Looking Back on the Corn Islands

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It’s hard to believe that the first part of our trip has come and gone. We have moved on from the Corn Islands and are now in beautiful San Juan del Sur on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua. I’m sitting in a coffee shop looking back at the pictures I took, the places I saw and some of the friendships I made on the islands and realized what a little piece of paradise it is and how completely it is disconnected from the real world. People who come to the Corn Islands for a couple of days routinely push their trips into weeks, months and some even turn to living and working on the islands.

The places we stayed at on each island were incredibly different from each other, but both were comfortable. Ike Siu’s cabanas on the north end of Big Corn were small and comfortable but offered all of the amenities of a modern hotel; A/C, fast wifi and a delicious hot breakfast all contained with a magical Caribbean view (see the picture above), all for an incredibly affordable rate. The thing that really makes this place though is the owner, Ike, he greets you at the airport and immediately takes you on a driving tour of the island to show you all of the best spots and places to explore. I can’t recommend his cabanas strongly enough!

On the opposite side is Little Corn Beach and Bungalow; your very own Robinson Crusoe living experience with many of the luxuries and amenities of a 5-star resort. The beds were amazingly comfortable, draped in an all enclosing mosquito net to protect you from unwanted visitors and a fan (that only worked till 6:30 am when the village power went out). Each morning you would awake and have coffee on your porch, sans electricity and alarm clocks, enjoying the sound of the waves breaking the beach not 100 feet from where you lounged.

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Owners Scot and Christine are dedicated business owners, constantly training and working with their employees to provide their guests with an experience they might receive sitting at a five star restaurant in the United States. This constant process of refining the experience guests receive helps keep their employees sharp but also provides them skills that in a tourism minded locale like the Corn Island will give them a leg up when competing for other jobs in the future (both front end managers at the hotel are locals). All of the employees showed an incredible dedication to the needs of the guests, and the food at the Turned Turtle Restaurant cannot be rivaled anywhere on the island (I have not eaten that much steak in a long time!). That being said the cost of staying at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow rivals staying at a 4-5 star resort in somewhere like Puerto Vallarta, we utilized their ‘RADD’ deal which provided two meals a day and all the domestic beer, soda and juice you could drink (I drank a lot of Toña – the local Nicaraguan beer) and discounts on various activities and your room rate. The cost of this deal as well as the room has gone up since we booked and makes the deal, which was already borderline to me for making economic sense a little less enticing, I think I would rather pay a bit more and have it include absolutely everything. The one negative comment I have is in their accounting system for meals/drinks they utilize a paper notebook where they annotate what was eaten/drank by guests but provide no accounting of this to the guest at check out. We were told we consumed 29 meals during our stay of the allotted 24 meals, however Laura and I went back and calculated our meals and realized we had only eaten 26 (the 4 per day plus breakfast on the last day), if you are limited on the meals you eat on the inclusive deal I would like to see some sort of coupon exchanged for your meal, that way each party can account for their use. That being said we had an amazing experience at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow and would strongly recommend staying there for anyone looking to have a tropical getaway that disconnects them a little bit from the modern world and takes a bit of an adventure to reach.

Little Corn Island: A Quiet Paradise?

One of the great things about our relationship is our unique and ongoing interest in the qualities that make us different and make us work well together. The first difference one would notice upon meeting us is, simply put, Drew is loud and I am quiet. There has been much media attention lately on introversion and extroversion and how these personality characteristics play a role in out interpersonal relations and communications. In case you haven’t come across any information on the subject, here is my quick explanation. First of all, there is a scale with introversion at one end and extroversion at the other. So we all fall somewhere along the continuum and no one is exclusively introverted or extroverted but many of us do tend to lie heavily on one side or the other. Basically, a person who is more introverted will gain energy from being alone and will expend energy when communicating with people. This doesn’t mean he or she is scared of people or dislikes them, but rather it just requires more energy to engage with other people. A person who is more extroverted, on the other hand, gains energy from being with other people. There are times when they need to be alone and “come down” from their high but they quickly feel the need to go out and communicate with people again, in person.

Now that I’ve given a brief explanation, I can tell you that I am definitely far on the introvert side of the scale and Drew is on the extrovert side. Developing a deeper understanding of what this means for each of us is what allows us to travel together for long periods of time. For example, we were at Tranquilo on Little Corn Island which was the place to be on this Wednesday night. There was live music and dancing and the place was packed with all kinds of people, but especially, it seemed, young people in their early twenties, here on a volunteer trip. They were loud and drinking and dancing and singing. The DJ was a white guy, apparently from California, whose radio voice was rasta in style and who played a reggae mix that included Shaggy and Snoop Dogg hits from the late 90s. Drew was enjoying conversation with some travelers we met earlier in the week and I was just sitting quietly watching everything. At one point, Drew turned to me and asked if I was feeling overwhelmed, the word I use to describe the feeling I get when my energy is spent and I need some alone time to recharge. I said that I was but that I was ok to just sit quietly and watch because I knew that he was really in need of the time he had to just talk with a couple of guys about cameras and rum and I don’t know what else as I had tuned them out. In this way we are able to make sure one another’s needs are being met. The next morning I was allowed plenty of time to sit in a hammock at Little Corn Beach & Bungalow and finish the book I had picked up at their book exchange. The book, by the way, was “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave and was amazing.

One would think that Little Corn Island with its population of about 1,000, no cars, and laid back feel would be the perfect place for an introvert like myself. A paradise where I can have the beach to myself, read a book, and drink piña coladas. It turns out, you can feel more crowded on a small rural island than you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I have truly enjoyed my time here and would be more than happy to return. I have had plenty of opportunity to be alone and refresh my energy. However, I have also found that the small-ness of it all means you are sort of required to spend time talking to new people all the time. It’s like staying in one big house or hotel and everywhere you go you run into all the same people.

I haven’t met anyone I disliked but for a strongly-introverted person like myself, getting to know someone is an energy-taxing activity. So every time we sit down with someone, whether we met them today or yesterday, I feel my energy draining. As I told Drew, it is sometimes easier to be alone in a big city where no one knows you than it is on a small island. I can see Drew’s face lighting up as he is getting to know new people and talking to them like they are old friends. So sometimes I join in and sometimes I excuse myself to our room where I can rest for awhile. The great thing is that I know Drew understands and I never have to feel as though something is wrong with me for needing some space. Just as Drew knows that I understand his need for social interaction and I make sure that I don’t take that away from him when he needs it most.

The $6 Boat Adventure

We arrive at the waiting area of the municipal pier on Big Corn Island just before 10AM, the scheduled departure time of our voyage to Little Corn Island. The waiting area is an outdoor, covered patio with benches and a couple of ticket counters. There are about 40 people milling about, some tourists, some locals, some tourists-gone-locals. We set our backpacks, smartly covered with black trash bags, on a bench and I sit while Drew goes to buy the tickets. $6 USD each and we have our laminated tickets in hand. The couple next to us, we learn, are Americans who came to work on the island temporarily two years ago and never left. They are just returning from a shopping trip in Managua.

After a few minutes they get up, grab their stuff, and start heading for the dock. There was no announcement as far as we could tell but we figure they must know how things work around here so we follow suit. We get to the dock, not really knowing what sort of vessel to expect. In front of us is what reminds me of a plastic toy bathtub boat and it is already holding about 20 people. It is bright blue and quite literally made of some sort of plastic material. It has maybe 8 or 10 benches going straight across, all the way along. Behind the benches are the motor, steering wheel, storage compartment, etc. Along the starboard-side of the boat is a wadded up plastic sheet and all along the benches and scattered across the floor are bright orange life jackets.

A man instructs us to pile our bags on the dock from where he will load them into a compartment under the deck. We spot a couple who we met the night before at dinner and decide to hop in next to them. The four of us comfortably fit on our bench but people are still piling in. The boat is unnervingly lopsided and I wonder if we might capsize right there at the dock. I’m already holding onto the bench in front of me, white-knuckles and all. It seems like we are sitting there forever but people are still trickling in. Two girls, about eleven years old, look with concern into the boat, wondering where they will sit in the sea of people. A man looks at our row and instructs us to make room for her, in the middle. We shuffle around and help her to the middle and all sit back down, now quite literally squished next to one another on the bench. I am between Drew and the young girl and I can’t help thinking about what will happen if we capsize and how now I am responsible for this young girl too.

Finally it is time to untie from the dock and head out on the 8 mile journey to Little Corn Island. Weather is overcast and windy, but luckily not raining as it had been. As we pick up speed, the cool breeze feels good on my face but I am still holding on for dear life. We begin to get further out into the deeper sea and now the cool breeze has become intense, drowning gusts of wind and water. The people on the side with the plastic sheet begin pulling it up over their heads and eventually it is passed all the way to the other side.

The rest of the journey is about 45 minutes of bouncing and wobbling across the waves. Again and again the boat goes up and lands with a frighteningly hard slap in the water as we navigate what, to me, feels like a severely dark and stormy sea. Drew is sitting next to me telling me how the swells really aren’t that big; it’s just that the boat is too small and there are too many people on it. But at least the guy driving knows what he’s doing, Drew says. Yes, at least there is that. I tell Drew to tell me about it when we get there and can we please not talk about it anymore. He says to just keep looking at the horizon and we will be fine. Finally we are in close sight of Little Corn and the waves are beginning to calm. I feel relief as we get closer and closer and I think I could probably swim to shore if necessary. In no time at all we are tying up at the dock and beginning to unload. It feels good to be on land. We see a sign boasting “Welcome Andrew and Jonathan” from Little Corn Beach & Bungalow and we are here.

Bon voyage!

Hello and welcome!

Thanks for stopping by! This is the blog of Drew and Laura MacLeod as we set off on our first trip as a married couple for a month in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We will be making stops in the Corn Islands, San Juan del Sur, Ometepe, Granada,  and Tamarindo. Stay tuned for pictures and blogs about our activities and the people we see!

Drew and Laura

Big Corn Island

Laura and I have spent the last four days on Big Corn Island, the first stop of our thirty day trip through central America. It’s the larger of two islands approximately 70 km off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean. To get here you have to catch a small plane from Managua that runs twice a day (and by small I mean occasionally it is a single engine Cessna). The island culture is a curious fusion of Caribbean and Latin American, there are parts of the island where I would be hard pressed not to think I was on Jamaica instead of in Central America, and just like Jamaica all of the locals are incredibly friendly (just watch out for the wandering mango salesman who promises he’ll be right back with change for you).

We stayed with a local by the name of Ike Siu at his bed and breakfast. Ike was incredibly friendly, helpful and accommodating; he picked us up from the airport, and despite feeling under the weather he began showing off his island to us, letting us know the best places to eat and beaches to lay out on. His wealth of knowledge that he shared with us made adjusting to island life easy for us.

We spent most of our time on the island unwinding on the beach relaxing at picnic center where for the most part we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. On our last day on the island we took a taxi tour of the island (only $6 an hour!) to take pictures and see some of the more unique sites of Big Corn Island, which is home to one of the Souls of the World (one of the 4 vertices of the cube contained within the earth). We are now staying at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow and relaxing some more before starting our trek across Nicaragua.