of the Forgotten Middle
Amapala, Isla El Tigre, Honduras, Golfo Fonseca
have some location for cruisers to leave books or gear that other sailors may
want. Harbour Cruises Marina in Vancouver had a small box with a partial roof
so it generally was not that great a source of treasures. But several years
ago, while we were finishing Kanilela, someone left a well-worn copy from the
early nineties of “The Forgotten Middle” by Roy and Carol Roberts. They cover the five countries between Mexico and Panama. I was so
intrigued by their trip into Golfo Fonseca to the Honduran coastline that I was
immediately drawn into the saga. The description of traveling up a shallow river
to the small, remote, fishing town of San Lorenzo interested me to the point that I had to
go to Google Earth to see where this was. Amazingly there was a photo of an
anchored sailboat attached to the satellite image. It was a “gotta go there”
|The Mangrove channels are a bit stylized but the map generally shows Fonseca|
in Mexico, after consulting the Raines’ Cruising Guide they made no mention of
Honduras at all and only a passing mention of two possible temporary anchorages
near the entrance to Fonseca to avoid storm conditions. I was certain that the
river must have silted in and San Lorenzo was no longer accessible. Fortunately
we got the Sarana Guide, no one should cruise the Central America coast without
it, and once again Honduras became a destination.
our trip south, the Papagao Wind abated and let us get into Golfo Fonseca.
|The church and Plaza at Amapala|
The Gulf is
an indent in the Central American Pacific coast with an entrance approximately seventeen
nautical miles wide but inside is about forty miles by 20 miles. It is unique
in that it is shared, not always peacefully, by three countries, El Salvador,
to the north, Honduras, the center, and Nicaragua, the southern portion. To end
the last war between El Salvador and Honduras, the World Court gave El Salvador
three good sized islands and Honduras got Isla El Tigre. We had checked out of
El Salvador so unless we had weather or mechanical problems to justify stopping
at the El Salvador islands, we had to get to the town of Amapala on El Tigre to
do our Honduran entry paper work. The island is set deep in the center of the
Gulf in shallow water with some surprising winds and tidal currents so
navigation is a concern.
|CIA Post was on the peak of the mountain|
El Tigre, a
near perfect volcanic mountain island, has had a recent colourful history because
the top of the mountain was a secret CIA base. From there, the Americans could
watch all three countries, but they mainly orchestrated the Contra war against
the far too leftist, (in Ronald Reagan’s eyes) but freely elected, Sandanistas
of Daniel Ortega. Yes, it’s all coming back now…. the Iran-Contra affair with
Ollie North as the puppeteer of world politics. About sixty miles south of here,
Ronald Reagan authorized the mining of the Nicaragua’s only deep sea port, Corinto.
And, at the time, who knew? Well, the World Court finally did and felt the
economic devastation wrought by the US was worthy of an $18 billion fine.
Unfortunately, it has never been paid.
|The old port warehouses|
earlier history Ampala, the small town on El Tigre Island, was the sole
Honduras port on the Pacific coast with ships unloading their cargos, only to
be reloaded on pangas and transported through the shallow estuaries to the
mainland. Eventually a channel was dredged to create a commercial port on the
mainland and since that time Amapala has been forgotten to most of the world.
The streets are narrow and the buildings mainly wood construction but they
exude a pride of character of an earlier, prosperous time. The people are
friendly. Our first contact was immediately after anchoring both Genesis III and Kanilela were boarded by a members of a Honduran Navy patrol boat.
After a fairly comprehensive search, based more on friendly curiosity than
exercised authority, we were permitted to go ashore to report to the Capitàn
del Puerto and Migracìon. Both were exceptionally friendly, providing all of
our requisite entry paperwork and a promise of a domestic cruising permit to be
issued the next day, all for zero cost!
off the old stone and concrete pier that has all of the government offices for
entry and departure to Honduras and leads straight into the pueblo. The plaza beside the church, one block up
from the port, has free wifi and we were able to check mail and weather. The
people were quietly friendly and quite curious. It was apparent that we were
the first boats for several months.
|A fortunately dead coral snake|
After a day relaxing
we took a motorciclo, a three wheeled open taxi with a bench seat behind the
driver, around the island. Carlos and Marcos, our two drivers, were great.
Carlos has good English and if you arrive on the pier he can generally be found
there waiting for business. Marcos quickly recognized my interest in the local
trees with construction uses and was a font of knowledge as well as pointing
out numerous bird species and one very dead coral snake. The beaches are not
the most pristine water but all have palapa restaurants serving excellent
|Genesis III and Kanilela at anchor San Lorenzo|
Papagayos were picking up so we decided it was time to get into the relative safety
of the mangrove lined river and headed up to San Lorenzo. The Gulf is so
shallow that we had to retrace our route south around El Tigre back close to
the Nicaraguan shore to pick-up the start of the dredged freighter channel that
goes to the new Puerto Henecan. The fourteen mile channel is well marked but
the buoys are spaced far apart and some are missing so good attention is
needed. Just as the freighter dock is close you turn north into the river to
travel the final unmarked two miles up to San Lorenzo. Entry should only be
attempted on a rising, near full tide as there are shallows that could put one
|Eduardo and Joseph with friend in the middle|
final turn, San Lorenzo lines the one side of the river bank. There has been
considerable restaurant and hotel construction since the description in “The
Forgotten Middle” was written, but we continued past the new sites and anchored
in the river in front of the old Hotel, just as Roy and Carol had instructed. A
local panga crewed by a father, Edward, and nine year old son, Joseph offered
to both shuttle us back and forth from the shore and provide security for Kanilela and Genesis III. Although there is a tourist trade in town, virtually none
of it comes from out of the country and even less comes up the river. The last
time Kanilela was so photographed was
probably after we went from San Francisco up the Sacramento River to downtown
I do not
know when the last sailboat came into San Lorenzo but clearly is has been quite
a long time. The town, though a little dusty, is thriving with commerce
everywhere. We had excellent meals on the river at La Playa restaurant and Los
Mangles Restaurant. The tourists, mainly from the Honduran capital,
Tegucigalpa, plied us with questions. It was fun.
|Main Street San Lorenzo|
|The new restaurants on the river are interesting construction|
on a Friday and left Sunday. Unknown to us on arrival, the old hotel, looking
rather worn, has addressed the challenge of the new venues by playing their
music louder and later than any other establishments, Friday night went to 3:00
am Saturday. After discussions considering moving, it was decided Saturday
night would end early with the good people of San Lorenzo having to get up to
go to church on Sunday. Although the good people of San Lorenzo were in church
on Sunday morning, we heard the bells for the first mass at 7:00 am, the not so
good people of San Lorenzo were still partying hardily until 5:00 am with the
music vibrating in Kanilela’s
rigging. Aah, the tough life of a cruiser.
|Coming into the protected anchorage of Playa Grande |
back down the river and channel and anchored for a couple more nights at Playa
Grande, about two km southwest of Amapala, out of the winds that were buffeting
the town. We were adopted by restaurant owner Sonia and her daughters, fifteen
year old Valerìa and four year old Bellica. The food was excellent, the beer
frosty cold and they were great fun. Bellica especially, charmed her way into
two grandmother’s hearts.
|The little charmer with my hat and glasses|
window opened and Nicaragua beakoned. We returned to the Capitàn and Aduana,
paid our $1.25 for our International Zarpè and we were off to Puesta del Sol.
have not travelled extensively in Honduras, it has been a great place to visit
for us. We went to the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, on the earlier Guatemala
road trip and the Fonseca Gulf ports by boat and the people have been fabulous.
It is a must see destination.