As our plane bounced and shifted left to right, I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and my kids
laughed, as they always do when we fly. They love to be in the air, I love to be on the ground. So
while clutching the arm rests, as I always do, I wonder........
brains, or life experiences that give them the confidence to push themselves beyond what would
seems normal. Well, according to Michael Bardo, a psychologist studying neurochemistry at the
University of Kentucky it all comes down to brain chemistry. I wonder however, how much
providing our children with exciting experiences in their developing years contribute to having or
not having a thrill seeking brain. We all remember from Chemistry 101 that Dopamine in the brain
stimulates pleasure, the adrenaline gets going and we get fired and focused. Following is a story of
our travels to Honduras when my children were young. I often wonder if these adventures helped
shape them as athletes and the persons they have become or bigger yet, did it change their brain
chemistry. I can hardly believe this was ten years ago. Enjoy!
and now into La Ceiba Honduras.
Traveling to our Hotel, we were ready and eager to explore all
the region had to offer. I was traveling with my three boys who at the time were 14, 11 and 7
years, all of whom are thrill seekers. My kids have a long list of adventure they want to do,
including class 34 white water rafting, canopy zipline traversing, hiking through the rainforest and
time spent on the bay Islands. I go forth with a little trepidation; they go forth with raw
and shrimp salad at the buffet and walked for miles along the soft coffee colored beach without
seeing a soul. The views from the room were stunning, with the mountains of the Pico Bonito
reserve at our doorstep and the Atlantic and the 13 keys of Cayos Cochinos across our balcony.
Cayo Cochinos is an archipelago of beautiful small islands that have been protected as a marine
biological reserve since 1994. The Smithsonian Institute has been an intricate part of helping to
protect these beautiful coral reefs and sandy keys. The chance to spend some quiet time swimming,
exploring and eating alone with my boys, without the distractions of telephones, computers and
practices was an incredible luxury. Our togetherness would continue, but the true Honduras
experience and lifelong memories were just about to begin.
As Saturday rolled around, we couldn't wait to begin exploring outside the resort.We woke up
early to catch a cab to go river rafting on the Rio Congrejal River. The Rio Congrejal River
traverses through the eastern portion of the Pico Bonito Reserve, where because of the many
changing altitudes, feature more than 7 different ecosystems.
As we moved down the main road toward La ceiba, the boys were soaking in both the differences and similarities of the children they
saw on the roadside. While many were washing clothes on the stones in the nearby rivers, hanging
them to dry on the makeshift lines, still others were playing, laughing or sharing conversations
with neighbors. The boys could feel and see the sense of community instilled in the children. As
we turned up the road to Yuruca we could see, up close, the spectacular mountains of the Pico
Bonito reserve. Access to the park is still quite limited, but there are many tour operators, such as
Jungle Tours and la Moskitia Ecoadventures that are beginning to offer ecoadventures. The
highway was rugged, and caressed the river as it headed up through the rain forest. Children were
running on the rocky roadside, with horses and bulls feeding on the grassy banks. In the distance
we could see some mining efforts, but most looked abandoned, with the exception of a lone family
on the banks of the river collecting stones.
I was amazed at how quiet the boys were. We were traveling in virtual silence, which if anyone
was has traveled with 3 boys knows, is a rarity. I could see in their eyes that they were awestruck
by the magnificent granite boulders that caressed the river and by the lush green vegetation on the
steep hillsides with waterfalls escaping through the canopies.
While white water rafting in most places begins with rafting, not on the Rio Congrejal River. On
the Rio Congrejal River it begins with a climb, treacherous at times,down through muddied and
steep trails, past slippery and colossal granite boulders. This trail quickly weeds out the
adventuresome from the porch sitter. Heath and Austin, excited by the climb down went first with
paddles, life vests and helmets in hand. I followed behind Cortland, securely holding the back of
his life vest. Heath stopped at all the steep junctures and caught Cort as I passed him along. While
all of us, including a geologist and his girlfriend from Canada negotiated the sharp and steep path,
our barefoot guides Jorge and his brother Mino, carried down two 6 person rafts. I thought we had
made it to the bottom, no such luck. There was one more boulder to climb on top of and over.
What am I doing, I thought. It was very slick and very steep, and the boys loved every minute of it.
I was somewhat paralyzed at this point, and to cover up my fears I said I was taking in the view of
the river below. Heath and Austin didn't buy it, and came up to help Cort and me over.
wear, the boulders were soft and inviting, with scalloped caves and notches. The water embracing
them was translucent, with hints of blues and greens. It was breathtaking.
Jorge and his brother were the ultimate professionals and any fears I had melted away. They
introduced us to all the commands we would need to safely navigate the river. They reviewed
safety procedures and rescues in the event the raft flipped, until all of us, including my 7 year old,
felt secure and confident. The river is canvassed with rocks and boulders, with shadows from the
rain forest above dancing from stone to stone.
As we moved through intense and furious rapids,
paddled past waterfalls in the cliffs above, by three sons were radiating with excitement. Along the
way Mino, who was also a wildlife expert pointed out little blue herons, snowy egrets, a black
vulture and many hummingbirds. We stopped after an hours ride down the river to hike up to a
waterfall. As we climbed the trail, with my leg muscles throbbing, the air got cooler and sweeter
and we could hear the sounds of the waterfall in the distance.
swimming the pools of trapped water along the rivers edge. Jorge and Mino were the ultimate river
hosts, finishing the day with some delicious fresh pineapple, ice tea and chocolate cookies for the
boys. But of course, we had to climb up a hill to get it.
After a days rest, soaking in the sun and tropical breezes, we were ready for our next adventure,
canopy ziplining. We headed up early to the Jungle Lodge, a small rustic inn that sits on the edge,
and I do mean edge, of the Congrejal River.
The lodge caters to backpackers and ecotourists, who
are looking for a true rain forest experience. The owner of the Jungle Lodge spent 7 months
building the platforms and connecting the cables himself. The platforms are constructed high in the
canopy of the trees and allows for a spectacular bird's eye view of the flora and fauna not seen
from the ground. After being fitted with our harness, we had a short practice run where we were
instructed on how to slow down and land on the platform, preferably without crashing into the
trees. The first ride took us from the lodge 400ft across the raging river.
This exhilarating ride gave us a preview of what was to come. From the rivers edge we hiked up through the jungle, stopping
occasionally to see interesting and are plants, though mostly to catch our breath. When we reached
the first platform high in the trees, my adrenaline began to pump, as I stood eye to eye with the
crown of the rain forest. The ride down was thrilling, as we navigated from platform to platform
through lush vegetation of every shade of green. High wire canopy ziplining is definitely
something we have to do again, as my boys say....again, and again, and again.
As we headed back to our hotel we all grew silent agin. It was clear we were all lost in our
thoughts. We would be heading home tomorrow, leaving behind a specular and rugged country
filled with kind, fascinating and hardworking people. Our Honduras adventure had come to an end,
but their memories of the the exciting adventure was cemented, and they only want more.