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Published: November 9th 2013
Being diagnosed with acute bronchitis and influenza on the same day was far from ideal. This meant a lengthy course of antibiotics (ie. no alcohol!!) and no physical exertion. That ruled out surfing and volcano boarding, which had been the next two activities I had earmarked for our Nicaraguan adventures. A new plan had to be drawn up. The decision? Fly to the Corn Islands! The Corn Islands are two tiny islands in the Caribbean that belong to Nicaragua, with Little Corn Island not even having motorized vehicles, such is its minuteness. After successfully negotiating the ticket purchase over the phone (in Spanish!!), we were booked and all we had to do was get to the airport in notoriously dangerous Managua. No problemo!
We waited on the shoulder of the highway for the promised bus to the safer of the bus terminals in Managua. As we crossed, I spied some unsavoury types a little up the road and heard one of them say to the others, “Oye, Gringos. Dolar.” Your Spainsh language skills don’t have to be too great to identify this phrase as basically saying, “Hey lads, money target. Let’s go!” Within sixty seconds, two of them were in
my face, offering handshakes and asking for money. At this moment, a mini-van pulled up with a guy hanging out the door hollering, “Managua!” I looked at Caroline and said, “That’s us. Let’s go.” The local reprobates strode off and before we knew it, we were cramped like sardines in a tiny mini-van full with Nicaraguans, all of them rather curious, seemingly wondering as to why two gringos were in their van. Five minutes later I noticed us being overtaken by a bus with the words ‘Granada-Managua Expreso’ written on it. That was the bus we were supposed to be on. I quickly realised that, whilst we were still headed for Managua, we definitely weren’t heading to where we had planned. I made a snap decision to get chatty with the guy we paid for our ride, hoping to befriend him in the hope of safe passage once we were in Managua. Walter turned out to be a friendly fellow, quick to smile. Before long we were connecting fists in friendship and I felt a little more at ease. It’s moments like this when I feel thankful for having invested the time and money last year to take Spanish classes
in Chile and Bolivia. As we entered the outskirts of Managua, he asked me where we were going. I told him of the airport and he looked at me a little askance. He spoke to a local we had just picked up from the roadside, inquiring how much it costs to get a taxi to the airport. He then leaned towards me in a conspiratorial fashion and said, if I liked, he would take me all the way to the airport, direct for the same price as a taxi. Whilst I knew the money was a bonus for him, he offered the same amount that the local had told him a taxi would be and I had a genuine sense that he was doing this not only for money, but for our safety.
We reached the end of the line and as I looked around, I sensed why my new friend had been feeling uneasy for us. I saw a hive of activity, awash with sweat-soaked traders, the stench and viscous air created by belching diesel fumes and not a foreigner for what could have been miles. We were instructed to stay in the van with our bags. Compelled
to look at the scene we had found ourselves in, I soaked up all that I could see, which even included a man standing with a live duck seated in his raised right hand. I suppose he was advertising it for sale to feed a family in a home-cooked stew, or he could have been offering it up to a God. He stood stone still, in direct contrast to the hustle and bustle all around him. It was a bizarre sight, yet entirely in keeping with a world turned on its head.
This blog was supposed to be about Little Corn Island; however, I’m starting to realise that the journey to get there was an experience in itself. The airline that flies to Big Corn Island is La Costeña, seating just under 40 passengers in their twin prop plane. Your boarding card is a big rectangular piece of plastic that you then hand over again before walking out to the plane. Liquids are allowed on board. Things are more laid back in this part of the world.
Fifty minutes later, we were on Big Corn Island, collecting out luggage in the tin shed that doubles as an airport.
We shared a taxi to the port where a tiny boat called a panga takes people across to Little Corn Island. This service conveniently ties in with the two daily flights that land on Big Corn Island. The people of the Corn Islands speak a form of Creole, yet all the true locals speak English in a very Jamaican way. Spanish is becoming more common, due to mainlanders moving out to the islands; however, this is one place in Nicaragua where not being able to speak Spanish would be no problem whatsoever.
Little Corn Island is, as its name suggests, little. In a couple of hours you could easily walk from one end to the other, probably even doubling back on yourself in that time. They have a baseball field, yet I have no idea who they play against. I guess Big Corn must have a team that they bring over by boat. There is a lighthouse that you can ascend to gain a view of the entire island. Upon reaching the top of the ladder, you realise that there isn’t actually a light anymore. It would more accurately be called a look out. The only other
things to do on the island are swim, eat, drink and sleep. The locals seem to live by the natural rhythms, which involves rising with the sun at 5:30am. With sunrises like the ones we saw, I can understand why. Nothing is open after 9pm, save for a bar or two. The sun sets shortly after 5pm and if you haven’t eaten by 7pm, then your options become limited. Life here is tranquil, unhurried and friendly. Everyone offers you a beaming smile when you say hello. If you want, you can go SCUBA diving, snorkelling or fishing. Outside of that, the only thing you can do is lie in a hammock and read a book. That’s exactly what I did for three days (‘Game of Thrones’ is compulsive reading!) as I convalesced back to health. Caroline has more talents at her disposal, so she also painted some emperor penguins. She took inspiration for this after we had sheltered from a tropical lashing of rain by watching an episode of ‘Frozen Planet’ in our cosy little cabin.
Lobster abounds for bargain prices, so I ate it twice in a local Caribbean sauce, which is essentially coconut based. Delicious!!
In fact, when it comes to food, just about everything is either from the sea or made with coconut – even the bread. Coconut bread is a winner in my books, especially when converted into French toast and topped with maple syrup. Sooooo good!!
The locals on Little Corn Island live in very basic housing, often made of odds and ends. This is a Caribbean isle in every way, palm fringed with white sand beaches and ramshackle abodes, from where a smiling fellow with a machete in hand is likely to be leaning against the door pillar. There are plans to build an international airport on Big Corn Island, which I think will change things dramatically for the locals. Understandably, they’re not entirely supportive of the idea. Little Corn Island can’t support many people living upon its shores, with very limited fresh water and food (except for fish, lobster and coconuts), so unless things are carefully planned, this paradise could one day be ruined. I certainly hope this doesn’t come to pass, but if someone asked me if they should go to the Corn Islands, I’d tell them to go sooner rather than later. NOTE:
can see more of Caroline's great artwork at: http://cazbag.wordpress.com/
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