A Trip To The Bocay River

In the years following the 1990 election and end of the Contra War, various guerrilla bands sprang up in the north country. The OAS CIAV, which was charged with disarming these groups and promoting peace in the countryside, was led by Argentine sociology professor Sergio Caramagna. He and his band of field experts spent great efforts to promote peace in the back country, and he was remarkably successful. He was the most trusted man in Nicaragua.

I inquired about traveling to the Bocay River, then an area of uncertain tranquility, to look for some rumored ruins, and to collect orchids. Caramagna agreed to the trip, and off we went.

In 1853, former Ambassador to Nicaragua, Ephraim Squier, wrote a potboiling novel, Waikna, Or The Mosquito Shore. It had a varied political agenda, but it also documented, more or less, a trip up the Bocay River, and drawings of rather extensive ruins, which piqued my interest. The trip was headed by Argentine Miguel Angel de la Trinidad, OAS disarmament specialist, and veteran of the Malvinas War, and Dr. Ernesto Ortega, Commandante Javier, former head of a Contra hospital located at Banco Grande, Honduras.

The trip to the Bocay began by putting in the Rio Coco at Wiwili, and traveling two days down stream to the mouth of the Bocay River. We then traveled up the Bocay for 10 miles and made camp at the village of Amaka. It was a trip back into the primeval forest of Bosawas, the largest stretch of neo-tropical jungle between the United States and Amazonia.

There were many fine adventures, especially crossing the Samaska Rapids, where the current swept the author away, and Dr. Ortega grabbed hold of his red suspenders and pulled him back to shore. Much ground was covered, but the ruins were never found. The site of bellicose encounters between the EPS and the Contra at the last major military action of the Contra War, Operation Dantos of April, 1988, were found, along with a destroyed field kitchen, and field stoves and plates marked with the DDR, or East Germany. One purported Mayan inscription turned out to be a geodesic marker on the top of a mountain, put there by a Somoza surveying team in 1969. Ortega knew the surveyor.

Encounters with guerrilla bands included some youths with RPG 7s, and El Bailerin, a bad guy who was hostile towards us.   He remembered that Dr. Ortega had once treated his leg wound at the Banco Grande hospital and then he got friendly. El Bailerin found us in a remote bend in the river by a pre-Columbian inscription, close by Somotines. I heard of El Bailerin again a year later in Quilali, where he had raped two women in a nearby village and cut off the ear of their younger brother when he tried to defend his sisters. The brother had a big hematoma where his ear had been, and all three had several of their teeth knocked out. I never heard what happened to El Bailerin.


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