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Ultimate Honduran Collecting Adventure
by Eddie Martin
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Fish keeping was also more difficult, no breathable bags. We would set up open plastic bags in boxes with air stones and airline tubing powered by small aquarium pumps. We would do daily water changes and more frequently when the electricity was out. Breathable bags have been a dramatic improvement in the ability to keep fish alive and transport them safety home. The Korden Company manufactures this great product, a bag that allows the fish to breathe though the plastic. Once fish are “cleaned out” and a small polyfilter (another great product!) is added, these fish will live for over week without additional efforts. We both miss the frontier spirit of the Old Honduras. These memories of undependable electrical power; local owned eateries, washed out roads, the limit supply chain, and the naivety of the citizens are rapidly becoming a ghost of the past. I would trade it all back in a minute if I could keep the breathable bags and internet access.

The group enjoyed the scenic drive from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba. This geography was different the previous days experiences. Like everywhere in Honduras there were many actives on the roadside, pineapple and banana stands, vendors selling a local made honey and plantations of palm for the making of palm oil.

Once in La Ceiba, we based camped at the Coco Panda Resort; a beautiful privately owned facility. Charlie Mendor, a real estate attorney in Florida, is responsible for this hidden delight. The Resort is on a beautiful and still remote beach. Every morning around 9:00 o’clock, a farmer herded his cattle down the beach in front of our Hotel to pasture. Later that evening we would see them coming home the same route. You won’t see that a Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.

We rented the whole resort, all seven rooms. Three of the rooms where large doubles. Ken used one for himself and the fish, while the other two where occupied by four collectors who doubled up. The other 4 singles rooms rounded out the accommodations for the nine of us. The restaurant on site, The Iguana Bar and Grill, served a gringo style breakfast for about $2.00. The evening meals prepared by Chef Bruce were delicious and inexpensive. A steak dinner was around 120 lempira or about $6.00 US dollars. The Hotel staff was very accommodating to this unusual group of guest -- and their fish. Ken did a great job of limiting the water on the floor and dead fish from under the beds. Hotel management hates that. I know!!

The fourth day of collecting was at the Rio Danto, which was close to the resort. It had two tributaries that actually met the ocean on each side of the Coco Panda. This made for some nice collecting with in walking distance of our Hotel. This day we collected near the bridge outside La Ceiba. This area was frequented by locals for doing laundry. We were fortunate that this was not laundry day for most of the residents. This day proved to be a productive and relaxing day of collecting. The underwater scenes were spectacular. We saw and collected three kinds of gobies including a predator goby and a Parachromis, robertsoni, Gambusia lumia, Dominator gobies, cutteri, and mollies. This was the first opportunity to collect and snorkel without thinking about a long drive back to the hotel. There was at least for me, a relive knowing the hard days of collecting were behind us. No more marathon drives to and from collecting points thinking if we left something behind at the river, such as a net, water shoes, camera, or a person!!

We had two late model vehicles a four seat four wheel drive pick-up that seated up to four comfortably and a minibus that seated up to 8 with plenty of room for gear. Ken took the responsibility of driving the tuck; he was capable of keeping up with Rusty and me who shared driving the van. Now in familiar territory we could split up if needed or do short collecting trips, some within walking distance of the resort. This flexibility allowed a more customized approach, not all of had to depend on everyone else to coordinate a day trip together. Some could sleep in while others made a short trip to a nearby Rio or others went to town to shop.

The fifth day after some had an ambitious sampling of the local rum the evening before. We sampled the species diversity in the Rio Bonito. This is a beautiful rocky river, which is as beautiful to look at as it is to collect. This is one of the many homes to the Archocentrus sp. "Cutteri", which were showing off a gorgeous white breeding dress as they protected their fry.

All of the rivers of this area are the most beautiful in Honduras. These rivers include Rio Bonito, Rio Belaire, Rio Jutiapa, and Rio Monga. All these rivers originate in the coastal Cordillera Mountain range and empty into the Caribbean Sea. The constant mountain rain forms clouds that hug the mountain range giving it a mysterious and prehistoric look. These mountain rain storms provide crystal clear water that these species thrive in. During this time of year, the water is pristine and shallow, allowing all the life activities to be visible. You can stand on a rock looking down though the water at "Cutteri", protecting their spawn from hordes of opportunistic tetras looking for a quick meal. The rivers aquascapes are a combination of large boulders vary between the sizes of a softballs to large automobiles. These rambling masses of boulders break in to large soft underwater sandy areas that transition to pea gravel substrate near the rivers edge. The abundant vegetation picture frames these majestic rivers with many waterfalls and striking boulders protruding from the sparkling waters. The lush green foliage strikes a contrast to the blue skies outlining the cloud covered mountains in the distance. This is only something you can witness; no photograph does it justice.

There is a location at the Bonitio where the river makes a bend that is hidden by a mass of boulders and vegetation. On the bend towers a large Ceiba tree. Downstream you only see the Ceiba tree Stretching to the shy bordered by the vegetation that defines the river cutting through the jungle. The Ceiba tree appears to by growing from the river. It is a sight to behold. The Ceiba tree is indigenous to this area and is a protected species in Honduras. The City of La Ceiba is named for this Majestic tree. The Ceiba is the tallest tree in the rain forest reach heights of over 150 feet. It grows above the rainforest canapé and opens its flowers at night so the bats can pollinate it. The ancient Maya peoples of Central America believed that the Ceiba tree stood at the center of the earth, connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world above.  Often this tree has long thick vines hanging down from its spreading limbs. The ancient people thought these provided a connection to the heavens for the souls that ascended them. Since they are illegal to harvest you often see them standing alone, isolated and proudly spreading their shady branches high above a pasture or agricultural field or even a suburb as a relict of the great forests that once were there.

The remaining time on the adventure would be spent exploring and collecting the Rio Bonito, Rio Belaire, Rio Jutiapa, Rio Monga, and Rio Danto. The Rio Danto proved to be an unexpected surprise. Warren caught a large male Parachromis one day which was photographed by David Estes and released. When the rest of the gang saw digital image of this 10 inch and unrecognizable beauty, we where astonished that it had been released. Warren calmly said “I’ll catch it again”. I simply thought the Honduran sun had its toll on this enthusiastic fisherman. How can you catch the same fish in a river twice on a rod and reel? But Warren knew where this fish was nesting from an earlier snorkel exploration. The next day he brought back a female with her breeding tube extended. This was the same species, probably a managuense but maybe some type loiselli with a unique purplish and yellow coloration and likely the mate to previous catch. In the days that followed no male was caught but many smaller specimens of this new Parachromis were collected. The female was responsibly released back to the river since the male was not captured and she was in breeding mode. With the abundance of small fry captured, we would raise up some large specimens for later identification. Warren was not to give in that easily. As the rest of us would sit in the evening on the deck of the Iguana Bar and Grill enjoying our dinner and refreshments, we would watch the silhouette of Warren in sunset walking on the beach to the mouth of the Rio Danto. With bucket and hand net in one hand and rod and reel in the other, Warren would disappear into the Honduran night as the rest of us marveled at his commitment. He later caught another female and on the night before we were to leave, captured another male that was similar in size and coloration to the one documented earlier that week. This amazing feat was only trumped by his generosity in insisting that Rusty Wessel take it home to his Louisville facility where it was more likely to be successfully bred and evaluated. Whether or not this is a new type of Parachromis or not, we simply don't know at this time.

One of these final days was spent exploring the Rio Jutiapa. This was a day more for observation than for than collecting since the coolers where almost at there limit and the river are so beautiful. Pastor Bob Russell of the Southeast Christian Church once preached to the congregation about Heaven. During the sermon I closed my eyes and visualized Rio Jutiapa. This is the most scenic of all the rivers in Honduras in my opinion. I have written about my bias for this area in previous articles. This river is timing with life though as most rivers in the area; the diversity is increasing compromised with fishing pressure from the growing population.

The water is clear and fast, tumbling about pleura of small to medium water falls. The water swiftly and noisily cascades thought this scattering of boulders trying to find the fasted way to the ocean. The landscape and vegetation has a” Jurassic Park” look to it. In some of the wider parts the sun shines down on the sparkling water as it spreads out over deep pools. In other areas the stream narrows and the Forrest canapé shades the river providing a cooling and remote feeling to this ecosystem. My favorite area is a large rock cliff overlooking a deep pool. The pool is surrounded by steep rock cliffs making a swim up stream a commitment since there is no where to go to shore if you tire. I like to climb the tall rock structure and perch on an outcropping overlooking a deep clear pool of water. Below I can see cichlids spawning and tetras schooling. This is the few places where I can observe large fish. This appears to be a safe haven for the big fish from the local fishermen. I spent 45 minutes to an hour every time I go to Honduras at this spot. It is far enough from the highway to lose the sounds of traffic and all civilization. You hear only the sounds of the water and the song birds. The smell of the fresh mountain water and the breeze blowing though the trees is a refreshing end to a long day of exploring. I never go back a second time, once is enough to last me until the next trip. It also serves as an incentive to come again.

The final day was Friday the 28th. Most of the gang rested, some collected in the tributaries with in walking distance, and others went shopping for souvenirs, while I chased down the heath certificates for the export. There were three importers on the trip Brian, Ken, and myself. Since we would meet up with the fish & wildlife in Atlanta, Ken Davis would be handling the transaction at his home town. I would secure the Vet inspection and Government certified stamp to insure a smooth entry. These things take time in Honduras and a better part of the day was spent in this matter. That evening we spent the whole night packing the fish for transportation. We underestimated the volume of work to be done and didn’t finish until after 2:30a.m... We were leaving no later than 4:00 a.m. to insure the almost two hour drive and an hour at the airport for check to leave at 7:00 am.

We all thought somebody else was staying up to wake the rest up at 3:30 so we could get off before 4:00am. Everyone slept. At 4:00 Tom banged on the door, we were all in a panic trying to get the luggage and fish all stole away for the brisk drive to the airport. Ken got off first at 4:30 a.m., and I was a distance second, plus I had to stop for fuel. The morning was a bit foggy and the traffic was light. The crew was too sleepy, too scared or simply use to exciting drives by now to voice much concern of my rendition of the Tyrese and Paul Walker film, “Too Fast and Too Furious”. Somebody said reassuringly that we could always take another flight if we missed this one. Since I had made all the arrangements I was the only one who knew that this was the only flight Delta had leaving to the US on Saturday and none for Sunday. If we missed this flight we where stuck until Monday at 7:00 am. We would have to find a place to stay, unpack all the fish and maintain them for another two days. We were going to make this flight!! I pulled into the rental car return, right behind Ken at about 6:30 and we hurried to the check in desk. One of Ken's bags were leaking, but among all the chaos of a Honduran check in it went unnoticed. We hurried through the bureaucracy and I was looping my belt back in my pants from the security check, while entering the plane. If we had been 10 minutes latter, I would have had some difficult news to break for this tried bunch of homebound travelers. This is an appropriate ending to this ultimate Honduran adventure, exciting to the very end.

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