Sunday, 26 March 2017

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

I am sitting on the balcony at Hotel Los Delfines on Little Corn Island, sipping on a glass of the local Nicaraguan Flor de Caña 7 year old rum. It is nearly bedtime and the night is about to put its carpet of calmness over this little island. The sound of running feet and men shouting, disturbs my tranquility and I look down at the concrete path below me and see a police officer and another guy running southwards. The police officer holds his AK-47 rifle in his hands and they disappear into the dark. There has been a crocodile rumor on the island for over a month now; it apparently came to the island during the hurricane "Otto" late November last year. They didn’t catch it this time either so it is probably still out there, most likely hiding inside the swamplands.

A salamander joined me on my on the balcony, walking on the roof,
trying to catch some insects flying around the light bulb. 

I am on Little Corn Island (Isla Pequeña del Maíz). I read about this island in a Norwegian newspaper last fall and I decided to go there. The title of the article was “How long will Caribbean’s best kept secret remain a secret?” 
The last 10 days of my vacation will be on this remote place, situated about 70 km (43 miles) off the coast of Nicaragua. I arrived at Big Corn Island from the mainland with a small plane at January the 3rd. A bunch of schoolchildren arrived at the same time; leaving me waiting for a taxi since they had booked all the transport available for the moment. The boat to Little Corn wouldn’t leave for another hour, so I was in no hurry. 

La Costeña Airline, the local Nicaraguan air-shuttle which fly 3 times a day to Corn Island.
This is the big plane that they use during the high season. 
Some taxis outside the airport. This building are both the departure and arrival hall. 

When a vacant taxi finally arrived, it took three tours with other passengers when he was driving me to the boat. I got a little mini sightseeing on the Island, all for the price of 1 (one) dollar. The taxis are cheap and act more like free driving busses, often taken different passengers at the same time if they are heading in the same(ish) direction. 

Big Corn Island is not big; it is just bigger than Little Corn Island. The airport's runway stretches 2/3 of the total distance from north to south, and only smaller propeller engine planes can land here. If they want to have jet planes here, the runway has to be built out into the ocean. 

I found this map on the wall in a dive shop on Big Corn Island. The southern peninsula is a
mountain, so no runway can be built there.  

12-13 km of ocean separates Big Corn from Little Corn. This water is trafficked by a small open boat called Panga. The Panga transport leaves twice a day from Big Corn and it takes about 30 minutes in calm weather. In rougher sea it takes up to one hour and in really bad weather it don’t go at all these days due to an accident that happened early in 2016 where 13 Costa Rican tourists drowned after the panga capsized.

"Caribbean Express", the Panga boat that are trafficking the sea between Big Corn and Little Corn.  

Finding my seat and waiting for the boat to leave, the sky opened its floodgates and the rain poured down. A plastic cover was pulled out over the passengers, but it was too small to cover everything and soon I was drenched. Just before we started, it cleared up and the journey went smooth.
On the jetty on Little Corn, a boy from the hotel waited for me with a sign with my name on. 

The boy from the hotel is waiting for me (white t-shirt to the right) with a sign with my name on. 

I traveled light, leaving most of the baggage on the mainland. A restriction of 15 kilo including the cabin luggage on the plane, limited my carryon to a small suitcase. I checked in at Hotel Los Delfines, only a 5 minutes’ walk from the jetty on the east side. The sun had already gone down when I reached the hotel so it was not much to see. I was tired, grabbed a late dinner and went for bed.

The island is, as I’ve already explained, very small, only about 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 square miles). All transportation of goods on the island are on wooden pushcarts. The only option for personal transport is on your own feet as there are no motorized vehicles here at all. There are actually no roads at all, and only a paved sidewalk stretches for some kilometers on the east side of the island.You can walk from the most northern point to the southern point in one hour. Here is a drone video I found on YouTube that gives you a little impression of the size. 

And here is a map:

Map of Little Corn Island. The video above was taken above the lighthouse. 

The Nicaraguan government annexed the islands in 1894. Before that, it had been a safe haven for pirates for a while. The main industry was coconut farming up to 1960-70. Then fishing, and most important, lobster fishing became the main income for the islands. Here. as in the rest of the world, no regulation leads to overfishing. The first years they could pick the lobsters straight out of the sea, wading on the seashore, but after some years, the local fishermen had to go further and further out to earn their living. Now, the commercial lobster fishing is very limited, and the number of fishermen who participate are very low. 
Still lobster is a sort of symbol for the islands and the lobster adorns t-shirts and other local souvenirs. Europeans will maybe not call it lobster at all because it don’t have claws. We will call it langouste, rock lobster, spiny lobster or sea crayfish.

I found this on the northern side of Big Corn Island. It has to mean something significant
 to the locals to decorate a bus shed like this. 

Lobster traps no longer in use. Piles of these are seen several places and the fishermen's boats are also on shore, no longer seaworthy and scarred been stored for years in their wrong element. 

Today the 1000+ inhabitants on Little Corn are mainly depended on tourism. Of the total Corn Islands tourists, about 75% of them visit Little Corn. Rumours has it that of the 25% rest, most of them don’t know the difference between the islands and stay on Big Corn because they think it’s the same. When they come to Little Corn, they are angry of their selves, wasting time on Big Corn instead of traveling directly to Little Corn.

A view from my room. The western side of the island is sheltered from the wind
and appear calm most of the time, even in strong winds. 

Another view from my room. Big Corn Island in the distance and a fishing boat near by. 

The best breakfast view on the western side of the island. This is the restaurant in my hotel Los Delfines. Beautiful spot, but terrible food and service. It is just amazing that bad reviews on TripAdvisor that is three years old is still valid today. How can a restaurant not read reviews and do something about it? Fascinating...

I read somewhere that there is only three things to do on Little Corn Island and that is:

  1. Nothing at all
  2. Scuba dive and snorkeling
  3. Fishing

I could easily have participated in the world championship in no. 1 and I love doing both no. 2 and 3, so I came up with a waterproof plan for may stay: The first 3-4 days I would relax, working on my tan, snorkeling and just walk around and have look at the island. The rest of the days would devote myself  to scuba diving and ocean fishing. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first 4 days my plan worked perfect! The weather was beautiful, the island was beautiful, the sea was beautiful and the food was beautiful. I even started to believe I was beautiful myself. Some scattered rain showers disturbed the beauty frequently, but all in all, I just loved it. 

No rain means no clouds. No clouds means no sunset like this. No filter used and only a mobile phone camera. 

The rain made it a little more challenging going to the beach or just sightseeing the area, and I always needed to think of how to keep my camera dry. The ground never dried completely and the muddy paths around the island was very slippery. Walking up a hill was like walking on ice here in Norway, you have to grip on something to help you to drag yourself up or else you will just slide back down. 

I just crossed the island the few hundred meters from east to west. 
The first day I stayed around the center of the Island, meaning the place where the jetty and my hotel is. The jetty is where the lifebuoy is on the map, and my hotel is the next building to Dolphin Dive that probably have made the map according to the huge sign. On that stretch I found my waterhole and my favorite restaurants.

The second day I walked south and ended up on a small remote beach on the southeast end of the island. 

The most southern beach on the east side with another beach just behind the nearest cape. 

I was totally alone and I was swimming in the rough sea among corrals that nearly ripped my skin several times. I found a calmer channel in shelter of the biggest waves and huge colonies of colourful fishes emerged around me. A moray eel with more beautiful colours than I have ever seen, curiously watched me from behind his rock when I swam by. It was dark blue with red and yellow stripes and spots, and I slapped myself for leaving my GoPro camera behind that day. 
I came back the next day armed with my GoPro, but I was never able to find my friend again and all the other schools of fishes had also vanished. I could only see some single small fishes, but I hoped that I would capture more colourful fishes later during my scuba diving trips. 
Here are the catch of the day: 

That was not very impressive...
I lost one of my flip-flops wading over a stretch of razor sharp corals, falling forward when it jammed in-between two of them. I cut myself on my forearm and leg, but I was more concerned about my shoe. I searched the area for 10-15 minutes, but I could never retrieve it. It just vanished from the face of the earth and it will probably wash up on some beach together with thousands of other flip-flops that has lost their owner. 
Luckily, there was a souvenir shop close by my hotel that sold flip-flops. 

The Corn Islands are volcanic and are remains of one or several volcanoes. Not much reveals this fact, but here and there you can see volcanic rocks erupt from the soil. 

Volcanic rock
One of the biggest problem the island has to deal with is coastline erosion. Even without a raising sea level, the sea usually claims back what it once had. It is worse on the east coast where the rough waves takes a little bite of the land every second, minute and hour of the day. An effort has been taken to slow down the erosion and big steel wire cages are filled with rocks and placed as a sheltering reef outside the beaches. I rediscovered my students from the airport the third day when I was walking along the eastern shore. They were part of a program to repair the old and make new cages, trying to stop the sea from chewing on the island.  

Hopefully, their effort will be rewarded and Little Corn Island will remain Little and not Tiny in the future. 

Even on the west coast the erosion is evident, but probably in a slower pace,
but if you plan to build a house here, don't build it too close to the edge. 
Another problem is plastic. Huge amount of plastic! It is the destiny for islands like this to be the garbage dump for the rest of the world. Wherever in the world you throw a plastic bottle in the ocean, it is a good chance it will wash up on a beach somewhere. The amount of plastic are tremendous and only stretches of land owned by someone, are maintained and kept clean. There is probably too much plastic and too few people to clean it, but I can't escape the feeling that it probably also has something to do with the local's indifference. The island is not that big! Come together and clean the coastline and make party after for the participants. It could be a yearly happening!


On some of the west coast and into the village, there are a concrete path/sidewalk.
On the rest of the island you have to walk the muddy path on rainy days. 

Whenever you look up at the sky you will probably see the distinct silhouette of a Frigate bird, hovering over you. 

Not everything is possible to buy on the island. All goods has to be brought in by boat and unloaded to the jetty. From there it has to be transported around the island on the pushcarts. Alternatively, rolled if it is a barrel of diesel.

Today it is busy. Two cargo boats arriving at the same time. 

Waiting for the boats to discharge. 

Discharging the cargo from the ship. The pushcarts are handy for local transportation. 

Barrels of diesel going to the generator which produces the electricity on the island. 

Everything from building material, food, paint, kitchen supply, stoves, fridges etc. have only one option to be moved: on a pushcart.  I saw a woman who had bruised her ankle, been transported on one of them to the nurse. Supply of fresh food was occasional, and food like salads and fruits was not available at all time. It didn’t matter. If your favourite is not available, pick the second one.
I just loved this blackboard in my favourite restaurant Desideri Cafe, where you can see what fruit drink you can order according to availability:

Desideri became my favorite restaurant and their "Lobster Thermidor" I could die for and it is probably the best singel order you can have from a menu on the island. My new friend DC served me the food and drinks, gave me good advices and always had time for a chat and a laugh in between his work.

Lobster Thermidor with two lobster tails. USD 20,- with rice and vegetables. To die for!
My new friend DC Bollard. He was also the owner of a shop selling his own
designed t-shirts nearby. I bought one of them with, of course, a lobster on it.
The t-shirt he is wearing on the picture, with a cat and slices of pizza in
space, is not one of his own design. I hope. 

Desideri Cafe/Restaurant

On the beachfront outside you can be served drinks laying in a hammock or sitting on a deck chair. Table are brought out if you want to enjoy your meal outside, but that was rarely an option during my stay due to the risk of rain.
You can spot the jetty in the background with people on, probably waiting for deliveries. 
I brought my laptop to the restaurant and the restaurant's cat fell in love with its black neoprene padding.
I think my laptop was the most photographed object that night. 
Only 50 meters from Desideri was another restaurant, the Tranquilo Cafe. These two restaurants made you forget the lousy weather, providing you with hospitality, lunch, dinner, coffee, beer, drinks, (slow) WiFi, entertainment and an opportunity to meet other people. They alternated having live music, game nights and others like bonfire night on the beach outside.

 I participated on Tranquilo's pub quiz night (every Tuesday) and got as drunk as a man can be. DC and is friends won the quiz and I was the only single player that night, instantly named "The party of one". A couple of french tourists not participating in the quiz, tried to help me when the topic was about France. They failed to have a correct answer to every question in that round, leaving me to be the overall looser. I didn't realize that before the day after, drinking a huge cup of coffee trying to recover from the previous night. I noticed a lot of coffee drinking people around me, staring into the table that late morning. It was tremendously fun!

The Tranquilo Cafe. 

Ready for music night at Desideri. 
The little souvenir shop where I bought new flip-flops, just beside Desideri. This is also the place where DC sells his
t-shirts. I wonder if they ever have a Big Bikini Blow-off sale also. 100% off. Would have been so much more fun. 
The third day I was visiting the dive shops, ready to arrange dive trips throughout the rest of my stay. There are about 20 dive sites only a short boat trip from the island as seen on the map below provided by "Dive Little Corn".

That means that you in theory can dive 3 times a day for a week and never visit the same spot twice. 
At the evening of my fourth day, the wind picked up. The calmness of the sea as you can see on the drone video above, had not been the normal as long as I had been there. The waves were breaking over the barrier of coral reefs that surrounds most of the island, hammering into the beaches from the east. The wind is normally steady from east to west, leaving the west side where my hotel is, in shelter for the wind behind a wall of trees. 
But now the wind increased, and the sun disappeared most of the day. I already then understood that the scuba dive next day would be cancelled. It was. And so it was for nearly all of my remaining days accept for the 9th of January. They conducted two dives that day on the west side, trying to avoid the roughest sea. I participated on the first dive at 9 am, but it was a total disaster. The waves were high, really high, and some of the divers were seasick already on the way out to the dive spot Long Rock (see the map above). One of them never entered the water at all, emptying his stomach sitting and waiting for us to be finished diving. I had too little lead on me to weigh me down, so I had to constantly swim with my head down and my feet straight up, just preventing myself from floating to the surface. If the sea had been calmer I probably would have returned to the boat to pick up some more weigh to put in my west.
The support on the dive housing for my GoPro had snapped of falling from my bed onto the floor the previous day, so I couldn't mount it on a rod to film any fish closer up. And the waves reached far down to the bottom where we swam, moving us from side to side and we had to swim away from the rocks to avoid been thrown into them.
Here are some of the images that were usable from the dive. Most of the picture were blur and out of focus because I moved the camera during capture, trying to stay still in the water in the rough sea. 

The parrot fish, guilty of producing the sand for the wonderful white sand beaches we all love. It eats coral and
shitting it out again. The crushed coral will later be washed up on the shore to form beaches.
One parrot fish can eat several tons of corals every year. 

The boat went out again at 11 am, but several of the divers like me, had had enough from the first dive and stayed onshore. 

The diving boat prepares to go out for the second dive that day.

I woke up in the middle of the following night by the howling wind and the rain hammering on the corrugated iron roof. It was like sitting inside a metal tube when somebody was throwing gravel on it. I went outside just to find that I was in the middle of a Caribbean storm. It should have been the wrong time of the year for this shit, but the weather didn't care and it had decided to chase after me for the last 3 weeks. 

The bad weather and winds continued for the following days and the island was isolated. The panga transport between the islands stopped for three days and no tourist could leave or arrive. 

It continued to rain for several days. 

There are some locals that take tourist like me out for fishing. The two most known are Elvis and Alphonso. I talked to Alphonso, but it turned out that going alone would be too expensive and he wanted two or three person to go together- The price would than be USD 50 to 75 each. I asked DC if he could be aware of others talking about going out fishing and connecting them with me, but nobody talked about fishing the rest of my stay. No small boats left the island at all. 

The day before I should leave, they were able to transport tourists again, but only on a cargo boat. The trip took 1.5 hours and the passengers was stowed on the deck and if you were lucky you got a spot under the tarpaulin that sheltered you from the rain. I was told to go to the jetty early because there was only one boat a day that left 7 am in the morning. The ticket office opened 6 am and I had read that they sell tickets to everybody in the line without thinking of the capacity on the boat. So, buy your ticket and go immediately to the boat and pray that it is not full before you get on board. I think everybody that morning was able to get on board, but there were none available space left on deck. 

My ride back to Big Corn: "Sea Prince IV".
Some lucky got a place under the tarpaulin. It was absolutely crowded before departure. This picture is taken early. 

The crossing went smooth, but the powerful rolling of the boat in the waves made a lot of the passengers seasick and they vomited over the rails. 
I checked in at my hotel on Big Corn, had a little sightseeing walk for three hours when the rain stayed away and ate dinner at the hotel at night because of heavy thunderstorms and pouring rain. I thought I never would dry up again. The next morning I flew back to Managua on the mainland, and the day after the journey back to Norway started. My vacation was over for this time. 

Little Corn Island crept under my skin during the 9 days I was fortunate to visit this pearl in the Caribbean Ocean. I had the most terrible weather, but I enjoyed it every minute. I just love this little island! I want to come back. I want to see more of the life beneath the waves. I want to see turtles, rays, sharks and other sea life. 
I want to go out fishing with Alphonso. Or Elvis. I want to fight the fish and then bring it to my favorite restaurant and make them prepare me a meal. I want another Lobster Thermodor and I want to join a team on the pub quiz Tuesday night. I want to chat with my new friend DC again and have a laugh when he mixes me a drink or just brings me another Victoria beer. 
I want to see the rest of the island - to climb to the top and take in the view from the lighthouse. I want to visit the northern beaches and eat at the "Turned Turtle restaurant" on the east side. It is number 1 on TripAdvisor, but I refused to walk in the rain through the pitch black jungle at night during my stay just to visit it. The east side was just a very inhospitable place during the 5-6 last days of my stay. 
I have been several places in the Caribbean, on islands and on mainlands, but few or none places has captured my heart before I came to Little Corn. I hope to see you again!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog! Every detail of your journey is so helpful and I love it!


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