Travel has that way of hitting you in the face with what truly are your most precious priorities and your greatest lessons to learn.
My husband, Patrick and I just returned from a 3 week adventure in Nicaragua.
The country is gorgeous with lush tropical forests, turquoise water and sandy beaches on the Caribbean side, matched in beauty by impressive volcanoes and warm surf on the Pacific.
However, evidence of 30 years of revolution is prevalent, power outages, even in the larger cities are frequent, we never came across a hot water tap for showers or sinks and minimum wage in Nicaragua is approximately $1USD a day.*
The people are incredibly friendly and just getting used to the influx of tourism. Right now Nicaragua is a back packers paradise. New hostels are opening weekly, the country has an inexpensive bus system and cheap beer.
We highly recommend visiting if you like a little adventure while you travel.
Speaking of adventure, back to my story on the high seas. Our first stop, after we landed in the capital city of Managua was a short flight to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean. They are approximately 70 km off the east coast. We stayed on Big Corn for 3 nights soaking up the Creole and Reggae vibe. We felt like locals cruising around on decrepit bikes, dodging cows and crossing the airstrip to get to the shops.
Our 2nd stop was Little Corn, 13 kms away and accessed by boat only. Along with the Gillian Island style beaches, Little Corn has a few resort type accommodations, some hostels, about 5 cute waterfront cafes and much to my delight, a thriving yoga community.
We started our 1/2 hour crossing at about 10:30am (island time) in a panga. It is a 25 ft open boat that seats about 30 people with our bags in the hold below. Some people declined the life jackets but Patrick and I were prudent, being Coast people ourselves, we know that open water conditions can change in a heartbeat.
And it did.
Just a few minutes into our journey the cameras and cell phones got tucked away as a dark cloud started to form overhead. The initial chatter and enthusiasm of the crossing died down as the size of the swells increased. Within minutes the tropical rain started and I’m not sure if you have ever experienced it but the term ‘a sheet of rain’ is quite accurate.
Our rain cover was a piece of clear plastic that the crew encouraged us to unroll from one side the boat to cover our heads. We were in the back row so it was our job to hold the tarp in place. Patrick and another young man sitting in our row did the best they could to keep the tarp taunt so that the people underneath could stay dry and wouldn’t have the plastic fall onto their heads. Many who were desperately focused on the horizon line to avoid seasickness were at a loss and there were some pretty pale looking faces in the crowd. Myself and a young woman seated in the middle of our row, were the recipients of a mixture of rain and sea spray that collected on top of the tarp and dumped down on us in a neat funnel about every 5 minutes.
Our 30 minute journey took closer to 50 and you could feel the collective sigh of relief when Little Corn Island and the dock came into view. I was impressed with the skill of our captain but just like the others glad when my feet were on the dock.
Thank goodness the water was warm because I was so completely soaked that when we got to our rental home, I could wring out my underwear!
Little Corn is charming. There are no vehicles, just a few paved pathways leading from the dock and then a network of dirt trails that link the island together. You could walk the perimeter of the island in an afternoon. The power is turned off every day between 6:00am and 1:00pm (island time). There are about 800 residents, and probably just as many chickens and roosters, a few dogs, cats and geckos. The paths are lined with beautiful tropical flowers, coconut, lime and breadfruit trees. There are yoga classes, diving and snorkeling tours and that’s about it.
On the 2nd day of our stay we started hearing rumors of a storm that was approaching. Nothing dangerous, we were assured, but the pangas for obvious safety reasons would not operate for any where from 3 to 7 days once the storm arrived.
We had planned to leave the island the afternoon before the storm arrived to make a flight from Big Corn Island to Managua. We started to investigate our options and consulted other travelers and local business people because the only dock authority that showed up was the woman who sold tickets and she didn’t have any suggestions.
We were advised to take an earlier boat on the morning of our flight, as the island has a bigger boat that they use for rougher weather. This boat wouldn’t operate during the storm but it would go out before the weather changed too much. We were told to show up early and that the boat would leave sometime in the morning (island time).
At 5:30am we were at the dock with our backpacks and met up with a few other eager travelers, some who had flights off Big Corn that morning.
By 6:00am the dock area was filling up and there were no signs of the ticket lady or the boat. Around 7:30am, a local, road past the dock on his bike yelling, “No boat, no boat today, no boat!”
Patrick decided it was time to investigate.
Considering our arrival, we knew that the pangas were out of the question but where was this bigger, bad weather boat and why wasn’t any one from the dock or the town coming to talk to the gathering crowd of tourists?
Over the course of the day, I watched my husband practice the true art of letting go of the outcome. It is a yoga philosophy that is often misunderstood and difficult to master but one that grants you incredible freedom. It is a practice that I take to my mat and to my canvas but one that I have a hard time pulling off in real life situations.
We had both already agreed that safety was our number one priority and that the worse case scenario would be getting stuck on a tropical island for a few extra days during a tropical storm. We had good books, a deck of cards, access to cold beer and we knew we would make the best of it. It would be the stuff of good stories for years to come.
However, while I was willing to wait at the dock with the other tourists, Patrick took action towards our goal, a 4:10pm flight. With the resolve of a true yogi, he proceeded with a good mannered but persistent attitude.
Patrick managed to visit the Mayor’s office, several times, make friends with a few boat captains and the ticket sales lady. He first learned that our bad weather boat, a large fishing boat was sitting off shore in front of us, but that the captain could not take it out as the owner was on Big Corn and couldn’t be reached (rumors of a late night binge were circulating).
Then there was also the long-standing feud between the Mayor and the boat captain, apologies needed to be made before anyone was taking any boat anywhere.
There was also a dispute about the fare. The pangas cost $5USD to cross and someone in Managua made it illegal to charge unsuspecting tourists more. However a larger boat costs more money to run so permission had to be granted from the Mayor, Managua and the military, I don’t know why, to charge us double for a crossing. The question about fares got settled but we still didn’t have a boat.
The approved increase in the fee caught the attention of an elderly boat owner and captain who realized that a crossing would help him pay for some minor boat repairs, so permission was granted for him to take us across in his fishing boat.
Patrick who was in the middle of all of these negotiations would come back from time to time to fill us in. He reported that he watched the elderly captain and his small crew from shore as they first had to change the oil in the small boat to reach the fishing boat moored off shore. Our soon to be captain was operating on island time but assured the Mayor and Patrick that we would be ready to go by 1pm.
While some of the travelers had missed their morning flight, they were just as elated to hear the good news as the rest of us who were calculating the timing to see if this larger but safer boat would reach Big Corn before our flight took off at 4:10pm.
By mid morning the news about the storm had spread, many of us went to the local cafes for breakfast and talked with other travelers in case they hadn’t heard.
At around 11:00am a Brit, one of the dive shop owners, came to the dock to once again announce that there would be no boat today. Some of us had already had a bit of premonition as the repair action on the fishing boat didn’t look that promising.
Deflated, some of the tourists started to get upset and angry.
Patrick held his ground and his determination to keep things moving and keep things positive. By this time, he had earned his nickname as “the leader.”
A local woman came forth and said that her friend would take us in a panga for $50USD each but that we would have to leave from the North side of the island, in secrecy. The day was deceiving, sunny and bright just like it had been all the other days during our visit, and looking out at Big Corn Island it didn’t seem like that great of distance. The weather and wind reports showed a different story and I was glad that even though tempted every one turned her down. The pangas were not an option, everyone was aware of the loss of lives last year from a rough weather crossing.
Patrick started talking to the dive shop owner because earlier that day we had heard rumors of a cargo ship that might be returning to Little Corn with one more delivery before the storm. Could we perhaps return with it?
The dive shop owner had the cargo ship captain’s number so Patrick returned to the Mayor’s office with a new strategy. No, he didn’t have plans to return to Little Corn that day but yes, he would come get us if we had 30 people at $15 USD each. Indeed we had more than 30 eager travelers by that point so with the Mayor’s permission he would be here around 1:00pm to pick us up. Those of us on the 4:10 flight were still hopeful, yes, it was a bigger and slower boat but maybe just maybe we would make that flight. In reality, we would be elated to just make it to Big Corn Island that day. Rumors started to circulate that they would have a boat ready for us the next day at 8:00am but you can probably tell from my story that no one believed that for a second!
One o’clock came and went with no site or word from our boat. And then Patrick gets called away, it seems that the cargo captain had trouble at the dock and the authorities over there were charging him a 2000 cordoba fee to leave, would we cover it? It worked out to be about $2USD each, yes, yes, we would cover it!
The mid day sun was beaming down on all of us, piled on top of our bags and peering out on the horizon looking for any signs of our ship to come in. By this point we had all started to make friends and we met people from France, Israel, the U.S., Germany and Paraguay.
At around 2:00pm it was spotted way out to the North, shimmering in the glazing sun.
63 people climbed aboard the weather worn and rusty cargo ship. We departed Little Corn Island at 2:30pm. The journey was pretty quiet as the swells reached over 2 metres high quickly after departure. Again we were thankful for the skill of the captain and his crew. He was pleased with our numbers and waived the fine he had received, 63 passengers was a good haul for him and well worth his travels.
Before we docked, many people thanked Patrick for his efforts. Taxis had been alerted and took the 12 of us straight to the airport. We made it at 4:02pm. High fives and hugs were shared as we were rushed through security and boarded our twin prop plane. They had waited as we made up about ¼ of the passengers!
Patrick knew that an extended stay on a tropical island was not the worst way to spend his holiday time but he had a goal. Determined action accompanied by humility and a sense of humour is how we all got off the island. I even think, despite some of the frustrating set backs, Patrick enjoyed his day.
My big take away watching him in action and witnessing the events unfold, is that letting of the outcome is not about (complacency) or disengagement. We must move forward all the while being open to opportunities that come our way. Going with the flow means that while we work towards our goals, we must take the time to pause and enjoy the view, make new friends, have a cold beer and then carry on with persistence and a sense of humour.
We celebrated on the flight with our new friends, exchanged contact information and watched the sunset over the gorgeous Nicaraguan countryside. We were high in the clouds, off to our next destination with a lightness of being that is indescribable.
*We discussed the economy in Nicaragua with a couple of locals in different areas and were told that the minimum wage was approx $1USD/day and to give you perspective it costs about $1USD for a beer at the market.