Little Hogs, Big Hog
Cayos Cochinos, the forgotten Bay Islands, provide tranquility and Amazement to a Trickle of Visitors

December 1st, 2006
by Susan Jensen

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Cayos Cochinos fisherman heads back home after a days work.

Cayos Cochinos fisherman heads back home after a days work.

Nestled just 8 miles off the North Coast of Honduras, are a group of islands known by locals as the Hog Islands. It was named after the wild hog once found on the big island. This archipelago consists of 13 islands. Two large islands, Big Hog and Little Hog, and 11 smaller keys, are all surrounded by pristine coral reef and white sand beaches.

Because of their proximity to the mainland and the Garifuna villages along the North coast, the southern keys have been inhabited by Garifuna fishermen. In the beginning, the Garifuna men used the keys as a stop-over during their fishing expeditions. Eventually, the women were brought over and soon a small village developed on the key known as Chachaute. Today there are now numerous small settlements in the archipelago.

View of Upper Long Cay and Big Hog island from the air. (photo: Steve Dankovich)

View of Upper Long Cay and Big Hog island from the air. (photo: Steve Dankovich)

Along with the women, came some children and soon they had a small school set up on Big Hog, with their maestro coming over from the mainland to give classes. The kids would load into their little dug-out canoes and paddle over to the big island for their day classes. Then on the way home, they would fashion sails from palm fronds to get them back to the key. This was an amazing sight to behold.

Life in Cayos Cochinos has never been easy. Because these keys are very low lying, there is no readily available fresh water. It is left for the women to paddle over to the water well on the Big Hog and load the dug-out canoes with containers of fresh water to be used for cooking and cleaning.

This is no easy task as it requires a fair distance paddle, a long walk into the hillside, and then a trip back to Chachaute with heavy water containers. All food supplies are brought in from the villages along the mainland and during bad weather this becomes especially difficult, as no boats can go in or out of the area. Cayos Cochinos are also susceptible to hurricanes and the fishermen will be happy to relate stories to you about how they had to tie themselves to coconut palms to survive numerous storms that passed through here.

The private ownership of the Hog Islands is probably the biggest factor why they remained pristine and untouched. In 1945 the islands were bought Mr. Hano Griffith, from La Ceiba, from Trujillo’s Milado family, for whom he worked as an accountant in their sugar plantation. For many years Mr. Hano was paying the installments on the purchase.

A Fisherman throws a net to capture sprouts used as bait.

A Fisherman throws a net to capture sprouts used as bait.

Roberto Griffith, the only son of Mr. Hano, inherited the remaining islands from his father. Roberto, still the largest land owner on the islands, still honors his fathers promise to the Garifua community on Cayos to let them reside and fish on East End and Chachaguate Cay. Robero feels that the local Garifuna are an integral part of the archipelago’s beauty and folklore.

During these times islands were not considered to be of any value except to fishermen, which is what Mr. Griffith was. During his ownership Mr. Griffith had an unfortunate event occur when one of his boats sank leaving him in debt. He decided to sell a portion of the islands to Mr. Horton Kivett, an American pilot, well known in the area.

At this time certain pieces of land were leased out to different parties and soon a dive resort, Plantation Beach Resort, was developed here. It became the only resort in Cayos Cochinos for many years. Ever since then, serious dive enthusiasts have been coming to Cayos Cochinos to enjoy the wonders of these untouched reefs.

Some years ago the World Wildlife Association became interested in Cayos Cochinos and set about setting up a Foundation to preserve the wildlife and uniqueness of these islands. The organization purchased Little Hog Island from Mr. Kivett and set up a Research Centre there. World Wildlife Association has rangers that patrol the area and have implemented harvesting seasons for lobster, conch and fish. This management of resources has helped maintain the population of many marine creatures.

Fishing has always been very popular in Cayos Cochinos as there are several banks around the islands, as well as great fishing conditions inside the archipelago. However, without preservation, there is always the chance of these fragile areas being destroyed and the marine life depleted.

Cayos Cochinos remains one of the most splendid areas to visit in Honduras. The two big islands have valleys and hills covered with lush vegetation and palm trees. The views from the high hillsides are incredible; you can see clearly the mountains Sierra San Antonia and Sierra Cangrejal of the mainland, as well as Roatan and Guanaja. Beside all the beautiful natural vegetation, you may also get to see the indigenous pink Boa, which is only found on Big Hog Island.

You can listen to stories told by friendly local Garifuna, or Garinagu fishermen. Being descendants of African slaves, the Garinagu are a unique people with their own language, music, religion, and ancestral traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.

These gentle folk are always ready with a big smile and warm welcome. For a nominal fee they offer a thatch hut to sleep in and are ready with a big plate of fresh fish, rice and beans.

Divers from Subway Watersport head back to Roatan after a trip to Cayos Cochinos. Roatan's AKR and Las Rocas also go to dive in Cayos Cochinos on weekly basis.

Divers from Subway Watersport head back to Roatan after a trip to Cayos Cochinos. Roatan's AKR and Las Rocas also go to dive in Cayos Cochinos on weekly basis.

Early morning on Chachauate brings lots of activity as the children prepare to leave for school and the men ready to go out for the day of fishing. The women rise before the sun to start the day’s activities of preparing the fire for cooking, cleaning fish, and collecting fresh water. The life is simple here. There are no fresh water shower facilities and a little shack over the water serves as a toilet.

The best time to visit Cayos Cochinos is anytime except Semana Santa, when the islands flood with people from the mainland and Central America. You can also take a day trip to the islands from La Ceiba, or Sambo Creek. The easiest route from the mainland is chartering a boat from La Ceiba, but with a little extra time, one can travel by bus to Nueva Armenia, spend the night there at a small hotel or with a local family, and in the early morning ride out with the fishermen heading for Cayos. Neuva Armenia, only a few miles off-shore, is the nearest Garifuna village to the islands.

Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

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