The roofs were also all thatched with palmetto popta leaves. That building style was something that would come in very handy for us when we moved on to Nicaragua.

Another Googled photo of” popta”.

BTW there are no alligators in Honduras. Something that gave us pause. Later we found out that Russell was called the Alligator guy, and not the Crocodile guy, because he was from Florida where they do in fact, have both species.

Like I said everything was elevated above the black, brackish water below. The Honduran government had told Russell that for every skin that he shipped out, he had to replace it with two baby crocodiles. So, there was a gigantic pen, made out of, you guessed it popta. In it were thousands of babies that he was raising to release back into the wild. Well, the outhouse was perched up on the walkway and cantilevered out over the pen. I will never forget the excitement of the little creatures whenever my business was finished.

After a week or so, Russell took us back to Puerto Lempira where we waited for a government truck to take us to the little frontier post on the border with Nicaragua named Leimus. Up to now, Honduras was one of my favorite years, but I think that Rainy might just disagree with me?  So, this was another adventure, and although we didn’t discover the White City, we did get to watch him capture a live 12-foot crocodile, fish in the river with dynamite, capture small crocodiles at night by shining a light across the water to see their red eyes, it was these things that provided me with one of my favorite adventure of all. They remain with me even to this day, 43 years later.

Here is the border guard at the Leimus, Nicaraguan border. This was a Googled photo, but it is nice to see that not much has changed in 40 years!

And here is the route. Look how squiggly the Rio Coco is which runs the length of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua.