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Published: June 21st 2014
After Jiquilio I headed to my final destination in Nicaragua, the Corn Islands - literally and metaphorically a very different side of the country. The islands, along with much of the Eastern coastline, are culturally a world away from the mainland. The people are black, Criolle, usually English speaking, and there is a definite Caribbean vibe quite distinct from the Latin American feel elsewhere.
To get to Big Corn you take a little plane from the airport in Managua. Once you reach the island, you can then get to Little Corn on a panga, a small open fishing boat with an outboard motor. There are two planes and two boats per day (in each direction) and if one is late, the other will wait - it's that kind of place. The panga is awful: like some sort of nightmare water park/fairground ride. It's pretty fast and the sea gets very rough. Because you're travelling against the waves, the boat literally jumps up and crashes down continually for a stomach churning 40 minutes. The front of the boat is always tilted up a good meter off the water and a man stands on the prow like a Rastafarian Poseidon commanding the
ocean (in fact I think his job is to indicate things to the driver at the back via a series of casual hand gestures). How he stays either on his feet or in the boat is a mystery.
Dizzy, nauseous and dripping wet I arrived at the dock on Little Corn and stumbled along to Three Brothers Hostel where I was staying. Randy, the owner, immediately tried to sign me up for a snorkelling trip. The conversation went roughly as follows.
Randy: We've got a trip tomorrow if you want to come?
Me: Does it involve a boat?
Randy: Well yes.
Me: Then no.
The trip, as I discovered from some hardier guests, turned out to be quite exciting: the guide was bitten by a reef shark and had to punch it in the face in self defence. Not quite the David Attenborough approach.
Little Corn is beautiful, covered mostly with untamed jungle which gives way to deserted beaches, dotted with palm trees. The water is crystal clear, sparkling turquoise above the sand and deep blue above the reef. There are small paths through the trees that take you to different parts of the island and as you
walk along you can pick delicious ripe mangoes to fuel your journey (getting them out of your teeth will inevitably take the rest of the day). The 'village' is along the western side by the dock and consists of a few little stores and some cafés, bars and guesthouses. If you take the path towards the North you also pass a vet, a school and a baseball pitch. And that's pretty much it. There are no roads and therefore no cars, motorbikes or tuk tuks so there is very little noise. To add to the general tranquility, there's no electricity between 6am and 1pm. As a result, early rising is more or less inevitable (no electricity = no fan; no fan = no chance of sleep).
Coming back from North beach on my first afternoon I was greeted by a bearded gringo who was clearly fully integrated into island life: 'Hey, how's it going? I'm just going to smoke a joint and eat some mangoes with Dave. Catch you later!' Rob, said gringo, turned out to be very good value. Originally from Canada he has been travelling around the world and blogging about it for the last few years.
Keen not to turn into 'that tragic forty year old guy in your hostel who doesn't have anywhere to call home and thinks he's living the dream' he bought some land on little corn a couple of years ago on which he will eventually build. As a result he knows the place pretty well and was happy to show me round.
Days consisted of snorkelling in the morning (loads of groovy tropical fish plus two sting rays), walking around the island in the afternoon and finishing up with a few beers in the village. Rob also introduced me to some of the local 'characters'. One of these was a guy in his late 30s who did some painting and gardening work for Randy at Three Brothers. He was known as 'sexy' (apparently this goes back to an evening where he approached a group of girls and 'danced like a sexy lady' and the name stuck). He was very friendly and usually drunk. One morning while I was eating breakfast he was raking the yard while singing to himself and swigging a bottle of Canita rum - he always offers it round too. In the evenings he can usually be
found in the village, good naturedly hitting on female tourists.
There is a weekly baseball game on Sundays where the three island teams battle it out and the local boys get trollied while watching. (Women don't really drink in Nicaragua, it's frowned upon; they don't smoke either, at one point Rob offered me a cigarette and Sexy said 'no, it's not right for a woman'. Weak lungs I guess). Sexy and co were all at the game, getting extremely rowdy on warm rum and milk. The crowds attention was clearly divided between the entertainment on the pitch and that in the stands. The baseball itself wasn't bad although all of the players, after hitting a good strike, seemed to pause and watch the ball for a bit and then they never ran further than first base - in fairness it was very hot.
I spent a night on Big Corn before flying back to the mainland. I had heard mixed reviews but I was really taken with it. There's a lot more going on and there are fewer tourists than on Little Corn. It's less idyllic certainly but it has a charm of its own. There is a
paved road that goes all the way round the island right by the sea so the beach is basically on the pavement. But this is actually quite nice: you can sit at a roadside pulperia with a beer and watch the sunset over the sea. And there are very few cars anyway.
I stayed at Angela's guesthouse which was near the dock and charged $6 per night. This was a welcome relief after Little Corn where everything is very expensive. I didn't realise I had become such a cheapskate until I was charged nearly $2 for some milk and was so outraged I had to sit down. One women told me the price of a pineapple and when she saw my face she was like 'or, I've got some sort of less nice ones in the back' I went for one of those, obviously.
Having turned down the offer of Bible studies with a group of missionaries from Alabama, I spent my evening on the big island with Rob and a couple of travellers staying at Angela's: a German girl about my age and a Swiss guy in his late 40s. The two had met on the Panama
border - both failed to make the crossing as they didn't have flights out. They had joined forces and were now attempting to get to Columbia via the Corn Islands. They had found a local willing to let them on his boat transporting seafood to San Andreas - a 12 hour journey. As undeniably cool as this sounded, I was pretty glad to be taking a one hour flight instead of travelling for a whole night accompanied by barrels of fish. I might be cheap but some things are worth paying for.
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