How I got there...

In the spring of 2000, while kayaking down Mexico’s Central Pacific Coast toward Nicaragua, I detoured into the Auga Grande estuary to find the Pyramid de Conchas – a legendary ancient mountain of shells that many people told me about but none of them had seen.

Exploring this remote territory, I paddling through a six foot wide cut in the mangrove that led to a muddy boat launch where I discovered a dozen tattered old wooden canoes. Behind them I saw several houses that also appeared primitively built and it seemed as though I’d come through a time warp to the Flintstone’s village.

I spoke with a man named Gabrielle who said that there were many piles of shells around the peninsula on which he lived and suggested I check out one of the largest near the tip. To fill my water bag, he took me back to his house—made of lashed logs with mud and rocks filling gaps--but not all them, because in the heat of summer they like the breeze to blow through. The roof was palapa(palm leaves) and the floor dirt.

Gabrielle lived there with his wife, their three boys, and his wife’s father, Bernardo, who built the house. There were a couple dozen other houses in this village of 120 people. I stayed with them about a week before deciding to go climb the highest mountain on the horizon, Cerro de Muerto, “The Mountain of Death,”( named for it’s profile, which looks like a man on his back.)

“You can’t do that; it is very far and high,” the villagers said. “It is only ten miles away at most,” I returned, “and I’m a climber; I can handle it.” “But there’s no water up there, and tigers, and men with guns protecting crops of marijuana,” they reasoned.

I paddled three quarters of the way to the mountain, and stayed the night with a fishermen met along the way who live in the town of Palmillas near the base. In the morning, walking through town, a boy on a bike going to school asked where I was headed with my big back pack. “I’m going to school too—just like you.” I said. “I’m going to climb the mountain; it’s my school.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to die,” he replied, and suggested I followed him to the man in town that speaks English and who could give me some guidance.

This friendly gentleman, Elfego, had climbed the mountain once before and warned that there were no defined paths up to the top and water was scarce, so guided me half way up to where we found a spring. I camped there at night, and started up again in the morning.

The rest of the story is recorded in my journal from that day: May 18, 2000

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