Tag Archives: bigcorn

Corn Islands, Big v Little

My posting has been curtailed due to a last minute weekend trip to Paris.  Yes, Paris at last!  Fortunately, I only found out about it late last week, so I was only able to obsess about it for a few days and then I was gone from Friday to Monday.  It was tres fantastique, photos and recap TK.  But back to Nicaragua…

We planned to head to Little Corn on the day after Christmas, which was good as there were apparently no boats or planes on Christmas Day.  I had stopped by the "ticket office" (I use this term very loosely) to find out about tickets on Christmas Day, and was told that I would have to pay a departure tax there and that the panga to Little Corn would leave at "about nine…or ten" (FYI, it leaves at 10 but get there at 9:30 at latest).  At any rate, it was at this ticket office that I had my token Rip Off Experience, that seems to happen to me on each and every trip.  The dude at the office told me to pay the tax, and I couldn't understand if it was 3 or 300 cordabas or what, but I had previously heard that the boat was $6 USD per person, so I gave him a $10 bill and waited for his response.  He said okay and gave me two receipts.  Naturally, I discovered seconds later that the tax is 3 cordobas per person, about 30 cents in USD.  Yes, I feel like an idiot, but maybe they will build a school in my name or something. 

I prepared for the panga ride with some breakfast and a dose of Dramamine, and I am really glad I did.  After stepping into a tiny boat and getting a life jacket, they collect the fare (120 cordoba/$6 USD per person, just like I thought about the tax) and you're off. 

I was told it was a rather mild day, but the 25 minute trip was like the longest roller coaster ride ever. I stared at the horizon, clutched the boat for dear life, and prayed that I would not boot.  Periodically, the boat would ride over a big wave and slam down, lifting you from your seat.  Once, it slammed down so hard that one of the seats broke and they had to stop the motor briefly to fix it. Other people thought it was a whole lot of fun, but other people are stupid.  As Bill Murray said, "People like blood sausage too, people are morons."

I was still shaking when I got off the boat and didn't have the energy to fight with the enterprising young man who offered to walk us to our hotel, which I could see from the dock.  We stayed at Hotel Los Delfines, in "downtown" Little Corn, right in the middle of the action.  For $50 a night, you get a nice room with A/C, TV, and theoretical hot water in your private bathroom.  It's probably the most luxurious hotel on LCI and while it's not on the best beach, I think it was a great place to stay.  We met lots of people staying way over at Ensuenos and Farm, Peace, Love, which are on gorgeous beaches and very romantic, but they are a good half hour walk through the jungle to the main "street" of LCI.  As we saw these people every day and night, eating dinner and having beers near Los Delfines, I figured it was better to stay in the village and walk to the more isolated beaches if we wanted to.

I will post tomorrow in more detail about LCI, but first I'll just say a little on the differences between Corn Islands, Little and Big.  Little Corn is much smaller and sweeter, with no cars or roads and even less development.  The beaches are beautiful on LCI, but many of them are staked out with chairs and hammocks from the hotels.  Overall, I think BCI was actually less touristy, as so many people go straight from the BCI airport to the dock, and that's not really the best face of Big Corn. LCI is more expensive, since it's harder to get everything, and there is less selection, but a few great places.  On Little Corn I met lots of gringos on permanent vacations; whereas on Big Corn, I met more people from Central America and more native-owned businesses.  This is not a criticism of the people on LCI, it's a lifestyle I'd love to have. 

In some ways, it's like Manhattan vs. Brooklyn.  Most people come to New York City and go straight to Manhattan, without really bothering with the other boroughs.  Manhattan is smaller, more expensive, with plenty of people living such unusual/glamorous lifestyles you can't imagine how they sustain themselves.  Brooklyn is much bigger, with more restaurants and amenities, but many not as fancy or exclusive, and there are many more "native" New Yorkers.  This is obviously a major over generalization, but my point is, Brooklyn is pretty sweet too and you get a better sense of how New Yorkers actually live.  Such is Big Corn, I wouldn't say you should choose one over the other, but you appreciate Little Corn all the more after you've spent a day or two on the big island.  Especially  at night, where the lights of BCI look like Manhattan.  Damn, I've screwed up my metaphor…

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Jingle Navidad

Many thanks to David for his illuminating comments about the partially built structures on Big Corn.  Hope I didn't offend with my "too many Tonas" comment, I'm sure you wait until at least 10am. ;)  Some further info from David:

"the photos you took were at the N.E.
corner of Big Corn in the barrio known as Sally Peachy.  They were on
the beach about 200 meters south of the most extreme N.E. point of
land.  In reverse, they were taken about 200 meters North of the half
finished concrete house on the next little point.

Our land where the dive resort was situated is between the two
points and thats where you took the photos of the palm trees and the
driftwood log.  There also used to be a an unusual shaped palm tree
which grew horizontal to the ground before going vertical.   We had two
big cabins and a main building on the land plus a motorhome.
"

I do recall some buildings beyond the beach, but they didn't look as if much was happening there.  Here is another photo taken right before the beach that might be interesting to you:

Those photos were taken on Christmas Day, right before we got caught in a rainstorm and took cover at the bar at the Silver Sand (which I recommend if you want to stay right by a nice beach and you don't mind a very rustic experience).  There we met an American couple who live in Honduras part of the year, building and selling beach houses.  They told us a lot about how hard it is to do business in Central America, which may explain a lot about the lack of development and tourism infrastructure on the islands.  Prior to my trip, I read about a potential condo development from the Casa Canada peeps, though I wonder where they would be building beach front condos.  Maybe on David's old property?  There is plenty of waterfront land, but not a lot of beaches to front.  Perhaps they should think like NYC's Coney Island and bring in sand?  The Americans also told us about how much stuff recalled in the US is then sent and sold in Central America: recalled toys, rejected Lays potato chips, even cars flooded in Hurricane Katrina.  I'm thinking of a variation on "what Trenton makes, the world takes;" maybe "what the United States rejects, Central America accepts!"?

Speaking of rejects, I heard a ton of American 1980s music on the trip, especially WHAM!  Many of the songs have been recorded with a Caribbean beat or translated to Spanish, my favorite was a reggae cover of Bryan Adams' "Heaven."  I think you could make a million dollars if you redid all of Wham's songs with a steel drum, especially "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."  Also heard a lot of Christmas songs I've never heard before, either in Spanish or with the aforementioned island rhythm.  The best was "Jingle Navidad," tune is the same as "Jingle Bells," but with the lyrics: Navidad, Navidad, Jingle Navidad. Mucho catchy.

I can't possibly complain about lolling on the beach,
drinking $1 beers on Christmas, but it was rather odd to be somewhere so warm
when I'm used to snow, or at least cold weather, around the holidays. 
Such was the consensus among the many Germans we met, who felt that at least
for one day, they actually missed the snow.  We spent Christmas Eve like
every other day on Big Corn: walking around the island in search of good
beaches (FYI: Long Beach
is about as good as it gets, but its still tiny), then having afternoon Tona time, some reading and a swim, followed by a dinner of some version of shrimp, rice, and copious butter.  On Xmas Eve, we went to Fisher's Cave in "downtown" Big Corn, a vaguely gringo restaurant with good food, amazingly slow service, and water views; and Seva's on Christmas Night for awesome and cheap lobster.  Both days we had our afternoon cervezas at Anastasia's on the Water, a cool over water hotel and restaurant that does not seem like it could handle even the mildest hurricane:

If it hadn't been so windy, we might have gone on one of their snorkeling trips, the water is beautiful and they have a cool set up to see the coral reefs and even a small wreck further out to sea.

On our first day on BCI, I noticed a taxi with a big pot leaf sticker on the window and remarked to H how unusual that was to see on a taxi (I later saw several more taxis with pot leaf stickers).  So I was delighted to catch a cab on our last night and discover it was our pot leaf man!  Much to my satisfaction, he was stoned out of his gourd and drove right by our hotel, remarking "Sorry, I don't know where my head is at." Indeed.  We also saw a large pot farm growing near the airport, which is really just an airstrip. It has been cleared for international flights for several years, but who knows if that will ever happen, especially as people regularly wander across the strip to avoid walking around it.  I wondered what would happen when flights were arriving, but supposedly they close the gates so you can't walk across it.  The TSA would lose their shit if they knew that anyone can access the airstrip so easily, but no one seemed too bothered about it on BCI. No one seems too bothered about anything on BCI, as long as the Tonas are ice cold.

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To the Big (Corn) Island

We awoke at an ungodly hour to walk across the street to the airport for our Big Corn flight.  The national terminal is tiny and chaotic and the ticket counters were heaving with people.  I couldn't believe the things people were taking on the airplanes: pinatas, enormous sheet cakes, mattresses (sounds like a hell of a party someone is planning).  I had made reservations and paid for the tickets ($160 per person) via email, but naturally, they had no record of this.  Fortunately, I had printed out a very important piece of paper with all my confirmation numbers and addresses, so it was sorted out and they promised to have my return tickets waiting at Corn Islands.  In lieu of boarding passes, we were given large plastic cards with a number on them and our destination.  V. eco-friendly.  Here is a photo, courtesy of JoTraveller on TravelPod.com.  While waiting for our flight to be called, we noticed not one but several people already drinking Toñas

.  AT SIX THIRTY IN THE MORNING.   But, hey, I'm not judging.  Talked to several Americans heading to the Corn Islands, all of whom were there because of Diane Wedner's L.A. Times article.  See the power of PR?  One article made tons of travelers visit.  I saw somewhere that La Costena has Nicaragua's most modern fleet (at least compared to Atlantic Airlines), and while they are a good 40 years old, those badboys somehow manage to stay in the air:


I was especially impressed that the flight attendant served us little cups of juice (Fanta on the way back) and gave us little packets of cookies or crackers.  American carriers could learn a thing or two.  I later met someone with an aviation background who noticed that one of the altimeters (or some other control doohickey) wasn't working on the flight.  She asked the pilot about it and he said, "Oh, I don't use that, it's turned off!"  So essentially, they are flying these planes like a big bicycle.  But we made it in one piece, with relatively little turbulence, a great relief for a weakling like me.

If all you were to see of Big Corn was the drive from the airport to the dock (which most people do when they head right to Little Corn), you'd be pretty disappointed.  I've never been to another Caribbean island, but as I understand it, BCI is like any other, but shittier!  No fancy boutiques, golf courses or resorts here, or really any attractions other than the beaches.  Lots of stray dogs and tin roof (rusted!) shacks, but gorgeous green-blue water and lush jungle frippery abounds.  We stayed at the Hotel Morgan, which was definitely the best bang for the buck, if not the best hotel on the island.  You really can't beat $35 a night for a room with AC, private bathroom, and theoretical hot water.  I say theoretical as there was a hot water heater, but all it delivered was an electrical shock.  It's right on the water but there's no place to really sit on the beach, you can just jump into the water.  I've heard great things about Casa Canada, but they aren't doing me any favors at $85 a night and have no direct beach access either, just an infinity pool, which is neat. 

While there are cars on Big Corn and taxis cost only $1 per person (though I quickly wizened up that that's really only the USD price, in cordobas you pay 15 each, beating the exchange rate of 18.5C to $1USD), we spent most of our time walking around the island.  It's only 6 square km and there's a fair amount to explore, and the best beaches require a bit more effort to get to.  Still, the beaches aren't very big.  Water, water everywhere, but not a spot to sit:

Here's one of the many partially built structures on BCI.  Cause: too many Toñas

before noon:

Here's our shot of the boat that ever visitor to BCI photographs:

My theory as to the message: Husband has the big belly, shame on him.  H's theory: Woman has big belly, hence no husband, shame on her.  My new alternate theory: Woman has big belly due to baby, and no husband, hence her shame.  I welcome further suggestions.

A few practical notes: I take serious issue with Lonely Planet's assertion that "everyone speaks English." Au contraire, only the natives speak English, and it is a hard to understand Creole, similar to Jamaican.  Many of the native islanders are also unemployed, whereas many people in the service industry are Nicaraguan mainlanders who came to the Corns for work, and speak only Spanish.  Familiarize yourself with some basics, like "beer" and "bathroom," brush up on your numbers, and remember that cintura is Italian for "belt," not "ashtray" (the Spanish  word is cenicero). If there were any Italian speakers on BCI the first few days, they would have thought I was crazy. 

On money: cash is king on Corn Islands and with few exceptions, your only option.  US dollars are generally gratefully accepted, as long as they are in mint condition.  The change you receive in cordobas, however, will be worn and torn beyond recognition, but God help you if you try to pass off a $5 bill with writing on it. 

Service is slow as molasses, but Nicaraguans are bordering on OCD when it comes to wiping down tabletops and floors.  A typical meal will go like this: you arrive and sit down in an empty (or full, it makes no difference) restaurant.  The waitress will see you and you will indicate that you are interested in some sort of food or beverage.  She will finish whatever she is doing before slowly rising and giving you a menu.  She will then disappear for a half hour.  After you have memorized the menu, you will track her down and give her your order.  Your drink will take another 15 minutes (maybe more if it is more complex than cracking open a beer) and food, even longer.  Intermittently, your waitress will come and wipe down your table vigorously, but will not ask you if you want anything or remove anything from the table.  This is a sacred silent time, apparently.  Your food will invariably include rice, sometimes with beans, and plantains in some form (generally fried).  Generally most dishes are either fried or swimming in butter, hence delicious.  Despite all this waiting and frying, you will be happy because your beer is colder than your wildest dreams.  Even on Little Corn, where electricity frequently goes out, Toñas come from a special cooler served below zero degrees, with a monitor on the top.  A little light even flashes when they get too warm, and frequently they have ice in the beers.  You can sort of see the cooler in this photo, from a bar in Grenada:

Also, every establishment will wrap a small napkin around the neck of your beer after opening.  I was told this is to make it sanitary, but it feels a bit queer (tip: a wise person will save these little cerveza scarves for an occasion without toilet paper).  The other amazing thing about Nicaragua is the rum, Flor de Cana.  In pretty much any bar, you can order a half bottle of delicious rum and a coke for $10, and they will also bring you a bucket of ice and a plate of limes.  This beats the hell out of a New York nightclub's bottle service, and makes a nice evening for two.  I found this demonstration on Flickr, here is us enjoying some on New Year's Eve:


It's too hard to think about rum and cold beer on a Friday afternoon, so that's it for today.  Next: our Contra Christmas!

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