> Destinations > Nicaragua > Trip Reports > Trip Report
We set out from Toronto on Wednesday February 26,2003 bound for Miami and onward to the Corn Islands, Nicaragua after a brief look at the South Beach scene. I knew things were off to a good start when my alarm was set for a reasonable 7:00 am and not the barbaric 3:30 am wake up call I'm used to with charters.
Right on schedule (2:00 pm) we arrive in ...no... not South Beach ....but the "not so famous" (or for that matter refurbished)... North Beach. I discover it isn't just a short hop to SB as suggested by the hotel web site but quite a hike by cab. This "not so famous" NB does boast hotels that sit directly on the beach...which of course I found quite luring when surfing for accommodations. However, upon arrival we discover that the whole area is a bit down at the heels ( dollar stores and medical supplies outlets abound!) but the good news....our hotel is one of a few that have been renovated...bonus!
The Ocean Surf Hotel....an authentic Deco delight and ...yes...we really get a balcony overlooking the ocean as specified in the reservation. The surprise is... we share this balcony with the people in next room...so...a quick rethink on the fantasy image of romantic drinks at dusk on our private terrace and we are quite pleased with the choice of accommodation. Good value for $80.00 US per night and a late checkout the next day was no problem for the management.
O.K. so back to the flavour of North Beach...three blocks directly on the beach but generally people sitting on the small patios seem to look like they have spent too much time there and were meant to have gone home 20 years ago but forgot. Brush up on your Spanish before going...I was surprised to find that many stores and restaurants are completely Spanish speaking...amazing for a large American city! There is a police presence and within minutes of our arrival we were both disturbed and reassured simultaneously (while scoping the views of the ocean from our semi-public balcony) when we see a completely naked man running down the street with men in blue pursuing both on foot, bicycles and in vehicles. They take him down literally in front of us!
So the next day we have a delightful taxi driver-ess take us to SB pointing out famous landmarks along the way. From Versace's home to Gloria Estafan's various restaurants and night clubs, we were incredibly impressed with the blocks and blocks of period architecture. Stuff was happening on the beach but I couldn't get the least bit enthused to get in the water...unusual for me because I most often make that my first priority. Maybe I'm spoiled by "unspoilt"!?
So we packed up, had another delightful cabbie experience to the airport while the driver crawls along at 30 miles per hour in the fast lane all the way to the airport while describing the ill effects of the "one-climate" lifestyle.
Smooth next leg of the journey after the baggage check at the airport. One is reminded of the third world experience when standing in a line-up with people carrying no less than 6 large pieces of checked luggage each! Everything from the elderly person's walkers to kid's strollers, sets of towels, TV's, and every version of portable stereos. In our case, next time put flashlights in the carry-on luggage to avoid the thorough baggage search!
We arrived in Managua at 8:30 p.m. local time and the temperature had dropped from 95F degrees to a balmy 85F. We checked into the Best Western Las Mercedes where Nicaraguan culture greeted us at the door with a lobby full of Latin senoritas ...yes...The Miss Nicaragua Beauty Pageant was being held in the hotel and there was no question that this was a significant event for the locals.
We got a good rate at the hotel through our accommodation, The Casa Iguana Resort, on Little Corn Island. The $50.00US dollar nightly rate was really reasonable and the room was fine with TV and Air-conditioning. The layout of the rooms was quite peculiar. They were set up as cabins that were attached in rows and reminded one of what an army barracks would look like. Dinner at the hotel was like stepping back 25 years. When I looked at the menu I found myself having a flashback to the CN hotel in Halifax when my grandmother would take me out for a "special" meal. Appetizers...shrimp cocktail, escargot and beef consume and Caesar salad. Main course...lots of varieties of steak and surf and turf. We settled on salad and a clubhouse sandwich. My husband was shocked to find home cooked turkey in his sandwich...what a throw back to the old days!
The next morning we secured a really nice driver through the front desk of our hotel and headed for the old part of Managua. The travel books prepared us for not finding much left of the original buildings. The effects of two earthquakes and a long period of political unrest were evident. Several buildings have been rebuilt but really not much to see. We were told that Masaya and Grenada are the places to visit when looking for history and markets. We were taken to Huembes a large market in Managua that I found to be quite impressive. We took a variety of photographs and did our best to communicate with people in Spanish (thanks to the electronic translator). We found some paintings by a local artist and had fun trying to explain that we had to have them packaged to be water resistant!
On to Big Corn Island on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua via a small 24 seater plane with a quick stop in Bluefields. Very unnerved when I had to stand on the industrial weigh scale to assess total weight carried on the plane. A few eye brows raised and no comprehension when I replied "well I think I carry it very well, don't you? A sweet air hostess who served a tray of coke and packet of chips just before landing. From the air the terrain looked very dry and sparsely populated. We crossed a portion of the expansive Lake Nicaragua (a definite must explore next trip) and the landscape looked much more lush and treed.
Big Corn Island is the antithesis of a busy airport but cab drivers abound and will gladly drive you anywhere on the island for a couple of dollars. Quite a few of the locals speak English as there has been a Caribbean influence here for many years. Big Corn boasts a main road /highway which is at least ¼ mile paved. The rest is a definite challenge to any shock absorbers. Hotel Paraiso gives us a deal on our room (37.00US) after we explain that we spent 50.00Canadian dollars attempting to get though...unsuccessfully... for a week prior to our arrival. The explanation is that the whole telephone network was down on the island for over a week and just recently fixed. I still can't believe that 8000 people live on Big Corn. After a quick swim while my partner goes into a photo frenzy trying to catch something called "green flash" we experience a total blackout of power (the whole island) that lasted most of the night ...except for a brief surge via a very noisy generator. We quickly reached for the trusty flashlights and stepped outside. WOW...a whole yard full of fireflies! And...you can imagine the view of the stars without a light anywhere. This was a really special moment for both of us.
We toured the front side of Big Corn the following day and in hindsight we should have spent more time there. We loved the beaches and did quite a hike around town. We found people to be open and friendly. They willing let us experience their usual routines on any given Saturday and seemed genuinely puzzled by our enthusiasm to capture these moments on digital photo.
Next a trip to the dock and some anticipatory nerves over the expectation of a hair rising ride over to Little Corn Island. We read in several travel books that this can be quite a wet ride and of course we are traveling with computer, digital camera and two good sized paintings! The trip was everything we expected but we seemed to have positioned ourselves and the equipment in a reasonably dry part of the 20 seater motorboat (at this point I'm just relieved that I didn't have to stand on another weigh scale prior to departure!). The real sense of adventure was beginning to surge through my veins when we encountered serious swells in the water. The boat captain Hilario seemed to really enjoy this and at one point the boat became so airborne that the motor took in air and died for a few minutes!
40 minutes later we safely arrive in Little Corn Island. Population 500 plus or minus and the first impression is that it made Big Corn look really booming. We land on the "front side" which is the less windy side and boasts a "paved highway" which is a sidewalk that runs almost the full length of the front side. Approximately 2 miles long and a ¼ mile wide this is the closest thing I think I'll ever come to "Gilligan's Island". No cars only a few bicycles and several wheel-barrels.
We were greeted by a very nice Aussie chap (I guess it is true that there is an Aussie in every remote part of the world) and after a 10 minute hike over to the opposite side of the island we arrive at Casa Iguana. A couple of observations along the way...barbed wire fences become more plentiful and defined as we get closer and the presence of signs posted in strategic points on trees and gates. There seem to be signs for everything, "...go this way...don't come this way...enter here...do not enter... no dogs in... no dogs out...and we eventually meet our host next to the "ring bell before entering" sign. Cathy Peebles owns this very special place with her husband Grant. She takes us through probably the fastest "eco" introduction I'll ever encounter again. We were warned about every possible environmental disaster known to man, cautioned against water consumption, power drainage and given various bladder relief options ("real men pee outside"). We were instructed in the locking up procedures and told communal dinner was served at 7 each evening.
After a quick introduction to a West coast Canadian couple who are working at the resort for the winter we attempted to find our way back to our cabin. Using the combined capacity of both my husband and I ( day three of our "hols" and we are just starting to realize "Jah time") we proceed to go through every wrong gate and end up in the private quarters of the owners and our first and slightly embarrassing introduction to Grant Peebles. Even after a redirection by Grant we still struggle to get back to the sign on our gate "Casita #5....private and keep out".
So by now you are probably getting the feeling there is something up with us. Your right....we're beginning to feel that we've made an error in our choice. Let me fill you in on some of the issues for us. We live in a busy metropolis and our daily lives are filled with timelines and deadlines. This routine is the very thing we let go of as soon as possible when we board that silver bird that takes us away to sunny isles every so often. We also felt somewhat out of our familiar surroundings when it comes to our accommodations. We know what's expected when we stay at a standard hotel...this scene was a whole different experience. To top it off we didn't have the greatest first night of communal eating encounters...but the food was great! Anyway...we sleep on it and have a really great next day walking and hiking around the island. We discovered Elssa's Place on the beach and parked ourselves there for most of the afternoon drinking local brew "Victoria" for a dollar a beer and eating lobster for $6US. The beach furniture is made from local wood with thatched shading. Backpackers spent their time on the various hammocks and were staying at Elssa's place for $10.00US per night (just a step away from camping...actually I think she has camping also.
The beaches on this island are out of this world and I'm grateful to have experienced them prior to any sort of major tourism development. Casa Iguana is set on a beautiful elevated ridge that over looks most of the "back side "of the island and the winds keep you really comfortable for sleeping. The cabins are quite basic but the little extras are there...good screens on the windows and front and back door screens keep the air moving all night. The linens are good quality and no problem getting towels whenever you need them. Good value for $50.00US dollars per night. After a couple of days we got to know our neighbours from Guelph, Ontario, Canada who were staying in the Grand Casita $70.00US with hot running water and more cabin space. Hammocks are provided and there is room for two to swing...which we did every evening from our back porch while sipping Victorias - a must do!
By day three of the Little Corn experience we really began to lay back. We got the "eco" rules down to science with only one scolding from Grant and Cathy about locking up cabin and letting them know if we're not showing for dinner. We started to meet interesting other travelers like Rodger from Holland who jokingly said he reads the rules and then ignores them after that! We spent time with a delightful couple from Rhode Island and had a real adventure navigating our way to and from a dinner reservation spot on the other end of the island. It took twice as long to get there as we expected even with our flashlights. Our companions called it a "nighttime hike through the jungle" ...it made for many laughs and we really made a connection and shared some common thoughts on the Corn Island experience. Our dinner host was the charming and sophisticated Paola from Italy who owns Farm Peace and Love and she really is a truly authentic Gilligan's Island character! She also makes a fabulous lobster fettuccini with home made foccaccia.
Our new found friends said it best before they left the island.....the longer you stay at Casa Iguana the harder it is to leave. That is exactly how we experienced the latter part of the stay. Nothing can beat the culinary experience of watching the catch of the day come in from the boat only to be served up creatively an hour later. Playing with nurse sharks from the shoreline, solitary snorkeling experiences, afternoon beach time with "Victorias and lobster" at Elssa's, the open and friendly encounters with the native Corn Islanders and of course the hammock experiences at dusk!
This holiday has peaked my interest in exploring more of Central America...like Nicaragua's pacific coast and lake district, then on to Panama or maybe time in the mountains of Guatemala......
Thanks to Kim for this trip report ...