Editor’s Note: Everett Redus, 21, of Baytown, Texas, now one of four surviving brothers, will travel south to Patagonia next week, carrying and spreading the ashes of his slain older brother, Cameron, a senior honors student at the University of Incarnate word who was fatally shot by a campus policeman outside his off-campus apartment on December 6, 2013.The Rivard Report has invited Everett to publish periodic dispatches as he makes his way south and awaits word on the outcome of the criminal investigation into the shooting and a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family against UIW and the police officer. Read more about Cameron’s life, death, and the aftermath here. Donate to Everett’s trip via his GoFundMe campaign here.
Leaving Lago Atitlán was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. The experiences had and memories almost held me back, but in the end they were the very things that made me content with leaving. I had spent a month and a half on the lake, and could easily have stayed for years, but my time in Guatemala was running short.
The tourist visa given to travelers entering the country is for 90 days, which is good for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. To renew the visa you must go to Mexico, Belize, or south to Costa Rica. I had nearly spent the entire 90 days in Guatemala alone, so I was going to have to head north for a bit in order to continue moving south. In Guatemala City, I reunited with a few friends from the lake who were in the same predicament, so we decided to go together.
I had grown tired of riding in cramped chicken buses. There are far better methods of traveling than those that are most widely accepted. A good soak in the sun from the bed of a pick-up is what I craved, and I intended to get it. We made it to Livingston on the Caribbean coast with ease. There was still a week to spare on my visa, which allowed for plenty of beach, river, and jungle exploration before I had to leave.
We entered Belize by boat on a stormy Thursday morning. After stamping in, we decided on a place where we would remain for the three days required before entering back into Guatemala. We were six, and the beach town of Placencia was our target. Neither myself nor my companions had any desire to pay for a bus, and when myself and two others hopped onto a passing back-hoe tractor, a healthy spirit of competition was born.
Over the next four hours, we experienced Belize’s natural beauty from beds of trucks, periodically passing and being passed by our opposing team of friends. It was a close race, but it was my team that prevailed in the end. Once the other three arrived, we walked out onto the white beach and found a place to set our tents.
Once the allotted three days had passed, we hitched our way north to the nearest border crossing with Guatemala. Crossing back in, I made a second visit to Flores, on Lago Petén Itzá, as it was the nearest town with a road heading south. Presently I found myself, four months into my trip, sitting on the same balcony I had sat on only two weeks after leaving Texas. I had experienced so much since leaving Flores the first time, but there was so much more to be seen and done. And so, with a fresh 90 days, I made my way south with my friend Otto from England.
Otto had some friends in a village down in Honduras and was on his way to pay them a visit, so I went along for the journey. Town to town and truck to truck, we moved along in no great hurry. We spent some time in the ruins of Copán, another great place that Cameron had visited. We ventured further and further from developed lands until we finally reached Guayape, Olancho.
I had been in plenty of remote places before, but I still was shocked by what I experienced in Guayape. The village lies secluded in the mountains, two hours away from the nearest paved road. You’ll be lucky to find it on any map. Most of its older residents have never left its confines, but those who do leave only go so far as Tegucigalpa, the capital, to buy modern clothes. There is no traditional dress to be found there, but the way of life resounds strongly of an earlier time.
The region of Olancho is regarded as the “Old West” of Honduras. The people are frijol farmers and cattle ranchers, and all wear their guns proudly. At any given moment herds of oxen or brahma come storming down the main street. The horses and burros roam free through the village, and down to the river where they spend their days drinking its waters, grazing, and resting in the shade. The river is what I fell in love with. Many hours a day I spent on its banks, swimming, climbing trees, and making fire. Conversations with passing farmers were not uncommon, and neither were the free mangos, tossed across the river from perfect strangers.
The gathering and eating of mangos also consumed much of my time throughout the next two weeks. Mangos have come to represent a sign of acceptance and friendship to me. They are always given freely, and I did my best to return the favor. We went out on motorcycle expeditions, riding on the backs of the bikes with Otto, serving as spotters, scanning the hills for new trees. Land owners never hesitate to let you climb their trees and gather the choicest fruit. We’d return to town with dozens of mangos bundled up in our shirts, tossing them out from moving bikes to workers in the field or to children playing in the dirt. It was a good feeling, being able to give something back to the people who had given so much to me.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in all of the Americas, but you wouldn’t know it from the generosity of the people there. We were given a house to ourselves, to do with what we will, and three meals a day, all cooked by a loving mother. And many times, just walking down the street, we were invited into the houses of strangers for a meal, something to which I was not accustomed. So many wonderful things were given to me in Guayape.
But after the sun set the village transformed into a different place. At night the streets would fill with the types whose company was less than savory; men who had long ago developed to keen a taste for Yuscaran. There were fist-fights sown by the campo, and the singing of gunshots was heard as frequently as the laughing of coyotes in the hills. More than once I thought myself in danger. During my first nights I found myself in a rattling situation.
I was seated in the gravel on a dirt street corner chatting with my newly formed friends. I had been developing my eye for spotting guns tucked away in pants and under shirts, and the count was up in the 20s. All who had passed were harmless drunks, with no ill intention. Then from around the street corner screeched a dirt bike carrying three men. It stopped in a cloud of dust, out of which stumbled an alarmingly drunk man waving his six-shooter in the air.
“Nadie me toque! Nadie me toque!” he screamed as he walked up behind me, telling nobody to touch him.
“Metete la pistola!” shouted a chorus of voices, but he would hear none of it.
Even if he didn’t know why, he was mad, and aimed to do something about it. Then slowly, another man stood up who was far from sober, and well-known to be insane. He drew from his pants a machete, and asked what the other man planned to do with the gun. Everyone else was leaving quickly. The two men stood arguing only a couple of feet apart, with me petrified, still seated on the ground directly between them. I could not stand up, I was trapped.
It was the first gun I’ve had association with since my brother’s death. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t remember doing it, or how long it took, but I got myself out from between them and ushered myself around the corner. The argument ended shortly after without injury. But these conflicts happen all the time without reason, and not all end so peacefully. It’s a sad fact, but men there are called all too frequently to defend their name. This would turn out not to be the only tight situation I found myself in, but the next one was of a very different nature.
In Honduras, it is illegal for two men to ride on the same motorcycle. Drive-by shootings happen too often and the government tries to curb some of the violence by fining any bike with two male passengers. For this reason, we were taking the back way out of Guayape. The road to Suyapita, a neighboring village, led us right past the police station. And since we were four, on only two motorbikes, we had to take another way. I was on the back of Ludwin’s bike, Otto rode with Angelito behind us. We rode through the gravel down dark, steep paths until we came to the bridge. It was a wooden foot bridge, and didn’t look to have been made very recently. It had been drizzling rain, and I could feel the slickness of the one by six-inch planks beneath the tires.
The bridge bobbed up and down as we began to cross. We had made it a little more than halfway when I heard the tires slip and the felt the bike swerve. The bridge was only about four feet in width, and had no guard rail. We went straight off the side. In one motion, I slipped off the back as the bike began to slide, grabbed ahold of the rear rack with one hand, and a suspension cable with the other. Only the rear wheel still had contact with the bridge. The rest was dangling above the river below, Ludwin still mounted, gripping the handle bars. With my arms fully outstretched, I felt as if I would be ripped in two, but there was nothing that would make me loosen my hold.
This is the scene that Otto found as he came running up to us out of the darkness. I had managed to keep the bike from falling for about 20 seconds, but if I lightened my grip in either hand the motorbike would have fallen with Ludwin attached. Otto helped me pull him back up to safety, then we walked the rest of the way over the bridge. As it turns out, Angelito and Otto had fallen at the exact same moment we had, but they had only tipped the bike to its side without coming near the edge, and Otto ran up to see if we had fallen too. The adrenaline didn’t stop running for the next half-hour. I was shaken, but glad that no harm was done in the end. The experience brought us closer together, and I became a small hero amongst our group of friends. We continued our mango hunting adventures and explorations of the hills. But after two weeks, we found ourselves on the road again. We reached Tegucigalpa, but that was as far as we would go together.
After over a month of traveling together, Otto and I had to split paths. I continued hitch-hiking and easily got to where I was going. I’d spent a long time existing off the generosity of others, and it made me optimistic of the world. But there was an extremely generous offer ahead of me still. Three days after leaving Otto in the Honduran capital, I reached Rio Dulce, back in Guatemala.
During my time on the Guatemalan coast, then up into Belize, I had been looking for a boat heading south that was willing to take me on as a worker. But as hard as I looked, there was nothing heading south this late in the season. As Otto and I were heading south, I had all but given up, and accepted the fact that I would have to continue on by land. During our last nights in Guatemala we stayed in the inland port town of Rio Dulce. On the morning we left for the border, on our way out the door with our bags packed, we hopped on the CB radio and sent out a message. And as fate happens, I got a reply. The route the boat would take turned out to be something different from what I had in mind, and I had some decision-making to do while I was in Honduras.
There was a grand adventure ahead of me, but accepting it would mean sacrificing many things. I thought about my mission, and thought about Cameron. Then I knew that he would be the first person to tell me to accept this adventure, if he couldn’t come in and do it himself. I still need to remind myself sometimes that we learn not from sticking to what we know, but rather by keeping our eyes open, our hands free, and our paths as uncertain as the future.
*Featured/top image: Running free through the ruins of Copán after the visitors had left. Photo by Everett Redus.