(Day three of traveling with the NBC crew to tell the story of the Lobster Divers of Honduras.)
The Miskito Indians live in a region of Honduras and Nicaragua called La Moskitia, also known as the Mosquito Coast. It spans the far eastern end of both countries and the Indians pretty much ignore those borders. To get there, though, you have to fly or take a boat. There are no roads that lead from La Ceiba out to La Moskitia.
|Same airport, same plane, but this picture was taken on my
first trip to La Moskitia.
The plane is a small high wing puddle jumper…which was appropriate since it was the rainy season and we landed in the rain with mud puddles on the dirt air strip. The recurring theme of this trip was equipment. It took a while for the baggage handlers to get everything off the plane so the rest of the crew wandered around the “terminal” buildings for a few minutes. They were surprised that one of the first human beings they saw was a paralyzed diver in a wheel chair. He was sitting in the terminal making crafts for sale.
The Moskito Indians are the only Hondurans who dive for lobster. And their semi-isolation tends to keep them close together. This makes them easy to forget about until you land in Puerto Lempira. Then, injured and paralyzed divers are everywhere.
We went straight to the hotel and then got ready to go right back out. We took most of our gear with us. Later that afternoon, we were going to meet up with the boat that would take some of us out to see the divers in action.
Before we left the hotel, though, Natalie was able to interview the director of the lobster divers association. He was the first to say it, but not the last, that even though groups hold meetings and make promises, they have received nothing from those organizations, not even a pencil.
The director and assistant director of the diver’s association accompanied us on a small water taxi boat to Kaukira. That is one of the villages where many of the divers live. When we got there, we went to the home of Nelson, who would be our boat captain as well. We loaded into his truck with his wife driving and went off to visit divers at their homes.
At the first one, where I had been before, the people next door were drunk and began yelling at us to go home, saying that people come to La Moskitia and point their cameras but nothing ever gets done. He yelled most of the time we were there.
We visited a couple more homes, taking time to talk to the divers and listen to their life stories. Most of them were just trying to feed their families. They didn’t really understand the risks of diving, even though they all knew others who had been injured before them. Every family in Kaukira has a disabled diver in it.
As I said, we all piled into Nelson’s truck to visit the divers. I tend to identify more with the camera guys, so I jumped in the bed of the truck with them. I was seated on the tailgate, with my camera up to my face most of the time. When we hit one deep rut in the dirt road, the rusted-through cable that held up the tailgate broke, nearly sending me crashing into the mud. Fortunately, Dr. Mejia was sitting beside me talking and he grabbed my arm to steady me while the camera crew yelled for the driver to stop.
When it was finally time to go to the boat, we cut straight across the peninsula, rather than going back around to the roads. We drove through a swamp and then came out on the beach where we met a small boat that took us through the surf to get to the large boat.
As soon as we got on the boat we knew there was a problem. It was old and run down and there was no bathroom. Space was very tight and there were only 5 bunks. We had 10 people with a crew of 6.