Tongue-flicking snakes and pristine marine life of the Cayos Cochinos

Is there a better start into the new year than motor sailing 24 miles against wind and waves? Well, we didn’t think so either. After all, the upwind ride to the Cayos Cochinos turned out to be reasonably comfortable but we noticed that we badly need to scrub Porky‘s hull. We’ve been lazy in that regard lately and algae and barnacles slowed the boat down significantly. The wind did not turn to our favor and picked up to 30 knots. With a reefed mainsail for stability we motored at 4 knots upwind to the remote archipelago located 20 miles northeast of La Ceiba on mainland Honduras. We were surprised when we entered the only anchorage in the archipelago to see only very few houses scattered along the leeward facing coast and that Porky was the only boat around.

Short after we found a good spot to drop anchor we were welcomed to this island group by a beautiful sunset that turned the sky first orange, then bright purple. We sat in the cockpit and enjoyed nature’s show until the sky became completely dark. When I locked the dinghy behind the boat, I noticed that here and there small plankton patches radiated a bioluminescent glow. While stirring up the water and amazed by the bright phosphorescence that sparked up, I sat on the bathing platform in a long moment of awe.

At night we decided to run our movie randomizer to end the day by watching a movie together. Mid-film we noticed something flying over the bed sheet, which serves as our movie screen, and circling above our heads. A bat flew into the companionway, probably in hope to find a new cave. It must have been just as startled as us when we tried to scare it away with lights. After a few seconds of not knowing where it was hiding, it flew into the front cabin and out of the hatch. This was already the second bat that visited us below deck. Then another weird thing happened. While I mounted the wind scoop to get some air flow into the saloon at night, a big needle fish was agitated by the neon light of my head torch and jumped full speed against the hull. Max and Papa even heard the impact inside the boat. That must have hurt. Animals on the Cochinos are either crazy or not used to visiting boats.

The Cayos Cochinos are a protected marine park and a friendly ranger, called Luiz, accompanied by a couple of armed soldiers patrols the islands every day, greets the few visiting boats that come here and collects a visitor’s fee. He would stop every day to ask in Spanish how we were doing and what activities we had planned for the day. He probably mostly enjoyed our attempts to communicate in our broken Spanish. As the anchorage is full with turtle grass and coral heads it would be wise to invest some of the collected park fees into visitor moorings to protect the marine life in this beautiful place. It might be that due to the limited number of visiting yachts it is simply too expensive to install and maintain. During our first 3 days we were the only boat until another sailor, Hugh and his dog Tank, who we had previously met in Roatan pulled into the bay on our last day.

Stopping in this archipelago was, even considering the expensive visitor’s fee, totally worth it once we back-rolled in our scuba gear off our dinghy at Pelican Point to discover the pristine underwater world and marine life it had to offer. We saw one of the most beautiful and lively reefs we have seen in the Caribbean so far. Large schools of medium and small fish surrounded us. The shallow reef suddenly drops into steep walls, which again turn into an interesting topography with many large crevices and swim-throughs. The visibility was sometimes limited but it did not make the diving here any less interesting. We again spotted a few new marine species that we have never seen before and looked them up in our books. Luckily we have many books onboard because the internet connection in the Cochinos required a lot of patience.

A small, friendly dive resort, which has not had any guest for a while due to the pandemic, refilled our tanks and we went diving every day. They even let us use their freshwater shower. Rinsing off the saltwater from our skin and hair would sound normal to other people, but not having running fresh water, it became a rare luxury for us.

While the smaller cays consist of sand and palm trees, the two main islands are covered with scenic jungle. We hiked along a small footpath to the small village on the east of the island. Constantly on the lookout for the endemic Pink Boa Constrictor snake, we made our way through large palm trees and green vegetation. Apart from various birds and lizards we did not find any snakes. We walked into the tiny village of 15-20 huts where surprisingly young families sat inside their homes to prepare for dinner and greeted us friendly. Some dogs, excited to see other people, followed us around the sandy footpaths between the houses. We imagined how it must be growing up and living in such a remote place with no to stores or supermarkets, mostly sea food to eat and not much social contact beside the few inhabitants of the Cochinos.

Another Garifuna village of as many wooden huts as you could possibly put on this sandy patch is located on Cayo Chachahuate. After a long ride with our small dinghy we approached the picturesque island with a few day tourists bathing in clear, turquoise water. Local fishermen were cleaning the fresh catch in beached, wooden dug-out canoes attracting hungry pelicans and frigate birds. We strolled along the beach and through the village standing out as foreigners but were always welcomed and greeted with a big smile. Many children played and laughed together. The women of the village, with their colorful fabrics wrapped around their heads, wearing long dresses, cooked food in oversized pods and pans on self-built concrete ovens. With everyone sitting together in a big circle, eating and talking, it showed us the strong sense of community this traditional people still value.

On the day we left the island group, we went on one last mission to find the endemic snake in the jungle. Locals, the ranger and our friend, Hugh, who was anchored next to us pointed us to the same trail where it supposedly is common to find the 1-1.5 meter long Pink Boa during morning hours. Our hopes were not high since we did not know exactly where to look, on the ground or in the trees, and what exactly to look for. An hour passed of carefully scanning the tree tops and bending down to look under bushes when we started to think that either we were unlucky, the snake no longer exists, or we were just bad at finding it. So we decided to head back to the boat until Max loudly cheered and called us over. One big Pink (even though it is not actually pink, more greyish) Boa was laying right in front of us on a fallen over tree, flicking its tongue at us! Mission accomplished and time to head back to the boat to pull up anchor!

Pink Bao Constrictor

The Cayos Cochinos marine park truly is paradise. After the few days spent here in solitude and among pure nature, we felt fully relaxed and energized to sail back to the busier Roatan where we will wave our dad goodbye and welcome Daniel back onboard in a few days.

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