A Stop in Nicaragua’s Corn Islands
Each passenger and item of luggage is carefully weighed before crossing security and entering the Costeno terminal, which is less an air terminal and more a dingy bus station.
Myself and one of my three Norwegian travel companions have a beer and laugh at cheesy latin music videos before being prompted to board the 12-passenger plane, in true Latin style, over an hour late.
Its a scenic ride, low in the air, passing over the massive lake and twin volcanic domes of Isla de Ometepe, over desolate eastern Nicaragua, and finally over the Caribbean sea, before finally making a bumpy landing onto a dirt runway.
BIG CORN ISLAND
The air feels different on Big Corn–heavy and damp and salty with a dash of secrecy. It feels like we´ve just arrived in a place only few are lucky enough to visit. And in a way this is true.
Since our luggage does not land with us, and will not arrive until the following morning, we decide to spend the night on Big Corn.
As we jump in a cab, a friendly driver with a thick Carribean accent greets us. We are unsure where to go, and he is happy to provide us with a tour of the island and drop us at a cheap hotel.
The Beach View Hotel is the decomposing corpse of a once perfectly adequate hotel–peeling sea-washed walls, mismatched bedding, holy mosquito nets, cool cement floors and fluorescent lightbulbs. Our room overlooks the sea and provides a roaring ocean soundtrack.
We watch a modest sunset while eating seafood at a nearby dockside restaurant. And after walking into town for a beer, we don’t have to try to meet the Big Corn locals as they are eager to meet us–talk American sports with the guys, or invite us to join them on their fishing boats. Feeling a bit peakish, I head to bed early, while the boys drink cervezas and talk Norwegian late into the night.
The following afternoon I take the speed boat taxi to Little Corn. I unknowingly make the poor decision to sit at the front of the boat and the initially thrilling ride quickly turns terrifying as we leave the shore. Torrential rain and substantial waves toss the speed boat around like a child’s bath toy.
I cling to a hairy French man to keep from flying into the sea, unsuccessfully trying to remember the last time I was so scared.
LITTLE CORN ISLAND …
I arrive on Little Corn, clothing dripping, heart beating rapidly, ready to kiss the ground. I head to the first familiar place– Three Brothers Guesthouse. Randy a jolly sort with a broken toothed-smile and a warm, relaxed nature, sets me up with a cheap private room, which I retire to early after making spaghetti in the communal kitchen.
My first day on little corn has me joining a group for snorkeling. As we leave Three Brothers, thick sheets of rain soak us, forcing us to run from roof to shelter to overhang as we follow the only roads on the car-less island–which aren’t roads but footpaths.
When we are finally able to get on the boat, we are taxied over vibrant aqua waters to a reef a few hundred meters off shore. Though a bit murky from hours of rain, the visibility is decent and we see numerous nurse sharks, a ray, a shallow ship wreck and plenty of Disney-worthy fish. The guide encourages me to wake a sleeping nurse shark. I run my hand over his gritty tale, and he quickly swims away.
The remainder of the day is spent with a Dutch girl and two Aussie girls from my hostel, floating in the clear, calm waters. As we chat, tiny fish swim around us, tickling our legs. We eat tacos at a beachside cafe, and meet a few more Aussie girls, one of whom is celebrating her birthday. We agree to meet up later for a celebration, but first take a walk before sunset.
We walk past a tiny open air school, past small colorful, wooden houses, and past a bakery perfuming the breeze with the sweet smell of freshly baked coconut bread. We take a dirt path past grazing cows, up to the top of a hill where we find a lighthouse. We climb a questionable latter up to breezy views of the island.
Later that night, the Aussie girls meet us at Three Brothers. The conversation is entertaining, as they are a few cuba libres deep, and as they too are all females and have been more or less travelling alone in Latin America.
I join them brieftly at the nearby reggae club. The place is decorated with murals (depicting anatomically impossible topless ladies), mirrors, bright lights and busy pool tables–in back there is a stage, poles and more mirrors. Carribean dancehall music vibrates the walls. Local men eye us as we enter and begin a game of pool, a few come over to drunkenly chat us up. As Im not in the mood to drink, or really to converse any longer, I talk someone into quickly walking me home.
Again, I´m in bed early.
I wake before 6, when the power goes out and my fan stops, leaving the air in my room stale and hot. I make oatmeal and fruit for breakfast before taking a long walk arond the island, scoping out alternative guesthouses nearer to the beach. Once again, I am greeted with torrential rain fall, I duck into a simple beachside cafe, with a serious rasta motif.
When the rain fails to let up, I am stuck in this cafe for several hours, dinking around on my iPod, drinking local tea, writing in my journal and chatting with the owner. The relentless rain evokes in me a lonely, though temporary, sort of melancholy. At one point, I decide to make a run for it, and head back to Three Brothers–with the continuing rain, I spend the rest of the day reading in bed. That night, when the rain finally lets up, I eat a dinner of fish with an unremarkable American guy.
I´m once again sleeping before 10 pm.
I wake up early and sweaty, after my fan stops, and emerge into a lovely day–the hot sun luminating the postcard perfect shoreline. Afer yesterday´s rain, the sky is cloudless. I decide to join a few young Swedes and head to the beach on the other side of the island. We sit on lounge chairs, reading in the sun, periodically bathing in the sea.
I join another boat, for an even better snorkel–seeing more nurse sharks, a family of Eagle Rays, a barracuda, a puffer fish, and more. After watching my mandatory sunset, I participate in a Caribbean style BBQ, featuring a seafood and coconut based soup called Rondon, live music and coco locos–a rum drink made with coconut water, served in the coconut. I have a nice time chatting with an entertaining Spaniard, and a girl whom I know from other places, at earlier times in my trip.
This night I go to sleep late.
I wake up before 6, pack and head to the dock to catch the first boat back to Little Corn. This time the ride is short, smooth and uneventful–enjoyable, really. I check into a dingy guesthouse near the dock, and meet up with the Norwegian’s at their nicer hotel nearby.
After eating breakfast we venture out in search of a beach. We cut through town before wandering down a gravel road along the shore, passing breezy wooden dwellings, and modest, though empty guesthouses, until we reach the entrance of a beach hotel.
We wander over a lush green carpet of grass, past several sun-bleached wooden cabanas with thatched roofs, under the shade of towering palms–past hand woven lounge chairs and driftwood furniture adorned by big white seashells and old empty bottles. We continue until coming upon a cafe, where we are greeted warmly by the loud, friendly Italian owners. A shaded table and chairs, hammock and comfy swinging chairs, overlooking the craggy seashore brings us back two more times during our visit for a pricy meal, beer or ice cream.
Our need to swim beckons us further along the shoreline until we are greeted with an expance of clean, white sand along a sleepy shoreline. We hurry into the water to bob and float and tread through the perfect salty water, risking sun burn and jelly fish stings.
We will return to the same beach and cafe the following day–my last–before me and my heavy heart must leave the slow island pace, the Carribean sea, and friends whom I grew very fond of, to board a puddle jumper enroute to Managua.