Rafting the (Dry) Rio Cagrejal

We had heard that the Rio Cangrejal, just out of La Ceiba in northern Honduras, offers some great rafting at a budget-friendly price. There are a number of jungle lodges set up about half an hour outside of La Ceiba that will offer pretty comparable experiences. We chose the aptly named Jungle River Lodge. They offered a deal that included a short rafting trip, transportation to and from La Ceiba, and a night of free (in a dorm) or discounted (in a private room) accommodation, for 40 USD per person. It sounded pretty good to us, so we contacted them and had a driver waiting for us when we disembarked from the Utila Princess, slightly shattered after four days of diving.

We made our timely way to the Jungle River Lodge, where we were shown to our slightly scummy room that, nevertheless, had amazing views of the river. Being dry season, the area hadn’t had much for rain in the preceding few weeks, and the river was exceptionally low. To make up for the sub-par rafting, the lodge informed us that the normal trip would be supplemented with a bit of a river walk as well, so we planned to do it all the next morning.

Raft

The Jungle River lodge is like many somewhat remote lodging operations in Central America. It runs on a tab scheme, where you just charge everything that you do, eat, and drink to your room at pay at the end. We had pulled out our daily limit of cash on Utila to pay for diving, and had arrived at the lodge a little short on funds. Credit card payments, we were told, would incur a 19% surcharge on top of the normal taxes. Luckily, the staff at the lodge was accommodating enough to have the driver stop at an ATM the following day, before dropping us off in La Ceiba.

The major downfall of Jungle River is what we discovered at dinner. As per most similar set-ups, a guest kitchen is not on site. People are expected/able to purchase meals through the hotel kitchen. Jungle River offers dinners for 8 USD, which in this part of the world, should without a doubt fill you up. While very nicely cooked, the small bit of chicken, two miniature tortillas, and salsa that we received for dinner just didn’t quite do it for the majority of the people at the table. Add in a cup of beans and rice and you would have had a meal. Unfortunately, most people left the dinner table a little bit hungry, which is never a nice feeling.

Due to my only occasionally flailing cheap-ness, we had brought along all of the food we needed for snacks and breakfast, so weren’t required to purchase any more of the lodge’s meals. Definitely at least bring along some snacks, as you may need a little bit of filler in between the set meals.

In the morning, we woke up and geared up for our rafting trip. Eight of us jumped into the back of massive four-wheel drive truck and headed upstream. Once we reached the river bed, one of our guides led the way further upstream, dipping and fighting his way across the river, over rocks, and through some rather tricky sections. The walk felt a bit like a very relaxed canyoning trip. There we a couple of little jumps off of rocks, and then we reached the big guns.

I’m really very scared of jumping off of things into water. It’s not the height, really, and it’s not the water. It’s just all of it, combines, generally scares the bejeebers out of me and I refuse to do it. I did the small, couple-of-metre-high ones without an issue, as I just didn’t give myself enough time to think about it. When we got to a massive boulder several metres higher than the surface out of the water, and the guide pointed out the place to run down the boulder’s slope and jump into the water, I instinctively started shaking my head. I watched the rest of the group run and jump into the water, each landing with a satisfying foot-first splash.

I confessed to the guide about my long-seated fear, and he very patiently coaxed me to the edge, holding my hand and keeping his feet in front of mine so I wouldn’t slip. Finally close enough, I told myself to just do it, let out an ear-splitting scream before I even moved, and launched myself off of the edge.

It was, of course, fine. Still, as I surfaced, my heart was pounding and my limbs were shaking and it took some concentrated effort to swim back to shore. Everyone climbed up for another round, this time jumping more to the side and then swimming to the opposite wall to do some rock climbing. I was more than keen to try the climbing, but the longer I sat at the top of the rock, the more freaked out I became, and I wasn’t able to jump a second time.

Our fit young guide easily made his way up the first section of the wall, where he ended up hauling a good number of the other group members up by rope. Tim managed the first climb without any issues and then, no rope or harness involved, ascended with the rest of the group to a point maybe 13 metres (this is a very vague guess, my distance estimations are poor) above the water. One after the other, they plummeted down, time stretching as they hung in the air, and then jerking forward as the surface of the water broke with the contact of their feet.

At this point, it was almost time to start the real highlight of the day: Rafting! We floated in a convoy back down to our initial entry point of the river, and loaded up, two or three people and one guide to a raft. We practiced the basic strokes, commands, and practices for a couple of minutes before heading down into the first set of rapids.

Rio Cagrejal gets up to Class V rapids. We could see the high water line on the boulders far above our heads. The amount of water in this area during the wet season would be astonishing. One of the guys with us had a friend who had rafted all over the world and said Cagrejal was one of his favourite rivers. Unfortunately (or maybe not so) we were visiting well into dry season and the rapids would peak at about Class III for us. Regardless, we had an awesome time making our way down the river, and there were definitely a couple of moments I was expecting to get thrown out of the raft. Our guide knew the river better than most people know their own houses, and was clearly enjoying sending us exactly where he wanted to go. His ability to park up on rocks in the middle of the river river was pretty outstanding.

Freshened up and exhilarated, we arrived back at the lodge to gather our things and jump on the truck back to La Ceiba. Our next stop was essentially Nicaragua, but it’s a rather long way so we would have to overnight somewhere first.

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