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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Bluefields and the Corn Islands

NICARAGUA | Thursday, 19 November 2009 | Views [9921]

What a mission! Getting to Bluefields was half the fun. Getting stuck there wasn't as much so, and getting to the Corn Islands proved to be the ultimate "mish." After taking an overnight bus from Managua to El Rama, I had to wait awhile before catching a panga on the Rio Escondido. Bluefields, like Tortuguero, is inaccessible by road; there's no choice but to go by plane or boat. A woman (from Bluefields) who just got back from Rome was charged double the boat fare for some reason; I wondered why they did that to her and not me. It was fortunate because I don't have a great deal of money on me. I had to buy a plane ticket out of Nicaragua because the border to Honduras is closed right now. Riding the panga to Bluefields turned out to be the majority of the fun; it was like a really cheap jetboat ride. After the long, 2-hour ride down the river I was finally in Bluefields. One of the rainiest places on Earth, Bluefields certainly gets its fair share. You might wonder how a town in a Spanish-speaking country would get the name "Bluefields." It's because it was named after the Dutch sailor (Blewfeldt) who sailed along the coast. However, many of the residents are bilingual and it seems that English is the predominant language. When I disembarked in Bluefields I found out that the boat to Big Corn Island doesn't leave until tomorrow. That meant that I was stuck in Bluefields for the night! While Bluefields certainly isn't Granada, there are some sights to see and things to do. Nicaraguan food is rather bland but there are some interesting delicacies on this side of the country. However, Bluefields isn't the safest place; it's a major stopping point for the Colombian cocaine trade. The internet only costs 50 cents per hour so I went online for a good while and then strolled around for a bit. The most interesting sight is the Moravian Church. Bluefields is a rather cute town; it's a bit ramshackle and rough but dig in a bit (or just look on Google Earth) and you'll see it's not all that bad. Since I was up nearly all night I decided to go book a room somewhere and go to sleep for a bit. It isn't like New Zealand where you can go sleep on a park bench; your stuff won't be there when you open your eyes again! Condoms are provided in the room that I checked in but I don't have a girl with me, nor am I interested in hooking up with any. When I lie on the bed I fell asleep for about five hours, waking up at about 3:00 PM or so. I went out for a bit, looking for someplace to get something to eat and have a stroll around. When I got back to my room at like 6:00 PM or so a big fat cockroach scurried out from under my bed! Thinking "Oh my God" I just wanted to leave. When I went to walk around the front door the owner demanded that I pay him the room rate ($5). Even though I explained to him that there were cucarachas in my room he threatened me, saying he'd call the police and they'd "lock my ass up." Reluctantly I pulled out 100 cordobas and gave it to him and got the hell out. Looking for another place to put my head for the night I stopped at a hospedaje down the street and I asked if I could look at the room first. This room looked even worse than the last one. Most of these rooms out here are just a bed with no sheets. I swear that most of these rooms are just used for people to come in, have a fling, and then just leave. I wouldn't want to know what's crawling in some of these mattresses! Walking around Bluefields at night (a stupid move but I did it anyway) I walked a couple of blocks toward the waterfront and checked into a real hotel. The room rate is normally $25 per night but they let me have it for $20 since I agreed not to use the air conditioner. When I asked the girl what there is to do in Bluefields at night, her response was "sleep." She told me that Bluefields isn't a place to "go out on the town." Tonight I met an interesting man who said he works for the U.S. State Dept. He proceeded to tell me how he parachuted into Cuba to rescue someone, was then pulled over by the police for speeding, thrown in jail for three weeks, and was then deported. I actually thought this guy might have been lying; it sounds like something straight out of a James Bond film. However, I did get his contact details so I could see if his story is true. Then I followed the attendant's advice and went up to my room. I had a nice, long, hot shower and then went to sleep in a clean bed...and there were no cockroaches under there!

This morning I woke up extra early expecting to catch the boat to the beautiful Corn Islands. At 6:30 AM I ran down to the dock and got a cup of coffee and a huge plate of gallo pinto. But damnit! About 20 minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave we found out that it was in El Rama and that it had engine problems. The next boat doesn't leave until tomorrow! That means I'm stuck in Bluefields for a second night! And there's fuck all to do here! As a result I spent the majority of my day at the internet cafe underneath what Bluefields is famous for: rain! It poured down heavily. My father seemed upset with me, telling me that he wanted me to get the hell out of Bluefields. I'm leaving Bluefields tomorrow; if the boat gets cancelled tomorrow I'm just going to say skip it and I'm going back inland. For lunch I got some pretty good pizza at one of the restaurants. Bluefields definitely could be a better spot for tourism if it had a better reputation safety-wise and if there were more attractions. There is a small museum that's quite interesting. It details some of the history of Bluefields and there's various equipment related to sailing and communications. While Caribbean Nicaragua is linguistically different to the rest of the country, it's similar in a lot of ways. Much like in Managua and Granada, you see people selling pirated DVDs, toys, shoes, umbrellas, snacks, and just about everything else. Earlier I met a couple of guys who were supposed to go to the Corn Islands and they showed me a hospedaje that was a little bit cleaner. While not fancy by any means I didn't see any bugs and I decided to stay there for the night because I didn't want to shell out $20 for a room again. This room cost only $6 per night. In Granada I paid $8 for a bunk in a room at the Hostal Oasis and that's still my favourite youth hostel; it's so clean and so much fun. But in Bluefields the rooms are boring and often grubby. Anyways, I'm praying that the boat shows up tomorrow because if it gets cancelled for whatever reason I'm skipping the Corn Islands. I have to go back to Costa Rica in like eight months to get my dental work finished so I'll have another opportunity to visit the islands. After hanging out at the internet cafe and watching some basketball I decided to call it a night. I have to get up early and hope the boat leaves. Will I be on the Corn Islands or will be heading back inland?

This morning I woke up at 6:00 AM, packed my stuff and ran down to the dock, hoping the boat wouldn't get cancelled! Like yesterday I got a breakfast of gallo pinto, banana and coffee. Luckily, the boat was going! We had to take a small boat over to the point across the bay, and that was $2. Then it was time to get on the big boat. The ride to Big Corn Island costs $10 and it's a very crowded boat with livestock and the whole nine yards. It literally smelled like a "farm out in the middle of the sea." As we set sail and made our way out into the open ocean, I realized it was the first time I've ever been on a boat with no land in sight. It's an otherworldly experience! It was a beautiful day, and to (occasionally) avoid the stench of cattle I'd go up to the deck on the roof, but I didn't want to lie up there too long because I'd get burnt.

This boat trip isn't for the faint of heart. Getting to the Corn Islands by boat isn't for the faint of heart. If you're not ready to deal with getting splashed, boats getting cancelled, Bluefields, seasickness, grungy hospedajes, the stink of cattle, being jam-packed on a boat and, worst of all, a scuzzy bathroom on the boat, I recommend flying! The flight is more expensive but likely much more convenient. Either way, I was having a lot of fun. There was a girl from the UK who really needed to go to the bathroom but she wasn't ready to use the only bathroom on the boat because it was so disgusting. The boat ride to Big Corn Island lasted a whopping seven hours! And I thought it would only take about four. Oh man it was relief getting off that boat! The panga to Little Corn Island would be here in about 40 minutes. Someone advised me to stock up on water on Big Corn Island but I trust that there'll be plenty on Little Corn. However I did stock up on some bread and snacks. Just as the sun was going down I was on the panga heading to Little Corn but this boat ride would be one hell of a boat ride! Or should I say that it was much more than a boat ride! The seas were really rough and I was hanging on for dear life. Right now I wasn't too worried about my passport getting wet; I was worried about not getting over to Little Corn Island. Oh man was it rough or what! Forty minutes later were arrived safely at Little Corn. This has got to be the most difficult place I've ever reached: a bus from Managua to El Rama, a panga from there to Bluefields, another from Bluefields to the bluff, then a cramped, livestock-filled boat from there to Big Corn, and now a panga! Damn, this is the very definition of a journey! Little Corn Island is much like Isla Amantani in Peru in the sense that there are no vehicles and there is no main electricity supply. There is plenty of fresh water and a giant mobile phone tower smack in the centre of the island. For $10 I booked a room at the Sunshine Hotel. It's clean with air-con and all that! In the high season it'd be $25. The manager is a Texan, maybe a couple of years older than me, and he seems to like to brag about all the girls he's been with in Granada and around the Caribbean. He seems to be an expert pool player, partier, drinker, and all that. His uncle owns the hotel so he spends his time here and seems to have a great time at that! Tonight was my mother's 50th birthday but I have no way of getting a hold of her because the only internet cafe is closed. Tonight I just took it easy; I'll be here for probably three nights so I can take my time.

The next morning I woke up early and decided to go for a stroll around the island. Justin, the hotel manager, let me borrow some snorkelling gear and then I walked along the path going north. Where I headed for as the lookout/mobile phone tower. It's remarkable that an island with no vehicles, airstrip, or police can have full mobile phone coverage. Leaving my gear at the base of the tower, I climbed up bravely. I'm warning you DO NOT climb the tower if you have vertigo, are afraid of heights, get tired easily, etc. because one wrong step, and it's likely all over! It's bad enough I was wearing jandals; I just made sure I held on tight and watched my step. My my my, the view is stunning! You can see all around the island from the top of this tower! For like 10 minutes I stood up there, snapping photos and admiring the world around me! Going down was just as scary as coming up. Watch your step the whole way. Preferably, go with a friend or someone else just in case you're scared. As I headed north I stopped by a house where a local cut me a coconut so I could quench my thirst. After quenching my soul I continued on my quest, looking for a spot to swim or snorkel. The water is quite nice out here! A boy was selling gingerbread along the eastern side of the island, so I got some as I sat and chatted with a few other travellers. 

For such a small place, Little Corn has a fair bit of nightlife. There's a lot of drinking and it's on the "Colombia drug route" so there are a few people here who have a heap of money. On my second night I found a wallet in the disco. Eventually I found the man whom it belonged to: a big black bloke of about 6'5". As a reward, he gave me a whopping $100! When I showed it to Justin, he was like "anyone around here with that much money to throw around is involved in the drug trade." The man was also intoxicated, so I respectfully gave him back the $100 bill and he instead gave me C$20 and bought me a couple of Red Bulls. Even if I was leaving the island in a couple of days, there could be repercussions for Justin or others. Anyone involved in drugs will likely kill for money. Later I decided to head back to the room. I was exhausted...so I went back, showered, and crashed. 

It's now my final day on Little Corn Island. After making a cuppa and getting a Red Bull, I went down to the beach and chatted with some of the Norwegian girls whom I met a few days ago on Big Corn. Some of them were topless as we swam; characteristic of Scandinavian girls. A long time ago, my first journey could have been Scandinavia when I found a flyer at community college back in 2002. My mom told me that the girls go nude on the beach. However, that journey never occurred. Little Corn is the perfect place to stay for awhile and do a retreat of some sort, but I'd rather do something like that in the South Pacific. This my last day on this paradisical isle in the southwestern corner of the Caribbean so I did my usual stroll and I was looking around for one of those huge shells to take home. For lunch I stopped to get a chicken taco at one of the food stands. The lady told me that the boat for tomorrow was cancelled, but I sure hope not because that would mean I'd be stuck either here or on Big Corn for another night and it'd only give me one night in Managua. If things get desperate I can always fly from Big Corn to Managua even though it'd cost a lot more than I'd be willing to spend. But, I'm heading to Big Corn tomorrow morning and hoping for the best. All day I looked around for a shell until I found one for sale for $1. For dinner I got a pizza that's made with coconut-flavoured dough; very interesting. I loved the coconut flavour, but the pizza itself tasted OK. Food is rather pricey on Little Corn because everything has to be imported. For example, the pizza cost around $10: pricey by Nicaraguan standards, but cheap compared to the cost of a pizza in a first-world country. Tonight when I got back to the hotel I noticed someone took all my tea bags, and earlier someone took all my sugar. I'm not sure who it was, and even though I don't mind sharing my food and drinks I do want people to ask and I don't like it when people take all of something I have. Justin had to throw a guy out tonight because he and I were playing catch with a football in the pool hall and there is glass around. I stopped as soon as Justin asked me to, but the guy continued to throw the ball around. Tomorrow I'm leaving and heading back to Managua. Justin and I walked up to the disco where I hung out for awhile. The young man whose wallet I found last night bought me a couple of Red Bulls again so I could have my evening energy. The music was too loud, so I went outside and used my mobile phone to call my mother. She was worried sick about me thinking there were shootouts going on, but I made it clear to her that I'm safe and that there's a heap of travellers right in front of me. Little Corn doesn't even have a police station! My sister visited her for her 50th birthday and it sounds like they're having a good time. Justin and his little lady were having a good time at the disco, so I decided to head back to my room at around midnight. The electricity is only on here from like 6 PM to 6 AM; it's not on during to day, so any cold food is likely to go bad. Tomorrow I'm off...

As we were getting ready to set out on the panga to Big Corn, I couldn't believe my eyes! A manta ray jumped out of the water just a few metres away! The waves weren't nearly as rough as three days ago but it was still bumpy. Imagine what the waves would've looked like two weeks ago after that big hurricane hit and nearly wrecked the island! People were stranded, glass was shattering, and roofs were getting torn off! 

Getting back from Big Corn Island would be THE ultimate adventure. Stocking up on a bit of food I went to the cargo ship and rested in the hammock as night fell over us. For $10 the boat is going all the way to El Rama. On the way here it cost me like $26 because the boat to Bluefields was $10, the boat to the bluff was $6 and then from there to Big Corn it was $10, so I got a break here. We were off at about 10 PM. This boat is packed with as much cargo and people as it can possibly hold. What would happened if this boat started to sink...sorry, I don't want to entertain those thoughts. Rocking back and forth in the hammock wasn't the most comfortable way to rest so I decided to air up my sleeping pad and just lie on the floor. THIS is an adventure! Suddenly it started to rain very heavily, and everybody and everything was getting wet. It was like we were out in the middle of the Atlantic on a clipper ship in the 18th century during a huge storm! Everything, my shoes, sleeping pad, backpack, etc. were all soaked! My passport and money were securely tucked beneath my clothing, so that spared them from getting wet. No matter where I moved on the ship, I was getting soaked. However, there was an area inside the cabin where people were sleeping on the floor, using cardboard boxes as padding, so I rolled out my pad and lay in the corner. The floor was very warm because the engine room is right below, but at least I wasn't getting wet. This ride took an eternity and it was mightily uncomfortable but at the same time it was really something to write home about. Finally at like 6 AM or so we pulled into the port at El Rama. Security searched our bags, presumably for drugs. They wondered why I had a huge conch shell but I explained that I had bought it on the islands. Then I went back to Managua, but this was a journey at it's finest!

Tags: adventures, boats, islands


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