Nature's Noises Only at Pico Bonito
My own permasmile comes later, after I've caught a $60 flight from Roatan to Ceiba and shuttled up to the heavenly Lodge at Pico Bonito. At the base of the "beautiful peak" and nature preserve of the same name, this lodge is in most respects the best hotel in the country.
I have traveled far and wide the past few years, to Africa, to Europe, across the U.S., and to six countries in Latin America. But here at Pico Bonito, I truly feel at peace. The only sounds are the wind rustling the trees, the river, the birds, and the cicadas. I lie in my hammock on the balcony, looking up at the wispy clouds kissing the top of the mountain, and for once am able to turn off all the to–do lists and new plans that are constantly vying for attention. I simply lie back and listen, really listen, hearing what nature says when it doesn't compete with man's inventions.
I hear three woodpeckers pecking in a triangle around me. A parrot, an oropendolo, some kind of jay. As these sounds fade, others replace them, including a cicada that sounds nothing like the ones in the trees next to my back yard. A wind kicks up and it starts to sprinkle rain. The tapping on the leaves adding a new soundscape and a fresh scent. I realize I haven't watched TV for days and I'm glad. My iPod hasn't been unpacked—to blast music into my ears in this special place almost seems like sacrilege.
The next morning someone from the hotel takes me out on a 6:00 a.m. bird walk. Apparently I'm not the average bird walk participant as I don't have a picture book, a powerful scope, or a camera with a huge zoom lens. "Here, you can use these binoculars," says my guide German, after digging a battered pair out of a drawer. A biologist who works at the lodge comes by as we're drinking some pre–departure coffee. "What are you hoping to see today?" he asks.
I suppress my urge to say, "Something with wings?"
"We'll see what we see and I'll be happy," I reply instead.
The hard core birdwatchers holed up in their temperate climate homes would probably gnash their teeth just thinking about my type, since we then go on to see a cornucopia of splendid creatures. We spot 18 different birds, including a mother white–crowned parrot and her babies, the latter poking their fuzzy heads out of a hole in a tree. Thanks to the keen eye of German, I get to see two types of toucans, pygmy owls, bat falcons, and golden–fronted woodpeckers. My guide points out a small, iridescent blue bird on a nearby branch. "the lovely cotinga" he says with a dramatic flourish. Apparently this announcement is usually followed by lots of oohs and aahs. "People fly all the way from Canada or Europe to spot that bird," he says.
Rafting the Cangrejal
I'm more a connoisseur of wild adventures than aviary species, so the next morning I head to the Cangrejal River for some serious river rafting. After unloading the three–person raft upstream, we do some safety rehearsals and then pray. Literally. Our born–again–Christian guide gives thanks for the beautiful day and then asks for a day of passing through the boulders unscathed. (Apparently the man upstairs has more important things to keep an eye on; later I get launched out of the boat and into the rapids.)
The water is low this time of year, so we can't traverse the length available in the wet season, when the house–sized boulders around us are actually covered with churning whitewater. So after some safety drills we spend some time acting like kids. We swim in 30–foot pools and slide down rapids in just a life jacket, feeling the surge. We jump off high boulders with a splash. "This jump is five meters," says Dante, "and the next one we climb up a cliff to jump 10 meters," he says. "Be careful how you land." The other rafter and I look at each other and then politely decline the second option. "I love my kids too much," says my companion.
Once the rafting gets underway, it's a blast, three of us zipping through the dry season rapids in a small raft. I'm happy that we have a rescue kayaker following behind us as there is little margin for error among the narrow routes. Eventually I do go tumbling out the front after we hit a rock dead center, but it's a short ride downstream before I find a place to stand and wait for assistance getting out of the jam.
At the end we pull up to a simple jungle lodge and munch on some fresh pineapple. A bruise on my butt and a scrape on my chin, but well worth it. After a fine dinner of squash soup, grilled prawns, and local beer back at the Lodge at Pico Bonito, it's a blissful night's sleep with the sounds of the forest working their lullaby magic.