Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, Honduras
A journey aboard
the old narrow gauge railway

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Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge

Because I'm sitting directly over the train's cowcatcher, I'd have to be blind not to notice the tracks ahead.

Instead of running straight, they weave and tilt at odd angles, like the handiwork of a tipsy work crew.

The regulars aboard appear unconcerned about whether we'll jump the tracks, so I guess I should be, too, since this train has considerable history behind it.

Since 1904 the narrow gauge railway at La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast of Honduras has been in service off and on. The line was built to export bananas and coconuts, and it's the original tracks we're riding.

The train's single rickety 15-passenger car and the square, battery-powered engine pushing us look like original equipment; they're a mere half-century old.

In 1999 the miniature train traded cargo for passengers to become the Tourist Train and began carrying visitors to the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, known for its 198 bird species and 35 types of animals including jaguar.

Thanks to the Tourist Train, the refuge is easy to reach. Previously, the only transport was a small railroad cart called a burra that children pushed to the refuge, a lengthy and laborious expedition. Even our motorized trip to the refuge takes more than 20 minutes.   

Slowing near a small crossroad, the engineer pushes or pulls something to blast a warning to a chicken on the tracks.

But instead of a train whistle, it's the harsh rise and fall of an air raid siren; hardly traditional--and hard to ignore.

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