Reflections in the Caribbean. Little Corn Island. Nicaragua. (2013)

The sun has reached its zenith in the cloudless sky, and it radiates an intense light over the island. I am hiding beneath the palms, and even through thick polarised sunglasses, the light penetrates my pupils and seems to illuminate the optic centre in my brain itself.

I am here in the Corn Islands of Nicaragua at reaching the ending of a 3-month jaunt around Central America. Although the last few weeks have been spent working hard teaching diving, a compressor malfunction has meant the last few days have been spent at leisure. Milling around the island and reflecting on the past couple of months.

The occasional hint of a breeze against my skin is a breath of life, and I am grateful for having the sea to my side. The water itself is approaching 30 degrees, and the only relief it provides is a couple of blissful minutes after getting out and having the breeze against wet skin, this is short-lived though as I am dry again within a matter of minutes.

I have recently finished teaching an open water course introducing 2 new people to my sport and am now enjoying having a day to myself to explore the island. Only around 2 sq KM, little corn is a verdant jewel in the blue Caribbean. Located 50 KM off the coast in Nicaragua it has up until very recently been a hidden gem. Traditionally the fact of it being challenging to get to and even now a little expensive has previously kept the hoards of travellers away. Still, now it is firmly placing itself on the map.

The warm waves lap at my feet as I head north along the eastern coastline of the island. Being on the windward side of the island, this is more ‘wild’ side with an almost constant onshore wind. (kitesurfers will wet their pants at this news) This serves perfectly as a welcome escape from the oppressive heat and mosquitoes of the western side and island interior. On this side, even the incredibly tall palm trees have developed a permanent lean as they have spent their entire lives being battered by the winds of the open Caribbean. Unlike the opposite coast, there is only a dust/mud path that runs the length of the beach. Anyone attempting this will find they have to duck in and around trees, get their feet wet and also bump into the wooden huts and houses built into the jungle.

Populated by creole islanders speaking a mix of Spanish and English (although both with a thick dialect) the 2 islands that make up the Corn Islands are becoming known for being unspoilt Caribbean getaways. Although the irony is not lost on me how the more people come to seek the unspoiltness, the less pure it becomes.

Having visited the bay islands of Honduras 3 months previously, I can imagine this is how the Corn Islands will be in a few years. For now, however, expect to pull your water by bucket up from a well and understand electricity is only available at certain times of the day. (If they remember to bring the petrol for the town generator)

There is the traditional carefree going attitude here, and no one is in a hurry. In fact, when I arrived, I spent my first 2 weeks without any town electricity at all. Apparently, a part was broken on the generator, and the replacement was intercepted en route by the large island (big corn) who decided the piece would be much better used on their own baseball stadium floodlights. So us poor little corn islanders had to do without…

I fumble my way around in the dark one night with only a torch with dying batteries as light. I am wearing a large black garbage bag with a hole ripped into it as an impromptu poncho as a tropical storm ravages the island. The rain comes in sideways and stings my exposed face, and literally, I am blinded by the torrents. The ordinarily dusty brown/red path has turned into a mudslide, and my bare feet sink a few centimetres into the mud with each step, and it takes all my core strength to stay standing. As I approach my house which is situated in the centre of the island at what must be it’s the lowest point I can already hear the cacophony of bullfrogs which inhabit the swampland here. On really wet nights it’s loud enough to actually have to raise your voice to speak to someone walking next to you.

The houses are all painted in bright colours and are often on stilts, and many are actually built into the dense jungle of the island. The locals are a proud bunch of people and take great care of their island, making sure to keep it clean and tidy. There are even recycling stations. A far cry from merely throwing all litter on the floor or out of the bus window, which seems to be the case in much of Central America.

I enter my house, but the simple construction and gaps between the walls and roof are not enough to drown the noise outside. I am getting used to it now and coupled with the torrential rain hitting the tin roof means I can still sleep well. I am considering releasing a relaxing sleeping aid soundtrack called ‘Swamp Sounds’ featuring the sound of bullfrogs and rain on a tin roof.

My entrance causes of few of the resident geckos to dash into hiding; however, others are brave enough to continue their hunt for tasty bugs. I am happy with my scaly pets as they keep the cockroaches and other critters at bay and they are kinda cool how they stick to any surface including upside down on the corrugated iron ceiling. I remember watching one physically stalking and creeping up on a particularly fat cockroach. The anticipation of a good meal actually meant he was wagging his tail and licking his own face and bulgy eyes with a remarkably long tongue.

Arrival here is remarkably simple, if not somewhat expensive. There are 2 daily flights from the capital city, Managua with La Costeña airlines to Big Corn Island. The landing is good fun as the runway literally runs the length of the island and so during the approach, you look out of the window and its water beneath you until the very last moment, and suddenly the runway appears and the wheels touch…

Once on big corn, a short taxi ride to the dock ($1 or C$24 per person) will have you on a waiting boat to take you across to Little Corn. This ride can be good fun, especially if the weather is slightly rough. Bring waterproofs and large plastic bags to put any bags in that you do not want to get wet. However, be very prepared to get wet yourself. My personal experience was great fun with huge swells steep enough for the captain to have to gun the engines to get up the wave before a short freefall once we dropped off of the top.

My free time here has allowed me to reflect, and I will be writing more on my experiences in upcoming posts…

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