The name Cayos Cochinos means the 'dirty cays'. The Spanish named it so during the age of discovery in the Americas - as British pirates used these 13 small islands as a hideout and operating base. The Spanish were at a loath to cross into this beautiful yet then perilous zone - a place they could meet their deaths from English, Welsh or Scottish privateers. They are now a protected reserve (treaties having been signed by countries such as Spain and Italy) supporting all kinds of astonishing biodiversity - both marine and land. From Iguanas to Nurse sharks - the cays offer stunning wildlife. To get there we took a thrilling boat ride from a small town (a Garifuna community) called Sambo Creek. Getting out towards the islands the waters appear extremely high and deep - 'Honduras' intriguingly meaning 'deep waters' in Spanish, Columbus naming the country so after periling with his fleet through the great sea depths off the north coast.
The Garifuna people reside on the islands - making an income from very sustainable and exhilarating tourism trips- such as ours. From paying a tax on the main island to enter the cays at a military guarded tourism information base to then snorkelling with exotic marine life, trekking through jungles on the lookout for Boa snakes and finally landing in a Garifuna community to spend the night - the trip was simply extraordinary.
The Garifuna village we stayed in was a fascinating little place although from my previous time in a Garifuna village in Tela (a nearby coastal town) I felt that the coastal Garifuna were friendlier than the island people. They live in a mix of traditional wooden/wattle and daubed earth walled buildings to adobe or wooden planked constructions. The gorgeous views of the Caribbean surrounding them on all sides - these once British owned slaves make their livings from fishing mostly if not tourism ventures. The beaches are utter marvels - all the more so as the sun sets over the crystal clear turquoise water. These are travel brochure destinations.
Who are La Garifuna?
More often than not referred to as 'Garifuna', they are truly called 'Garinagu' whilst the culture and language themselves are 'Garifuna'. The epic story of the Garinagu begun during the early 1600's on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.
In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves sank directly off the coast of St. Vincent. The surviving slaves swam ashore and found shelter within Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, these two peoples intermixed and eventually fused into a single culture - the Black Caribs or Garinagu.
By 1773, the Black Carib formed the dominant population of St. Vincent. European politics however began to exert their influence throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars between the French and British on St. Vincent culminated in a final battle on June 10th, 1796, the French and their Carib allies where ultimately forced to surrender and leave the island. This henceforth started a journey for the exiled Caribs - now in search of a home.
It was then the British who simply marooned Caribs on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Shortly after, the entire marooned population migrated to the mainland of Honduras and allied with the Spanish in the fortress town of Trujillo. However, a brief civil war in 1832 found the Caribs on the wrong side and once again many were forced to flee to neighboring British Honduras - now Belize.