Or, A Poco Loco on the Coco?

Pipante on Rio Coco
Pipante on Rio Coco

The idea:

To packraft down a river somewhere in central America.

We had the packrafts, so that just left a river to find.

We found the Rio Coco. Flowing from the Nicaraguan highlands and down through the remote area of the Mayangna and Miskito people, it is central America’s longest river. It is navigable too. And that is quite important when it comes to packrafting.

Deciding where to start was a little more complicated. We didn’t have time for a source to sea journey. Besides, records and conquests aren’t the reason I travel. Perusing maps we saw the green area of the BOSAWAS reserve. Flanked by the Rio Bocay which apparently makes a good entry point into the reserve. All you need, according to the guides, is plenty of money to charter a boat and pay a guide for the petrol. Well, that wouldn’t be necessary for us we supposed. And it just so happens that the Rio Bocay flows into the Rio Coco.

The plan was formed. But then for the details. We found out where the rapids were, and also discovered there was a footpath which would avoid the worst. If the worst was too much to paddle. But we wouldn’t know that until we got there.

A bit of internet research did not dig up much information about the rivers, but we contacted one person who had travelled along them. Yes, he thought we could packraft them at this time of year. Our concerns about crocodiles were calmed. It wasn’t the crocs we should be worried about. It was our security…

Crocodile on the Rio Bocay
Crocodile on the Rio Bocay

The Moskitia region being a top transit route for drug-trafficking between South and North America, where drugs arrive at Bilwi on the coast and are transferred by boat and mule inland. Invariably, so we were told, anyone with the money for a motorized pipante (local wooden boat) will be involved in narco-smuggling.

Besides that, security on the rivers is threatened from time to time from river pirates who launch raids from one side of the river to the other.

Besides general lawlessness, many men from this area over 45 would have been involved in the Contra War, either as Sandinista guerillas or contras, and as such either love or hate the US (and by association, ‘white’ foreigners).

Well, this was the information we had. And with some serious evaluation of the potential risks, most likely scenarios and options of retreat/evacuation in case of an emergency, we decided to head to Jinotega in the Nicaraguan highlands to buy supplies…

It was clear before we started, that this river journey would be significantly different to the 2 weeks down the Niger river in a pirogue.

Trip report coming soon…

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