Puerto Lempira lies on the shore of the sweetwater Laguna Caratasca, just west of the Caribbean in La Moskitia, Honduras. The largest Miskitu town in the region, with an ailing lobster industry in an atmosphere of post-coup insecurity and governmental corruption, many turn to drug trafficking for income.
Life moves slow along the dirt roads heading out from the center of town. Boats (pipantes, cayucos, botes, etc) continue to be the main mode of transport on the lagoons and rivers that criss-cross the region.
The Miskitu from the Laguna Caratasca region have always been dependent on small-scale fishing as well as the industrial-scale lobster, conch, and shrimping boats that ply the coast. Miskitu divers tended to risk their lives collecting the bounty from the seafloor, resulting in about 120 accidents per year (decompression sickness), many of them fatal, most crippling. Central American governments recently banned the use of scuba gear in lobster fishing, hurting that small but sustaining source of income for Miskitu families. Some entities have proposed using casitas to catch lobsters, in areas where skin divers could reach them easily and with less risk.
La Moskitia, Honduras, is located on the far eastern edge of the Caribbean near the border with Nicaragua. Puerto Lempira is surrounded by swamps and sweetwater (salt-intruded) lagoons, then rolling pine savanna-vistas looking toward the high mountains and rainforests of the interior and the Rio Platano Biosphere.
Harlan Haylock Mueller and his brother founded a hotel in town and he is something of a philosopher, albeit one with a penchant for the local rum. We talked at length on the problems facing La Moskitia, how he was concerned for the sustainability of the fisheries, the chemicals the jellyfish harvesters used to salt and prepare their catch. He wondered about a shipwreck that happened off the coast of Cape Gracias a Dios and the Rio Coco around 1905. It is his job to wonder about ideas big and small, then scramble down the muddy road in an afternoon thundershower to eat some fried fish and fried green plantains with his wife and family.
We watched the drug interdiction planes fly loop-de-loops along the coast at night, keeping a watchful eye on the darkness. Strange with military bases all over La Moskitia, yet the drug trade seems to keep growing. There was an assassination-style murder of a young man in Lempira while I was there, something formerly unheard of in such a small town. Murder these days is commonplace, dollars are readily available, and a place forgotten to the word just a few years ago, is now moving fast with cell phones, bulldozers pushing sand around, flashy Lexus SUVs bumping and splashing down the dirt roads that seem to lead nowhere. Will the Miskitu ever regain their former tranquilo vibe and control over this wild and beautiful corner of the world?