Any on-line search for getting to the Corn Islands will no doubt turn up results mentioning just how difficult it can be getting there. You can fly in from Managua, which is what many people do. If your budgetary restraints will not allow that option, you may be spending a bit of time waiting for your ship to come in, in a literal sense. With enough time on your side and the right attitude, skipping that flight may just convince you that getting there really is half the fun after all.
The Art of Getting There
Quite often we hop on a bus to scoot us off to our next destination and the whole experience can feel like a bit of a chore. Throw in multiple journeys involving a transfer to another bus and now you’re talking a whole day sitting on buses. Even the act of getting yourself to the airport, waiting in a bunch of lines, then boarding a plane that will move you through space and time at an alarming rate can be a real pain.
We all love that wonderful feeling of being where it is we want to be. Getting there can really be full of misery, it seems. In the case of Big Corn Island, it took us a full 6 days to get there, and what an amazing experience that long journey was!
Making Our Way
Our first day of travel began on Tuesday, New Years Eve, in Managua, where we found ourselves on an eastbound bus for 10 hours, heading to the town of El Rama. We arrived just after dark and the scene was equal parts drunken mirth and drunken fitfulness. We found a decent budget room for $8 total. On the prowl for food we came across a corner fritanga that had set up a few tables and chairs.
The brisk trade they were doing – and the yummy smells – let us know the search for grub had ceased. We took our plates, which were heaped with grilled meat and rice, back to our room. We both stuffed ourselves and watched “Beavis and Butthead” and the original “Highlander” film on the television.
I will never forget that night. I cannot say the holiday had anything to do with it, though. Rather, everything just seemed so right. Perhaps that put me in the mood for the epic journey that had just begun.
Water Ways…Oh What A Way!
New Years Day, Wednesday, started our nearly 3 week stint of getting around solely by watercraft – Pangas. These two Drifters were the last to board an uncomfortably overloaded panga down the river to Bluefields. The kind locals left us with the 2 worst seats at the front of the boat. For 60 miles we held on to our seats as our floating contraption chopped through wake and dodged other boats.
With much concern we wondered if our spines and viscera would hold up to the abuse. Our stunt driver got us to Bluefields in about 1.5 hours, which may have been a new record. From here we needed to catch another boat to Big Corn. That boat was in port, but it was not heading to the island until the following Wednesday! One full week away! The holidays had put a bit of a crimp in the schedule.
We asked around quite a bit and we got very different opinions on what boats were going to the island and when exactly they were leaving. Forget about looking on-line for a schedule, o.k.? Just forget it. What was really sad about all this was the home office of the “Captain D” boat, which is the biggest boat out to the island, was the most clueless of the whole bunch.
Waiting For Our Ship To Come In
It looked as if we were stuck in Bluefields for a bit. Somehow we let the rough charm that this city doles out in spades cast quite a spell on us. Even the dogs traveled in packs here! There was a little casino with icy beer where I won $23, or 588 Cordobas! We found a great little bakery, cheap food, lively locals and a wonderful little hotel – “Hotel Marda Maus 2”.
At night we sat on the balcony strung with Christmas lights overlooking the street below and worked on our journal entries, all while enjoying a beer and not minding when exactly that boat ever arrived. We really enjoyed Bluefields.
Too Much Information
Information on our boat kept changing. Suddenly we found out there were a few different boats that were making the trip to the island soon, however nobody still seemed to know when. The Nicaraguan Navy had an office on the dock in Bluefields. After simply walking in to speak with them – as is the custom with any naval force the world over – we received some good leads on a boat called “Island Express” leaving El Bluff on Saturday. El Bluff is just across the bay from Bluefields.
On Friday, January 3rd we caught a panga across the water to El Bluff, where we expected to spend the night in order to catch the 5 a.m boat to Big Corn. There was another naval office in El Bluff, where the Admiral himself, I am certain, informed us no such boat is leaving Saturday morning. He insisted 4 or 5 a.m on Sunday, or should we decide to put it off any longer, a boat called “Genesis” would leave at 8 a.m. on Sunday.
We headed back to Bluefields where we decided to check in to the same hotel we just checked out of a few hours prior. We asked around at the docks again and were told we can catch the Genesis in Bluefields at 6 a.m. on Sunday. By now we ran into a group of backpackers from France who were getting the same conflicting info. Turns out there is a Sunday boat that would leave from El Bluff only.
Oddly enough we bought our tickets from the Captain D office. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore, but the cost of the 7 hour boat to the island was only about $8, so who can complain? There is no need to pay too much attention to any of this information regarding the boats and when they may or may not leave. The information is meant to be as convoluted to you, the reader, as it was to us, for the situation will be something very different once you are in Bluefields trying to get to the Corn Islands by boat. Timetables are a bit of a misnomer around here!
Tiger To The Rescue
We awoke Saturday to a flooded room, thanks to a water pipe bursting in the night. Much of our things are soaked but luckily nothing is ruined. In the morning we caught a panga to El Bluff, where we would spend the night in order to catch that fabled Sunday morning boat. At El Bluff we ran into our French friends who were also there to somehow, at some point, catch a boat to the Corn Islands.
They somehow had tickets for a 2 a.m. boat. At this point a local man called Tiger attached himself to us and took us to the hotel, where we unpacked everything to let it dry. Later we walked around the town, out to the beach, then for dinner somewhere. Well cadets, report to the deck at 6 a.m. sharp!
Another Naval Base
It is still dark as we waited in front of the naval base. We were there about 15 minutes early, ready to get this boat or die trying. A new traveler named Mariano was there at this point. Where’d he come from? A couple from Chile who have been traveling for 6 months arrived. Soon there was a woman from Quebec and her Nicaraguan boyfriend.
Now, if this boat arrived when it was meant, this would be the end of the story. It arrived 10 hours later! There we all were, waiting in front of the naval office for 10 hours!! Somehow, we all made the best of it, hanging out and chatting. Tiger even came by and kept us company. At 4.15 p.m. we boarded the mythical Genesis!!
All Hands On Deck
The Genesis (pronounced “Hennessys”) was a trawler, truth be told. Indeed a couple of nips of “Hennessys” may have helped all who sailed on her. The boat journey was probably the closest thing one can get to being on a “coffin ship” of yore. On this day it shared its 10 foot by 20 foot deck with quite the mob of locals, with a few tourists thrown in.
There were no seats, the crew occupied the few hammocks on board and those in the know came prepared with their own thin bits of cardboard to lay on. Rounding out the 5 man crew were 4 massive pigs, who continuously crapped and slid around in it. Don’t know if their being hosed off was to keep them cool or to clean their wee corner of heaven.
There was a combined smell of fish and pigs which almost ended up being a good thing as it masked the other odour – people vomiting right there on the deck. On top of all that it was like being on “Deadliest Catch”, the sea was really rough. Getting to the bathroom meant tackling a moving obstacle course. 7 hours later we arrived at paradise. All this for 200C ($8.00)!
The French group did manage to get that 2 a.m. boat, we found out when we ran into them on the island. They had a few cattle aboard their ship and one of them cows bled out due to being gored by the horns of its neighbor as the rough sea tossed that vessel around.
Big Corn was worth every bit of effort it took to get there. We blissed out on our own stretch of beach for 2 weeks solid. We walked the island from end to end and got to meet quite a few locals and even a few regular winter-time visitors from North of the border. One Day we caught up with Mariano and ordered a big seafood rondon with him and a father and son from Austria.
Little Corn Island is the main place for tourists here. Getting there requires a much more reliable boat service from Big Corn that takes about a half hour. We did stay on Little Corn for one night, but found we missed Big Corn, so we returned and finished off our time there. Another 2 weeks on Big Corn would have been fine with us considering how perfect everything was going. Our CA-4 visa was running out of time, and we still had to worry about getting a boat off the island. The ticket office told us the Captain D would arrive Monday or Wednesday. We Left on a Saturday!