They gathered at the dock in a warm rain. The party was bigger than Peter had realized. There were the three archaeologists, three student interns, himself, Arias-Garcia, Cruz-Madrid, the ten soldiers and a crew of a dozen Hondurans who were busy loading equipment on to a flotilla of eight zodiac rafts with outboard motors gathered at the dock. Peter was directed into a zodiac with Cruz- Madrid, now dressed in green camouflage fatigues like the soldiers, one of the interns, a soldier and a Honduran at the stern controlling the small outboard engine. A small group of Garifuna stood on the shore watching as the rafts pulled out into the channel and headed up river. Arias-Garcia and Doctor DeGroet were in the lead raft.
The channel they followed was surrounded by mangroves. Occasionally they passed an island with tall trees and thick foliage. There were hundreds of birds; blue heron, white egrets and even a few sea birds. From the salt smell of the air they were still at the mouth of the river in its delta. Peter was grateful for the rain poncho and bush hat. Without them he would have been soaked by the incessant rain. The intern was a tall, slender, small breasted girl with short blonde hair named Wendy Dirks. She was an archeology student from Michigan State who seemed excited to be on the expedition. Peter wished he could share her enthusiasm. She immediately assailed Cruz-Madrid with questions about Honduras, its history, government, politics and culture. Cruz-Madrid tried hard to appear authoritative and knowledgeable but Peter could tell he knew surprisingly little about his own country and was bluffing in most of his answers. He suspected Aramis had half-hearted designs on bedding the lanky girl and was trying to impress. In fact, Cruz-Madrid looked completely different in his jungle fatigues, with a .45 stuck in a green canvas holster on his hip, instead of his usual impeccably tailored and starched dress khakis. He looked like a tough but elegant combat veteran, almost heroic in a vague sort of way with his camouflage fatigue cap with captain's bars pushed rakishly back on his head like an early picture of Fidel Castro.
They finally emerged into a wider channel and there were no more mangroves, just tall trees and thick underbrush on either bank. "We are in the main river now," said Cruz-Madrid.
"How long will we be on the river today?" asked Peter.
"Until dark. We won't make the Pech village until late tomorrow so we will probably find a good spot to camp for the night. There is a Miskito village we pass today but I had the feeling Arias-Garcia was not comfortable staying with them."
"What's the problem with the Miskito?"
"Probably nothing. But they are known for not being fond of outsiders. You may have heard that back in 2009 the Miskito in Nicaragua declared independence from that country. Honduras does not bother them much but they would not be very receptive to having Honduran soldiers and a bunch of white men in their village."
"Who exactly are the Miskito?" asked Wendy.
"Indios, a local tribe, who, many years ago, intermarried with escaped African slaves and Europeans, perhaps pirates or shipwreck survivors to form a unique culture. Years ago, the English armed them and supported their aggression against other tribes and the Honduran government so they became the dominant group along the coast, other than the Garifuna."
"So interesting," said Wendy.
"What about their religion?" asked Peter.
"Mostly Christian, I think, but much more conventional than the Garifuna."
"So you heard the drums last night too?"
"It was hard not to. I just tried to ignore them."
"What's so unique about the Garifuna religion?" asked Wendy.
"You've heard of Santeria and Voodoo?" said Peter "the Garifuna have a similar melding of Christian and West African religious concepts. Last night I was foolish enough to creep out towards the drumming noise and I saw part of their ceremony. Laying out food and drink for the gods, dancing and singing to summon them. But Aramis, do they worship some sort of monkey god?"
"No, Peter," Cruz-Madrid laughed, "their gods are usually a combination of a Christian saint and a West African spirit, they don't worship animals. You know who is an expert on Garifuna worship, Peter? Our mutual friend, Jahaira. Her father taught her all about them and now she has a Garifuna servant, Angelica, who was a shaman for the village we just left. Jahaira would tell you they do not worship monkeys."
"Who is Jahaira?" asked Wendy.
"A young woman who is the illegitimate offspring of an old and aristocratic Honduran family. She lives in a seventeenth century house in a very old section of Tegus. They say she is a bruja, a witch."
"My god she sounds fascinating," said Wendy. "Is she really a witch? Can I meet her when we get back to Tegucigalpa?" Cruz-Madrid smiled.
"I do believe she is a witch, of sorts. Many people go to her for cures of ailments, to solve their romantic problems or to take revenge on their enemies. She has a reputation for being effective. There are even rumors she has cast spells on high ranking government officials but they are just that, rumors. She is a very clever woman and a keen observer of human nature but I do not believe she has magic if that is what you mean by a 'witch.'"
"What do you believe Aramis, were you raised as a Catholic?" asked Wendy.
"Indeed, most Hondurans and every member of the elite families, are raised as Catholics. My mother was very devout, she made us attend church each Sunday and was always thanking god for the blessings he had bestowed on our family. As for me, I think I stopped believing when I was a teenager and I realized all the things I was dreaming of doing were sins, serious sins. I remember Father Mendoza at school telling us that even to think lustfully of a woman was offensive to god, offensive enough to get us condemned to hell for all eternity. I remember thinking that I could not help having those lustful thoughts, after all I was a teenage boy. So if I was going to hell just for thinking about those things I might as well do them and go to hell for the act instead of the thought. Then my uncle took me to the finest brothel in Tegus and I knew I was right. I just stopped worrying about all those things and live my life as though god does not exist. In the end, why would a god care about love play between men and women much less make it a mortal sin?" Wendy had blushed a bit at what Cruz-Madrid said but she persisted in the discussion.
"What about you, Peter? Did you grow up religious?"
"Not at all, my parents were both professionals, well educated, urban dwellers. They were agnostics, they said, but god or the idea of god played no part in their lives. If they were asked they would tell you that the existence of god could neither be proven nor disproven and that they were open to the possibility of his, its, existence. As for me, I tend to be more of an atheist. When I look at the world I don't see a lot of joy or love. Maybe in books and movies, but not in real life. I see a lot of suffering, poverty, wars, sickness, hunger, earthquakes, storms, tsunamis. If man really were made in the image and likeness of god, then how do you explain the cruelty, intolerance, social rigidity, greed, exploitation and violence that is an everyday part of human society? Is god like that and we are just pale images of what he is? Christians tell us that god is all good and full of love and forgiveness. That just seems impossible to me. So what about you, Wendy, what do you believe?"
"I was raised Presbyterian. We went to church a lot but not every Sunday. Sometimes there were soccer games or practice or family outings that interfered. I played a lot of soccer when I was younger. But I do still believe and stuff. I mean, man was given free will by god and just kind of thrown in to a difficult world. It's obvious god doesn't come down and reveal himself to people like he did in the old testament. He just kind of lets us do our thing and make our own mistakes. The sickness and natural disasters and stuff, I mean I just think that's part of the challenge he's given us. He wants us to struggle and prove ourselves."
From the lead raft, there was suddenly a shout. They could not make out what was being said but those in the front rafts were pointing towards something floating in the water being carried by the current. As it came closer, Peter could see it was a body.
Keywords: Ciudad Blanca, lost city, Honduras, Monkey God, adventure