A Stop in the Corn Islands

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October, 2007

Back on the Nicaraguan mainland from  a serene visit out to Isla de Ometepe, we caught a bus while standing in the pouring down rain at the ferry dock, and rode that rickety old American hand-me-down all the way into the capital city of Managua. Upon arriving in Managua en route to the international airport, we passed entire communities of tent cities perched in local parks and public locales. To call the housing tents would be a massive overstatement, as the reality of the situation was that they were more of scraps of plastic from the junkyard held up by small branches and whatever sort of rope could be found. Thousands of people call these places home, and to witness this sort of poverty first hand simply makes a person appreciate the few things that we have in this world and keeps a person honest, humble, and thankful.

From Managua we caught a prop plane out to Big Corn Island (via a stop in big cornthe coastal town of Bluefields), a collection of islands about 40 miles off the Caribbean coast of the mainland. Simply put, Big Corn was not all I expected it to be, and I am glad our time there was short. The larger of the two “Islas de Maiz”, it had more of a downtrodden shantytown vibe than that of an idyllic Caribbean hideaway. With a decidedly overrun feel to the main town,  large groups of people gathered along the main street wit little to do other than leer from dark corners and hold questionable motives.  Taking a panga for 30 minutes over to Little Corn, we arrived under a pastel sunset and found lodging at the renowned Casa Iguana in our own private beach hut, replete with hammock and porch and all. Nestled in the palm grove for 3 days insidecasa of our quaint commode, we combed the beaches and walking trails of the tiny Caribbean island and feasted on dinners of locally caught fish. Life was very good.

One day while on Little Corn we decided to head out with Dive Little Corn and explore the underwater world encircling the sandspit of an island. Only problem was that theday our dive was scheduled we rose to a raging lightining storm and driving rain. No matter. We’re in the middle of nowhere in the Caribbean, liability be damned,  we’re going anyway. Once underwater, the storm that raged above water vanished as we sank deeper down into that alluring aqueous kingdom. We dropped down to about 90 feet, and at one point the divemaster reached his arms up to the shoulder into a coral head and pulled a nurse shark out by the tail and invited us to pet it. When I woke up that morning I did not expect to be petting sharks by that afternoon, but was enthralled by the overall experience.

An island of approximately 800 residents where no motorized vehicles are allowed, Little Corn is the epitome of a removed piece of land seemingly hidden from the rest of the fast paced world, content to sit back and simply exist in the middle of nowhere. Definitively divided into the tourist end and the local end, one of my favorite experiences on the island was shunning the kidsadvice to avoid the local end of town, and walking past the local school and seeing all of the smiling faces of the schoolchildren poking out of the playground window.  Some gestures simply show that even on little sandspits in the middle of nowhere, universal gestures such as a wave and a smile can bridge gaps and unite two sides of an otherly divided island.

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