As I was putting the stitches in Heidi’s knees I reflected upon our little adventure this morning. It had held such promise… We haven’t been to Rio Coco in several yrs, and in my mind it was one of the prettiest hidden gems in my (limited) experience of Honduras. A wild place, rarely touched by man. With cascading waterfalls, pristine pools, and vining jungle, this place sits at the end of the northern road from La Ceiba.
It was on our agenda to visit this magical spot during our brief trip, and Saturday was my only day not working, so we had to make a run for it. Several folks agreed to join (with a bit of cajoling), and so the Hotz, Alexander, and Geer families packed up their crews and made the dusty journey with us.
Not everyone was quite as enthusiastic about this exploit. You see, when you live somewhere for a long time, the amazing opportunities from that place that once enthralled you eventually lose their luster. If you live in Anaheim, eventually Disneyland loses a smidge of its magic. If you live in Hawaii, one awe-inspiring sunset starts to look like another. But, as the say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. We have been away from this beautiful country for over 3 yrs now, and what once was commonplace is now, again, captivating. And so, we went with this hope in our hearts to Rio Coco, the river that runs through the little village of the same name, hoping to rekindle the enchantment.
The trip got off to an inauspicious start, as we came to one of a few river crossings, near Rio Esteban. It appeared that the whole village was out doing work on the precariously steep approach down to the river, so we had to take a ‘detour.’ A detour off a road in the rural jungles of Honduras should set off several red flags of precaution. Luckily, we and our friends were driving rigs made for off road travel (we have actually been driving our old truck, Goldie Matilda. She’s a sweet ol’ diesel Nissan pickup—named after Heidi’s grandmother— that served us faithfully during our time living here. It still smells a bit like the sweaty Scottish gentleman we bought it from years ago–no offense Ian, I didn’t say that it was a bad smell :-). The alternate route took us through some pasture lands, then jungle forest, and eventually across a shallow spot in the river.
After a couple minutes of disorientation following the crossing of the river, it registered that we were basically in someone’s ‘back yard’ and after a few 5-point-turn-abouts, we were back on track and headed down the old red road again. What we didn’t realize was that one of the rigs in our caravan hadn’t caught up, and had lost their way (the Alexander gang). We waited for quite a bit, wondering what had happened… Had Dave and Mer stumbled upon a hidden cartel drug smuggling route, and been gunned down trying to expose the operation? Had the spirit of the jungle awakened, sensed that there were Texans present, and decided to open a sinkhole beneath their Toyota and consume them whole? Or maybe the Rapture had occurred, and damn!– we didn’t make the cut…
It turns out that, stranger than any of my other hypotheses, they had just gotten slightly lost. But then, they got unlost. We all eventually reunited, parked the cars at the ‘trailhead,’ (which was just a wide spot on a fairly narrow road) and went for a short hike to the grotto. After crawling through a barbed-wire fence and making a bee-line through the jungle, we arrived on the edge of a precipice overlooking the river, the sound of the waterfall beckoning to us in the background.
2 things struck me as we carefully tiptoed along the cliff edge down to the water. First, is that the water was not quite as clear and ‘fresh’ looking as I had remembered it. It definitely had that “Giardia/poo-poo party” vibe going. Second, and saddest, was that there was garbage strewn about the moss covered rocks and creeping tree roots. An image burned in my brain from my youth long ago surfaced, the crying Native American in his canoe. (does anyone else remember this ad campaign? It seriously stuck with me…).
Despite the disappointments, we all hopped in the water and it was wonderfully refreshing on this hot and steamy day. Some of us wandered upstream, to the pool that welcomed the waterfall. The waterfall was such that it didn’t fall straight down from the cliffs above, but rather slid down a steep grade of slippery rocks. In the past, during the Summer when the water flow is less forceful, people would scramble up the cascade to the pool above. After centuries of flow over the rocks, one can imagine how much flora has built up on these rocks, as well as erosion, to cause the way to be quite slick. A couple of the boys (Owen, Jacob and Josiah) were lobbying hard to make the ascent. I held them off for awhile, but they eventually wore me down, and so up they went. And then they all fell to their deaths. Well, no, but I certainly threatened them that it could happen. But it didn’t.
But what DID happen was this: Heidi was making her way back down to the lower pool by way of a gigantic boulder. This, too, was worn smooth by time and water. I didn’t see it happen, but apparently her wet feet betrayed her and she fell off, bouncing down the boulder into the river below. Several people saw this happen.
Dave was watching, and says he yelled her name as she was falling, several times actually, but she just kept falling. Where she landed was out of his field of vision, but he says her pink North Face hat eventually came floating down the river to him, with no Heidi attached.
Our oldest son, Will, saw the whole thing start to finish. She landed in a shallow portion of the river and Will says she just laid there, face down, for a bit. He was terrified, but within seconds she was moving and sitting up. She said later she was just assessing if anything was broken, or if she had wound up in the Good Place.
By the time I got to her, she was in a little bit of shock, but after a quick survey we surmised that she hadn’t broken anything, miraculously. she had bruises on her chin, chest, elbows, knees, foot, and probably some girl parts. There were several scrapes, 2 scratches, a slash and a gash, 3 abrasions, a contusion, a green lesion, a bunion, some funyuns, and 2 lacerations (that I eventually closed with 5 stitches, back at the hospital…). But all in all, she missed her head, and we were grateful because the whole thing certainly could have been worse. What if she had broken her cookie makin’ hand?
A comment on our dear friends, The Alexanders: They have been to dozens of streams and waterfalls during their 8 years of service here at Loma de Luz. They have swam in rivers and seas, have snorkled and scuba’d, and hiked in jungles and on mountains. They have jumped from cliffs and killed snakes, spiders and scorpions. They have had plenty of adventures here in Honduras. I think this morning what they would rather have done was share a cup of coffee on the patio, while we ate sweet-treats and reminisced. However, they went on this uncomfortable trip with all it’s hiccups just so they could spend time with us, and for that we were immensely grateful and touched. (Hotz and Geers, we are grateful you guys went, too!!)
I’ve been working here almost every day, and so far my favorite hospital moment has been one spent with Carolien, who is a nurse mid-wife, from the Netherlands. She has been working here now for over 4 years, I believe, and recently married a wonderful local national, named Marlon.
I was struggling a little bit with a delivery, a lovely lady having her first baby. She was doing great, but pooping out toward the end, and so I was considering putting a vacuum on. I always call for some help when I do this, because sometimes bad things happen when you start yanking baby heads out. Carolien came, and we had a sweet time together, helping this woman and her husband with their own personal little miracle (she was in her 30’s –ancient for her first baby here in Honduras– and had suffered 2 miscarriages). Carolien has delivered hundreds of babies (1000’s?) and yet the tenderness and attention to care with which she lavished upon this family was beautiful; Like it was her first delivery. It was a true testament to her service and passion in the name of Jesus.
Will found a walking stick bug
Heidi’s knee, stitched…
until the next time, friends.