NOTE: this post chronicles my time on the Atlantic Coast and Corn Islands in Nicaragua, before I got stuck there with my car due to nationwide protests. For that crazy story – click here.
Drive to Bluefields
I wanted to see some of the countryside and go places not every tourist goes. This is the whole idea of doing this in a car. I actually thought about driving to Puerto Cabezas on the north Atlantic Coast – which no one does – as there’s no tourist destinations anywhere near there. But google says it’s a 14 hour drive. Which means two days of driving each way. So once I nixed that idea, I knew I was driving to Bluefields at least – which is only a 6-7 hour drive. Nicaragua gets a lot skinner between the two coasts in the south.
After that I planned to take the ferry to the Corn Islands – which are a major tourist destination. Just like Ambergris Caye/Caye Caulker in Belize and Roatan/Utila in Honduras – there’s a Big Corn with has cars and more built-up resorts, and a smaller Little Corn with has none of that. Also some great diving. Later I found out the ferry was 5-7 hours, which did not sound fun. I decided to book a flight instead, for about $11o roundtrip. My plan was to buy a ticket at the airport when I got into Bluefields.
It was about here I got hit by a squeegee guy. I had a guy selling nuts on my driver window, and I didn’t notice the squeegee guy until it was too late. I tried to wave him off and he ignored me. But then I realized the window could probably use a clean and it was going to cost me 10 cords 0r about 33¢. I paid him then looked in my mirror and saw the nut guy do the same thing – distract a driver while the squeegee guy came in from the other side. Aha! The nut guy and the squeegee guy are working together! Who’s a deranged conspiracy theorist now?
One really good tip I had gotten from the guy I met from Bluefields was to take the route through Nueva Guinea, not through Rama. If I had just blindly followed google maps like I have this entire trip, I’d be in Rama trying to figure out how to get to Bluefields. The only direct way from Rama to Bluefields is to put your car on a little barge called a panga boat. Would I have figured this out or wanted to do it? I don’t know.
Further complicating the issue: maps.me, my paper map, and my Garmin Nicaragua openstreetmap downloaded in December also all think there is a road from Rama to Bluefields. There is not. Trust me I had many many days and a lot of incentive to try to find one.
Maybe the latest openstreetmap knows there is no road, but I wouldn’t know because I cannot for the life of me get it to install into Garmin’s ultra-confusing cluster-f*ck software. #)$*@$#)*#$)* Nor does even the older Nicaragua street map show up on my Garmin device even though I know I added it there before I left on the trip. I can only view it on my Mac. Garmin – most useless purchase ever. Maybe I can throw it at someone’s head in a jam and run away. I really want to take it out and smash it – Office Space style. Everything about the interface is about 100x more confusing and unusable than it should be. But it seems to work ok for hiking. So that would be dumb.
On top of that – only google maps realizes that there is a road to Bluefields from Nueva Guinea.
One of the reasons the maps think there’s no road is that it’s brand new, and there’s actually about 30km still under construction. There are a lot of spots where traffic can only go one way so you have to wait. We’ll hear more from this road in the next blog.
All in all the route took about an hour less than google maps expected. I rolled into town about 4pm. I had been primed to not expect much out of Bluefields, and it lived up to that. Gritty.
I tried to find the airport but google maps was sending me all over the place. The streets are very narrow with people parked in all kinds off odd places, and the taxi drivers are really aggressive. I was a little frayed from 7 hours of driving and it was pretty chaotic. At one point I tried to get around a car as a taxi driver was flooring it to try to beat me to the open spot. He basically made it so tight that I hit the parked truck to the right of me. I was barely moving so it was just kind of a light clunk. I decided to pretend like I hadn’t heard or felt it and just keep moving. I looked behind me and no one was yelling or chasing. Whew. I don’t think it did any damage to either car.
I was frazzled so I gave up on the airport and went straight to my hotel – the Flamingo Hotel/Casino (formerly Oasis Hotel/Casino – which is the only name cab drivers seem to know). I had heard about this place multiple times and it seemed to be something on an institution. Rooms were $55, but I figured it was worth it for one night to know I was in a solid place. My book said some of the cheap hostels were sketchy. Also w/o AC I’m sure.
After checking in I checked out the casino. It was all slots/video poker – no poker or blackjack, heh. I walked down to the pier and saw more grit. A few people said hi and welcomed me to Bluefields. It seemed a bit sketchy. But I know now they were literally just either being friendly or trying to offer advice or something to hustle a little change to get something to eat.
I managed to book a flight to Corn Island online, had a few beers and a burger at the Casino lounge, and went to bed pretty early. The next day I woke up and noticed my tire was flat. I wasn’t super surprised – because of those sharp rocks. I changed to my spare and worked it out with the hotel that someone would come fix the flat tire while I was gone. They let me park for free for 4 days while I was on the island. I can’t see enough good things about Oasis/Flamingo. The manager Jerry, and the rest of the staff went way above and beyond to help me out in a number of spots. Oasis will come up much more in the next blog post.
I decided to kill time before my afternoon flight at a local restaurant I’d heard about called Marbella. I hopped in a cab. He looked at me a little funny but started driving. About 1000′ later we were at Marbella. Oh. Well it’s only 20C – about $.60
I tried to order langoustines because I heard they were good around there. No langoustines. Ok. So I ordered chicken fajitas. This is what chicken fajitas looks like:
The place quickly started to fill up. Turns out Real Madrid was playing Barcelona. You see a lot of both jerseys everywhere in Latin America – almost always Ronaldo or Messi – easily the two most famous and probably best (or close to it) players in the game. By the time the game started it felt like the Superbowl with fans of both teams very animated.
I really enjoyed watching everyone get so into the game. I had to leave for the airport at halftime. But it turned out I could still watch the game, along with the entire staff of the Bluefields airport. When I got to the island I found out the game ended in a tie. Lame.
The plane flies into Big Corn island and from there you have to take a “ferry”, which is really just a big open boat, to Little Corn. The ferry waits for the plane and vice versa.
Little Corn Island
I met a couple on the plane were there for their anniversary. Every year one of them picks and plans a vacation to a place, and the other has no idea where they’re going. So this guy was on the plane literally just figuring out he was going to the Corn Islands – which he knew nothing about. What an amazingly cool idea.
The boat ride was pleasant and about 20 minutes. I guess with rough seas it gets really wet and takes a lot longer. I got to my hostel – Christine’s place. Very lovely.
Across the way from the hotel was a church. That’s nice.
I went down to find a place to dive. The #1 dive shop in town, Dolphin Dive, was actually pretty busy, which I didn’t expect. I thought it would be like Utila with endless capacity to handle divers. I had heard some bad reviews about the other big dive shop. I think they’re going through some turmoil with the owner, and the staff’s attitude seemed to reflect that they weren’t happy. I managed to sign up for one dive the next day with Dolphin. As people canceled I got in 2 more dives – which was perfect.
I got something to eat and hung out with some American guys I met on the boat. Little Corn was pretty easy to meet people because it’s so small. The biggest vehicles on the island are wheelbarrows and bicycles. We hung out with some other girls they had met earlier. Everyone seemed a little more tolerant of the guy that’s 20-years-older than them in this spot. Maybe because it’s a small island without a ton of tourists – so everyone just mixes together more. The larger the crowd the more people seen to stratify and split off into self-selected groups. Obviously mixed-age places are more fun – since tourist hangouts for people in their 40s don’t exist outside stuff like Cancun.
As I approached my hostel, I could hear some incredibly loud music. But it wasn’t a club it was church music. Also not pleasant gospel or something, but some kind of wailing that sounded like the person was being impaled.
I saw the Canadian couple that had the room next to me sitting out on our shared balcony. They had been sitting outside for a while – hoping the service would wrap up. We sat outside for an hour or so drinking rum. We literally had to yell at each other to be heard over the din. I can’t even imagine how loud it must have been to be in the actual church. Finally they called it a wrap and did the after church milling around thing. Everyone’s ears had to be wringing.
One fun little quirk of Little Corn is the power goes off from 6am to 2pm every day. So when I heard my AC go off at 6am, I knew my room would just slowly start getting hotter and hotter. No fan either of course. It definitely gets you up and going early! I signed up for morning dives the next two days after that, since I might as well get moving.
The diving was great. Dolphin Dive was very professional and a lot of fun. I forgot my GoPro, so I don’t have any pictures unfortunately. I feel like the reef on Little Corn was more colorful than the one in Utila. Maybe at a shallower depth, I don’t know. I saw more animals at Utila though.
On my second day I decided to walk over to Otto Beach on the other side of the island – a beautiful walk on a trail that winds through neighborhoods and tropical island scrub.
After the walk I popped out of the jungle onto Otto Beach – probably the most idyllic beach of the whole trip.
My last night we were treated to a nice sunset on the other side of the island.
Once again I had a sad leaving island day. I hate leaving island day. I liked Little Corn a lot. But I think Utila still has my heart as far as islands go.
I took the ferry back to Big Corn, where I planned to spend one night and then take my early flight the next day. I didn’t see Roatan, so I decided I at least wanted to see Big Corn. The guys I met were on the same boat back to Big Corn, and taking the afternoon flight to Managua, which usually also stops at Bluefields. I could have gone on that flight instead of my morning flight. But I had already paid for my room. This would turn out to have repercussions. Big lesson is never pay for the room ahead of time unless you really think things are going to fill up – which doesn’t happen too often in this part of the world.
To be accurate I didn’t pay for the room, I just reserved it on booking.com. They don’t charge you, but if you don’t show up I guess the hotel can get your money from them. However, at least half the hotels never even check the reservations and have no idea who I am when I show up. This hotel, Big Fish, was no different. I doubt they’d have charged me if I didn’t show.
From the airport, I got lucky and got an amazing cab driver who spoke perfect English. I got to ask him all kinds of questions about life on the islands. We arranged for him to pick me up at 6:30 the next morning. Unfortunately a bit later I got an email from the airline. My morning flight was canceled and I had to move to the afternoon. But I had no way to contact the cab driver to tell him not to come. Oh well I figured I’ll just pay him the 60¢.
This flight cancellation would also turn out to have repercussions.
And the rest of my Big Corn blog would probably conclude with – I took some pics, had dinner and went to bed.
Except for the drunk crazy lady who showed up to harras/catfish/unsure the guy who was dining near me.
First she stumbled into the restaurant and looked at me, then she recognized him. Apparently they knew each other because she had been kicked out of the bar at his hotel – that morning. It’s impressive enough to get kicked out of a bar in the morning, but to still be drinking at sunset is epic. She kept asking him if he was married, touching him, asking him all kinds of questions. It’s obvious he just wanted to get rid of her, but was too nice to tell her to get lost.
She was Swiss apparently. Came on vacation with some guy who abandoned her? Ditched by her friends? The guy kept trying to find out her story, but it wasn’t getting anywhere. At one point I think she said she needed $200 to replace her lost phone. So maybe she was just catfishing.
At one point she left for a bit and I offered to help him as much as I can. Then he started asking me to figure something out. Hell I don’t know dude. I’m terrible at this stuff. The waiter also was terrible and didn’t want to risk pissing off a guest. At some point bugs started eating me and I had to get out of there. Before I left I got his # – then whats-apped him and told him he could hide out in my room if he wanted. He texted back later that he had gotten rid of her.
So the next day the cab driver showed up at 6:30. I told him the story and gave him 20C for his trouble. Later when he picked me up for the afternoon flight, he said the morning flights were running. Maybe the one to Managua, but it didn’t stop in Bluefields this time for some reason.
I flew back to Bluefields. The hotel had fixed my tire but the spare was still on my car. I decided to switch the spare back to the back. I said profuse thanks for helping me and headed on the road about 2pm.
My original plan was to make it back to Granada in a day – but the flight delay had changed that. My biggest concern was how much farther past Nueva Guinea I wanted to ride in the dark. The Belgian guys I’d met at D&D Brewery and were then on Utila were in Granada. I was looking forward to seeing them. Did I dare try to risk it all the way to Granada? I’d been on that road and it wasn’t bad. Also Nicaragua is pretty safe as far as night bandits or something.
Turns out I had a lot more to worry about. That will be in the next post: Nicaragua – Exodus