CASKE 2000 > Stories > Adventure > Honduras > Hell

STORY FROM HONDURAS

A Hell of a Day to Escape from Hell

4/11/2000 by Jean-Philippe Soule

We covered 150 nautical miles (about 300 km) in 10 days and most against a strong headwind. For 10 days we pushed hard and our bodies felt heavy from the irregular schedule we imposed on ourselves to adapt to the weather and sea conditions. Lack of sleep and intense physical workouts don’t work well without a proper diet. We were tired and our muscles screamed for a break. Regular dosage of Ibuprofen were no longer effective. We had planned to stop for a rest day in Brus but were so shocked by the filth of the town that we decided to move on.

At 4:30 in the morning, we carried our kayaks back to the canal and loaded them, trying not to touch the decomposing garbage and foul mud on the shore. It was appalling and the smell was atrocious. I paddled out with my legs set on deck until I could rinse them in cleaner water before folding them back inside.

Brus was our worst layover since paddling off from Baja, Mexico a year and half ago. What surprised me most though, was that the pollution created an incredible bloom of bio-fluorescent plankton. Each paddle stroke was illuminated for a few seconds and the wake from our bows and sterns produced a constant stream of fluorescent green. We could also follow the fish for they left trails of light. It was like being inside a computer game with special effects.

The Laguna de Brus is large and to exit we had two choices. One was to paddle back to the only entrance, 10 miles in the opposite direction, the other one was to paddle 4.5 miles to the nearest shore and portage over the sandbar to the open sea. We choose the second option.

When we arrived at the sandbar shortly after sunrise, the sight that met our eyes did not excite us. The ocean seemed out of control. Brown, silt colored waves were breaking all over. We did not even think about trying to launch on this mad ocean. My experience of a few days ago (see "The New Rush: Night Kayak-Surfing in Reverse (4/06/2000)") had taught us better.

After portaging all the equipment, Luke took a nap while I read a book (News of a Kidnapping from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the perfect book to read just before crossing the border to Nicaragua). Later in the morning the ocean seemed a little calmer. In spite of the strong headwind we would have to fight, we decided to try to make some distance.

I paddled out first while Luke filmed my launch. It was not a technical launch, just a matter of powering through a series of. big rollers. Most people I have kayaked with describe me as a powerful paddler, but when I reached the last couple of sets, there was nothing I could do to get through. I charged full speed and barely made it over. Then I had to power paddle into the next one, and the next one and the next one. Rollers were coming without halt. After over three minutes of intense effort, I had been hit and half-submerged by numerous waves and had not progressed an inch. I was exhausted and entirely out of breath. I had nothing left in me, but the rollers didn’t stop. No matter how hard I tried to keep paddling, I was losing ground. I thought I would not make it. They were one-story high walls of water coming at me and pounding me. I started to worry that if I exhausted myself any more, I might not even be able to safely surf back to the beach, but I hated the idea of quitting. I noticed that on the right the break didn’t look as hard to pass so I put all I had left into angling my kayak into the waves and making my way toward that narrow window. When I finally made it I let out a whoop and rested outside the surf zone and watched Luke. I could only see him every few seconds when the largest swell lifted me up. It had taken me 8 minutes to come out, so I knew Luke wouldn’t meet me soon. I saw him battling the first roller, then nothing. He disappeared and even when large swells lifted me up, I couldn’t see anything. It was as if he had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. All I could hear were the waves breaking. I worried. Then I caught a glimpse of his kayak. It was floating empty. Words instantly came to my mind, “Shit, he capsized!” I looked for him for a few seconds but still didn’t see any signs of him. When I started to paddle toward the beach to assist him, he reappeared. He was pulling his kayak back to shore. Reassured, I remained behind the surf zone and waited. I knew he would be exhausted and would probably need a few minutes to empty his kayak from water and rest. After 10 minutes, I could see that Luke was all right, but he wasn’t doing anything. His kayak was set on the beach while he walked back and forth. It was very frustrating not knowing what was happening. Sometimes he seemed to be leaning over his kayak like if he was fixing something, or getting ready to try again, then he would walk back toward the highest beach doing nothing. He never gave me a sign to return, so I just continued to wait.

After half an hour I was boiling with rage. Luke was still on the beach while I was trying to keep my kayak from capsizing and from drifting in the current. I didn’t want to return to the beach unless he called me. It was too much effort coming out the first time. And I began to wonder, “Is he going to give up without even a second try? Did he break something? If so, why doesn’t he signal me? What the hell is he doing?”

Finally after half an hour, he tried to launch again. I followed his progression wave by wave as he disappeared and reappeared every few seconds. He aimed for the best place, an opening where the waves weren’t breaking as hard. Once out, he explained to me that he had capsized on his first attempt, and then could not get off the beach. He missed on four consecutive launches, which I could not see. All I could see was when he had returned to the beach to empty his kayak. Then he said he never signaled me because being short sighted he couldn’t see me and had no idea where I was. He didn’t even think that I was watching.

When we started to paddle, the wind was already blowing hard and right in our face. Our progress was slow and painful, as we had to fight the swell, the wind and the current. After an hour and a half it was Luke’s turn to be furious. “Why the hell are we doing this? We’re not moving!” he said. I had had it as well. I was drained. For a few days already we had been pushing our physical limits and were near exhaustion. After two hours and less than four miles we gave up and returned to the beach. We would have many more of these kinds of conditions during the day, and the waves were too large to launch at night. The Mosquito Coast was exceeding our expectations as one of the most difficult legs of the journey. “Persevere, persevere,” I told myself that night as I fought off depression and tried to sleep.


If you liked this story try the following Selected Stories:
Surviving Nicaragua, A Kayaker's Battlefield


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