Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"For Universe is not a place but an event... not a noun
but a verb... the living fabric of its truth can be
experienced only with an open heart... As encountered
meanings flow into us, they change us, remake us. The
things we need to become ourselves, to fill the holes
within us...Soul making
We docked at the infamous Big Corn Island, home to former runaway slaves, pirates and drug smugglers. "Big Foot", a large local man, tried his best to find us a reasonable place along the shore. He even returned to a guesthouse where he had been thrown out because of his color by the nasty Italian owner the previous week. Not knowing the temper or reputation of the owner we offered to stay in his clean little guesthouse for a week at $15 a night, a counter offer from his $20, something which is usually accepted for a week or longer. He exploded, yelling at us to leave his property. Stunned we just looked at him then tried to right the wrong. Seems he thought we had said $5, but even when he realized the misunderstanding his ego wouldn't allow him to change his stance. We feel it is our responsibility as travel ambassadors to not react to such behavior, but he, in fact, had done us a favor. Had we discovered what an angry racist he was, we would have probably run into further problems. As it turned out we were welcomed into the bosom of Flordita, a friendly voluminous local woman and her helpful 'rocker James Brown look alike' husband; 'duenos' or proprietors of the Sweet Dreams Hotel.
Weather over the Corn Islands is variable to say the least. Blue sky reflecting in the calm turquoise waters can become black with sheets of rain within 5 minutes. One learns to detect the warning signs of an impending deluge if you want to stay dry.
Out for another walk around the island we watched the clouds come and go, vacillating between baking and comfortable as we walked over 5 miles of various vistas and beaches. A rumble in the distant clouds means, 'look out' - bad weather will be upon you in 15-20 minutes. Life seems to be a mixture of many events, or parallel 'channels' all happening at the same time. Just depends what we tune into. Unaware of the clouds I took my turn snorkeling one of the coral reefs in an idyllic turquoise lagoon. Snorkeling is one of those times when I can easily get lost in the moment. I have spent 2-3 hours many times, slowly swimming, lost in the silent undersea world of colorful fish and marine life. Never turn your back on the ocean! I was swimming along, lost in time, when I felt rain pelting on my back. I put my head up for the first time only to find to my horror, that not only was it pouring rain but the sky and water were black and the rough waves were pounding over me, filling my snorkel. I was way off shore and a shudder went through me as I realized and felt my predicament. I am a calm seas sort of person and I wondered what to do as the fear started creeping over me. I stuck my head back in the water where all was tranquil and calm. How could 2 inches make such a difference? I knew I had to get to shore immediately without panicking. But how? The current journey right now, which is all we ever really have, would be determined by my reactions to the situation. Remembering a great lesson I learned in Egypt, along "de-Nile", I chose to ignore the storm of life around me and retreated to my quiet inner place of calmness beneath the waves. Two parallel realities so close. The choice is always ours where we choose to hang out. I chose to connect to the beauty below. Once again distracted by busy, colorful fish swirling around the living coral under me, I swam back the way I had come; connected to the source of strength, safety and peace. Climbing up through the now rough surf over the rocks, I looked at the dark storm enveloping the bay. Safe and a bit exhausted I retreated under a tree, where Joseph and our bags were hiding from the rain. Within 15 minutes the storm, wind, and rain passed and the sun shone brightly on the once again calm, turquoise lagoon. The lesson lingers still.
Continuing along the amazing 2 mile long cement ocean wall we stopped to swim and visit villages along the way. A favorite past time of ours is to drop into tiny eateries and find out from the locals what vegans can enjoy. The usual 'arroz and frijoles' or rice and beans is always waiting. Sometimes we are surprised with fresh vegetables or potatoes. We have spent many joyful hours belly up to the bar in cramped, often smoky conditions enveloped in the culture of our new 'home'. While walking around the island we asked about 'boiled' beans. Directed to the little green house on the right, behind the pretty flowers, we ended up spending several hours with delightful Vilma and daughter 'Cooker'. They were surprised when we walked up as they we not a restaurant. Selling us a portion of beans, a scoop of rice, fried plantain and slices of avocado right from her families kitchen we learned about the Corn Islands from Vilma. Her twin sons now live on San Andreas Islands, 5 hours further out; where they fled during the Nicaraguan Civil War. During the conflict boys around the island and countrywide were picked up and made to fight for whatever side kidnapped them. Refusing meant immediate death. Vilma's twin boys hid, then escaped by boat to the islands, under the control of Columbia, 700 miles away to the south. Strange with Nicaragua only 70 miles away. Vilma exclaimed with a sad face, "They pick up the young boys to get 'em dead!"
The next time we walked the island we knew where to find beans. Riding part of the way standing up, hanging over the cab in the back of a delivery truck, we surprised Vilma and Cooker in their yard making coconut oil over the fire. Coconuts are grated and boiled in water. The oil is skimmed off the top with the remaining rich liquid fed to the family pigs. We bought a jar of the healthy oil, a half dozen avocados, plus our usual plate of food. They were thrilled that we had returned to their humble little home and we sat in the shade for another couple of hours sharing stories and pictures.
Our days turned into a week as we enjoyed exploring the shores of Big Corn Island. I spent many an enjoyable hour with Elsie and sister Maya, Moskito sisters from Kukura Hill on the mainland coast. Elsie was pregnant and ready to 'pop' any day. I found a cute little shirt, (new!), for the new little Moskito ready to hatch. Planning to sail to Bluefield on Sunday we were surprised, but not really, to find out the boat left Saturday instead, leaving us high and dry for a few more days. The following Tuesday, the next scheduled sailing, we made sure we were on that boat, anxious to explore more of the coast. The night before we left we saw bright lights and heard horns blaring. A large cargo ship arrived, heading for extremely remote Puerto Cabeza. A 15-17 hour trip on rolling seas was the deciding factor to not jump aboard. Plus once you arrive, the land journey down would have been a nightmare.
After a rolling but uneventful 5 hours we found ourselves speeding along the jungle lined river channels toward Laguna de las Perlas or Pearl Lagoon, 1.5 hours north from Bluefields. This was extreme boating! We could hardly catch our breath as the boat raced around sharp corners, hitting an occasional wave and sending us up then crashing down on the liquid surface of the lagoon. We exchanged glances with the other travelers in the boat yelling, "Damn, people pay big money to do extreme sports like this. Not bad for 50 cents!"
Arriving close to dark we were surprised that there was only one hotel taking advantage of the riverfront. Just as I walked in the Thursday night music started up and the idyllic rooms on stilts turned from heaven to hell in 5 seconds. We ate there later and could walk away from the music back to the quiet of the little room we had found. Actually the whole village vibrated for the next 3 nights as Independence Day festivities heated up.
When crossing the Nicaraguan border at Los Chiles we heard what we thought was a parade with chimes and drums of all sizes. It turned out that the kids in the local band of each town practice loudly, very loudly, for a couple of hours every afternoon for the 2 months proceeding Independence Day. It is a kind of 'right of passage' for the young boys in the village. Little tots with 'wanna-be' plastic drums march along the big boys in the streets. The cool biggest guys lead the way, in their glory with the whole town watching. Having heard drums for over a month we were curious to see what transpired. Secretly we were anxious to declare independence from the loud daily drumming. At 4:30am a small band of rogue drummers marched through the streets, their drumming waking the citizens and telling them to get up and get ready for the upcoming parade. The only problem was that the parade started 4 hours later. We rushed out to watch as group after group of students from the surrounding villages strutted by. Boys pounded and young girls either marched in little outfits in front of them or just swooned from the sidelines. Speeches from the mayor, followed by recitations from teachers and students concluded the program. That was it for another year. The only thing remaining was loud music from every bar as the men of the town drank til they dropped. The days were calm but after 3 nights of partying not a soul was left standing.
The young Moskito students did their best to blend into the town school groups. Gone are the days of traditional outfits, and with that goes the music, dancing and culture in general. Even though people are poor it is possible nowadays to look stunning and 'blend in' thanks to the second hand clothes shipped in enormous bales from "America". We walked about 3 miles, part through a stream running over the road, to the villages of Raipura and Awas. Before we knew it we were playing balloons with the young kids and were invited to sit in the shade of a small crooked wooden family porch with a spectacular view of the ocean, sharing a coconut cut from a nearby tree.
Continuing on to Awas we met Orlando, Idalia and their 3 kids. Orlando welcomes travelers into his simple little thatch home providing a place to camp or a small lumpy bed with mosquito net for the night. People can explore the area, catch and prepare food, and experience life in the village. After spending time with them we think it would be a fun experience. We prefer to spend the day in villages and then retreat to our own clean quiet room for a good mosquito/people free night. We have slept in peoples homes or huts or tents or yurts- on floors or on lumpy mats many nights.
We met a man and asked where we could get coconut rice and beans? Within 1 hour he had scaled a coconut tree, made a fire, cooked the rice in the coconut milk and added cooked beans. Delicious! We shared the tasty local dish, washed down with another coconut on the porch of his parents shack. A Rasta guy tagged along for the afternoon and ended up reciting poetry/lyrics to music he had composed, as a gift to us. The performance was cut short as he asked us to sit down on the grass along the ocean only to have it near a biting ant hill, which led to a standing ovation in short order. We were touched by his sharing from the heart. Our day of meandering through the local villages was a heart warming time.
Taking the boats down Rio San Juan was an enjoyable relaxing experience. Not is the case with the speed boats up the coast and through this massive lagoon. The bags and cargo go in the front of the long speed boat, with passengers sitting on wooden benches in the back. If it rains tough luck! A tarp gets thrown over the bags and you get drenched. The boat goes so fast that it would just peel any canopy off in the wind. Drivers are young direct descendents of apocalyptic specters, wild eyed as they hit the waves head on or make sharp curves at high speeds. We lucked out and in the 4 trips we took we only were drizzled on once. The worst part is the back and kidney jarring shock as the boat hits wave after wave. It was unbelievably uncomfortable and the locals said, "Oh, it gets much rougher." An older woman next to us told us you have to know how to "ride da skiff." When it's really bad the people in the front stand, holding on to ropes. It's a bit bizarre, considering it is the ONLY means of transportation.
Even knowing this we couldn't resist the urge to explore further north, land of the Garifuna people. Legend has it that these strong rugged survivors, like the Maroons of the hills of Jamaica, were slaves shipwrecked somewhere on the Moskito Coast. Other stories say that the ship full of slaves from Africa were put ashore when emancipation was declared. Whatever the truth these strong, hardy souls walk proudly and carry their Garifuna traditions with them to this day. Orinoco is a wormhole bridging the American and African continents, thousands of miles across the Atlantic, with only the strong surviving the journey.
Walking around this tiny village of Orinoco takes half an hour, but the real time was spent sitting with a group of women in their back yard or a family along the ocean gazing out, talking little. We also hunted down pineapples and bananas from the folks sitting on their small wooden porches, with wooden shutters, as the village stores had nothing fresh to sell. We heard drumming and were told that they have an exciting international music festival in November when musicians and the Garifunas from up and down the Central American coast converge for a week of jamming. Two young men were going to stop by our 'hotelito' to play a little music for us but never showed. Maybe further down the line. This reminded us of festivals held in Borneo and Madagascar.
Life is about the same here as a century or two ago, especially since the generator was broken and there was no electricity, only candles and kerosene at night. Our wonderful little guesthouse with friendly Kensy (who speaks good English), ran a generator for a few hours but our main ploy of keeping mosquitoes away on a hot night, a fan (the best invention for the tropics since wheels on luggage) shut off at 10pm leaving us hot and hotter. For this reason alone we found ourselves down on the dock at daybreak with groggy locals loading on to the only boat returning to Laguna de Perlas for 3 days. It is wise to find out the boat schedule (haha, what's a schedule?) as often only 2 trips a week are the norm. We usually ask several people at the dock, taking the word of 2 out of 3, realizing that a number of factors could cancel any well intentioned sailing.
Spanish is spoken in Orinoco but their local dialect, remnants of West Africa, is the prominent language heard. I sat and held the hand of a young woman when she broke into tears, reliving the drowning accident of her son only 3 days earlier. Some things don't require a lot of words. When someone dies in Nicaragua we were told that they keep the body at home and that very night all family and friends gather to say good bye. A local carpenter will quickly make a custom coffin and within 24 hours the body is buried, with or without a church service. Cemeteries line the roads in this predominately Catholic country, sometimes with the family building large monuments for their family members. We saw a horse drawn, grand glass sided hearse, pull up to the Catholic Cathedral in Granada, giving their loved one a royal send off.
From Perlas we decided to head inland, on terra firma for the first time in over a month. Damp, tired and dirty, but rich in experience, we headed west towards electricity, dryer climes, and infrastructure. We had seen very few tourists for this 6 week look at remote eastern Nicaragua. All residents here will say that the money stays in western Nicaragua, and that is where the tourists stay. Our wild day-long ride to El Rama started with the usual 'chicken bus' an old school bus passed down from north America. Usually filled to over capacity with locals heading to or from the market or school; these buses are sometimes redecorated with overhead racks or brightly painted exteriors, always thanking Jesus for a safe journey. When crammed with 3 adults rather than 3 students per seat one has flashbacks of schooldays. This is where you meet the locals and join in with laughing or the complaining, which is common worldwide. These buses will stop for anything ( herds of cattle, a chicken or a dog) or anyone (Auntie's house), anywhere. So this slow moving cacophony of noisy country life, often overpowered by a blaring tinny speaker belting out lively Nicaraguan music; is the life blood of rural areas.
At Kukura Hill we jumped onto the back of a bigger truck, thankfully the right size to make it through the enormous mud holes in the roads from recent downpours. I swear those other vehicles are still there trying to get through several rough spots. Without chains on the wheels and a large cable we would still be back there commiserating. El Rama was a wild west town in the east. Saddles hanging as craftsmen fixed cowboy boots and men nodded under their cowboy hats. People buy supplies here to take inland by boat, the usual method of transport to Bluefields and beyond.
Out here in the wild, wild east don't expect to get anywhere quickly. But then we gave up that silly notion years ago. It's the journey.
And so it goes.........................................Next returning overland to western Nicaragua, a land of contrast, history and modern conveniences. Until next month Keep Smiling and remember to experience life with an open heart. We can change in ways never thought possible. We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch and for sharing our webpage!
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = 24 Cordobas
Big Corn Island:
Hotel Beach View: Get off the ferry, hail a cab for 15 c per person and be dropped off at the hotel. Basic, funky, wooden rooms with fans the best part of this operation is the balcony looking right over the ocean - 4 rooms so possibly call Phone # 257 55 062 to see if the upstairs ocean view rooms are available - otherwise you are on the road. $15 per room. Walk back to town along the ocean, about a mile. A great walk right along the edge on the concrete walkway.
Made the mistake of slugging our bags out to the point past Quinns. The first on your left had a reputation of inside thievery, Quinns was full, the Bella or Good Vista looked like the place to be until we offered the hot headed Italian man a discounted price for 10 days. In his Italian he thought I offered him $5 a night instead of $15 and just exploded. We stood there drop jawed wondering what the commotion was all about. When we tried to rectify the problem he wouldn't listen. We even offered him the $20 he wanted and he yelled, "NO!" We found out from Big Foot - a local tout - that this same man (whose hotel was empty when all around were full) refuses to serve local black customers in his restaurant. This guy deserves NO business and probably won't last another 2 years. Weird. The friendly place down at the point was $50 a night and Marthas B & B on remote but beautiful Picnic Beach won't go below $35, even for 10 days. An expensive island and we wouldn't recommend coming all the way out here, but your choice. Europeans 'throng' here but then they haven't sampled the inexpensive, beautiful beaches of Asia or elsewhere.
A perfect place for a walk late afternoon is out past Quinns to the point where La Princesa de la Isla has 4 full service cabinas and a pizzeria. Absolutely quiet, remote and gorgeous in the setting sun. Takes 15 minutes to walk out along the ocean.
Picnic Beach is another pretty white sand beach with a couple of restaurants and hotels. All beaches here are public and fairly undeveloped. It costs only 15c per person to go anywhere on the island by taxi. A great deal. Just hail one down. Bus 5c but it only runs once a hour IF it is running.
Long Bay is another beautiful expansive white sand beach - not much there but beach. Make sure you don't get scraped on the coral when swimming. Canada Hotel is expensive but has a nice place to sit out over the water.
Boats run on kind of a schedule - keep asking and asking. Our Sunday boat to Bluefields decided to go Saturday instead. Most of the time they are delayed several hours but get your ticket ahead in Fisher's Cafe next to the dock.
Little Corn is a favorite with backpackers and the East side gets a little noisy. There are a couple all inclusive more expensive places also. With no cars you have to walk 20 minutes to the tranquil west side to stay in little wooden bungalows without amenities. ($10-$15) Check it out for a rough but beautiful experience. You must book ahead in the islands during high season.
Great place to hang out on the water, one of the only ones is Fisher's Cafe. Free wifi with a drink. Looks down in large outdoor pools complete with colorful fish, barracuda and even a small shark. Chinese chopsuey and noodle soup are good (115c each)
The Green Lodge - left from dock - new units in the
back very clean and comfortable, with bathrooms.
Wesley is very knowledgeable and helpful and he and
Arlene will make your stay enjoyable. $20-$25 for
fan or a/c rooms Breakfast available.
Also $15 for shared bath rooms. The best bet for
your stay in Lagoon. Get the upstairs corner room in the
back with 2 windows.
Hotel Ulrich seemed musty and dark for the $15-20 rooms, although on the water only the restaurant has a view. A bit strange.
Enquire at the office on the dock
about boats for the next day from Pearl Lagoon to
Orinoco. The clerk there seems to be the only one
who knows what is really happening. All else is
speculation. Then the boats may be 1-2 hours late
in arriving. The express boat from Bluefield to
Lagoon is extreme boating as they take sharp corners and
weave down the river. Onward to Orinoco becomes
more serious. NEVER sit in the front 2 seats if
possible as the jarring on your back while hitting the
waves could do serious damage. Those seats are
always open. Some young men stand up there holding
a rope. "You must know how to ride da skiff" we
were told. Also your bags will be under a plastic
if the skies open but you won't be. Have a poncho
ready to hide you and your bags under. It could be
a long 45 minutes. Our backs are still sore as I
write this but the rain held off for all 4 boat trips.
The buses run 4 times a day to Managua but the 8:30 am bus is often full with people from Bluefields. Buy your ticket the afternoon before or by 7am the day of travel. 150c
Chillaxin', in the heat of the day!