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n the spring of 1983, Pliny Fisk III landed in Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast in a beat up old cargo plane riddled with bullet holes.1 In his possession: equipment for an earth lab that could test the strength of a new type of cement he was creating from the local soil and rice husk ash for the country’s indigenous Miskito people. Some may have questioned the timing of such a project, if not the location. Nicaragua had been

“The notion of a gringo with Albert Einstein hair and a mad scientist’s bushy mustache whacking his way into the Nicaraguan jungle to teach such a proud and independent group of indigenous people how to live off the land they have settled for hundreds of years seems, at first glance, presumptuous and, at second glance, crazy.”


Fall 2013

locked in a devastating civil war between the revolutionary Sandinista government and an organized and U.S. funded counter-revolutionary force known as the Contras. Fisk did not see that as a deterrent, even after he got rerouted to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador where he was asked to update his passport (it had inconveniently expired since his last international trip). That unexpected side trip had drained him of the little resources he had, leaving him with not much more than forty dollars and the boots on his feet. But his determination was fixed. After landing, Fisk walked out of the heavily militarized airport and into a thick humid air where he got into a truck with his equipment and headed off into the war-ravaged Mosquito Coast to help the locals build better houses. For centuries the Mosquito Coast has been one of the most inaccessible and autonomous regions in Central America. The virtually road-less Caribbean lowland landscape is a hot and humid savannah interspersed with patches of tropical rainforest where the coast loops in and out in a series of irregular lagoons. A wide and diverse parade of plant life and animals call the forest home, including 200-foot Ceiba trees, jaguar, puma, anacondas, howler monkeys, and the beautiful and mysterious holy bird of the Mayan civilization, the quetzal. The area is constantly wet, with as much as 250 inches of rainfall per year. Several of Nicaragua’s large rivers run through the region, flowing down from the country’s inland volcanic mountain range and into the Caribbean Sea. So remote is this triangular piece of territory between Honduras and Costa Rica, that the Miskito people who have long lived here (and for whom the territory is named), were largely unaffected by the Spanish conquests of the area in the 1600s and 1700s. After centuries of Spanish and British rule in the region, the Miskito still have the same political and social customs they have had for more than 350 years,

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