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.

Why Are All of My Photos So Bad?

September 1977

To all of my photography followers, you might be wondering just why all of my photos are so bad? When we sold off everything in Guatemala there were a few items we just couldn’t bear to lose. Among them were our diaries and my thousands of photos. We bundled them carefully and mailed them all back to a relative in California. Unfortunately, they never arrived. That was something that we would not find out for a few years. The good news, I guess, was that on one of our trips back home, I had culled out all of my rejects and thrown them in the trash. My father had the foresight to retrieve and save them. These rejects are images I have been scanning in and they have required quite a bit of repair. They are the ones that you are now seeing here in the blog.

Map of Puerto Limpira and Mocoron in northern Honduras

Back to the travels, in the 70’s Honduras was like the wild west. It must have been like it was in the 1800’s in this country. It seemed like everyone had some scheme for making money. Some wanted us to invest in their goldmine, or smuggle Mayan artifacts or sell scarlet macaws, and these are just the ones that I can tell you about. Almost everyone had a gun, except of course us, but by then we were hardened adventure travelers so, of course we absolutely fell in love with the country.

Here I am relaxing in a homemade lounge chair. There was always plenty of time to relax.

On one of our trips to the La Mosquitia, in northern Honduras, I met the governor of the Department of Gracias Adios. It was an area filled mostly with swamp-land, savannas and jungles. Unlike many of the do-gooders who were trying to change the “primitive” people, Rainy and I admired their simple way of life. We were living with the Misquito Indians, learning their language and their style of building with the materials they had around them. We felt that we had many things to learn from them. Perhaps it was because of this that when we met the governor, he took a liking to us. It was reinforced especially when I taught him to swim. In exchange. he taught me to fire a pistol. He then wrote us a very official looking letter that simply said we were friends of his. He stamped it with a whole bunch of official looking stamps and then signed it with the flourish of his very ornate signature. With that letter we were able to get on any government plane, boat or truck for free. It was even good for a steep discount at many hotels and restaurants. We used it quite a bit during the next year of our stay in Honduras.

That me with some of the children of the governor of the Dept. of Gracias Adios

We had heard tales about the ancient Cuidad Blanco or “White City” hidden somewhere deep in the jungles of the La Mosquitia. By then we had developed many friendships in the area. National Geographic and the Smithsonian had tried to find it and failed, but one friend assured us that he could guide us right to it. So, we took a government plane to a dirt airstrip outside of the town of Puerto Lempira. There we waited almost 2 weeks for a four-wheel drive government truck to take us to the village of Mocoron. We brought with us a 50-pound bag of rice, a 25-pound bag of beans, a sack of salt, 25 D batteries and a box of 22 long rifle shells, and of course, a whole bunch of rolls of film. We hired 3 locals and their 25-foot long wooden dugout. We packed it up our supplies and headed out on the Rio Mocoron for the next “adventure of a lifetime.”

One of the better houses in Mocoron

That’s when, right at the very start of our journey, I dropped my camera and bag in the murky water. It would be another year and a half before I could get my hands on another camera! AND, spoiler alert, it would be 2016 before the White City was actually found. Here is a short video from the guy who actually found it. I think that you will find it interesting.