I had one night in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. It’s a big sprawling beast of a place: Urban. Ugly. And for the most part, Unfriendly. It’s an uncomfortable intersection of poor Nicas and rich ex-pats. I’m sure if you spent enough time here you’d find some beauty, good people and a heartbeat of sorts. But Antigua, it ain’t.
I checked into a nice hotel (‘nice’ has changed SIGNIFICANTLY since I stayed at the Intercontinental in New Orleans). I had my first hot shower in 5 weeks. Cold showers are a way of life here: the weather is warm even during the rainy season so there’s no real need; moreover it’s just because hot water is a luxury. And it’s not really an issue. But you never really get super duper scrubby clean. You should have seen the state of my hotel-issued white towel once I was done.
I then sat down to Skype my dear friend Scott who had sweetly
agreed to visit my folks for a very special reason. As smart as they are – my parents would have to be the least tech savvy people in the world. As in, they haven’t worked out how to use the Voicemail feature on the mobile phone I gave them just last year. So, Scott & I had conspired to surprise them with a video call on his laptop for my Dad’s 65th birthday. In return, he would be rewarded with The Best Laksa In The World.
We had a great jibber. Scott delivered the coffee table book I had ordered online. So now the oldies could get a bit of a taste of where I have been. Dad seemed pleased enough. But I do know the big thing for him was being able to see my face. Mum & Dad oohed and ahhed at the wonders of technology. I had to intervene when Dad started asking Scott how the Internet worked. Maybe it’ll be enough incentive for him to go & do an Intro to Computers course at the local community college.
Now I do not want to underestimate the extent of this massive favour that Scott had afforded me. My parents live a good 45min drive away from Scott’s place in the city. And Scott’s a busy man.
But my mama’s laksa, which a lot of my good friends will testify, is more than fair reimbursement. A laksa is a Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) dish. It’s a coconut-curry soup which is traditionally made with seafood. Served right, there will be a combination of Hokkien and vermicelli noodles and it will be garnished with fresh bean shoots, a good spoonful of sambal chilli paste, and topped with Vietnamese mint.
Having one of my mother’s laksas is a bit like flying First Class once. And then flying Economy forever more. One friend described it as a “laksa which will ruin you forever”. My friend Jackie, an eminent restaurant critic gave it a thumbs up. And another mate has put it on his Bucket List.
So naturally Scott being the good Aussie mate that he is, spent the rest of the afternoon torturing me with photos of said laksa. Yep. Goodonya.
Next day I made my way to Little Corn Island. It had come so highly recommended by everyone I had met who had been there. I was looking forward to getting back to the Caribbean. Doing some more diving. Eating more lobster. Perfecting my hammock technique. That sort of stuff.
It’s an 80 min flight in a teeny plane that makes too many ‘I’m on the precipice of falling out of the sky’ noises for my liking, to Big Corn Island. Then it’s an hour by panga to Little Corn Island. This particular panga is a big ole wooden speed boat with a bunch of bench seats – maybe enough to hold 30 passengers. It’s a got a couple of really big outboard motors which power it over some seriously high swells: Smooth on the way up. Not so smooth on the way down. Bit like a rollercoaster really. You wanna hang on tight. And that goes for your possessions too. Everything could well go flying. Expect to get drenched. When it rains, they give you a big sheet of industrial plastic which everyone helps hold down over their heads. Definitely an experience in itself.
A short walk from the jetty – I walked past a bar called Tranquilo and saw Skye sitting with a young European fellow. We saw out Happy Hour (which is actually two) and caught up while the sun did its thing over the sea.
Then we went & found me a place to call home for the next week. Most visitors to Little Corn Island will divide their time between the village and the beach, which is an epic 15 minute walk around the other side of the island. On the beach, there are three places where you can drop your swag for the eve. They’re all very simple thatched roof huts with concreted bathrooms. The beds are swathed in mosquito nets. There’s not much else to them. You might get a veranda with a chair or a hammock. You might get a fan. Or a lounge. You might get a power outlet. You wouldn’t get all of the above.
I got one with an uninterrupted view at Elsa’s. Next door at Grace’s / The Cool Spot was where it was at. Most people seemed to be staying there, the restaurant was good (if not a bit exy) and the bar would get busy after Happy Hour ended at Tranquilo. We met a mixed bag of folks from all over the world. They were all divers too, so I would end up spending a bit of time with them over the next week.
The next day & I went and talked to the guys at one of the dive shops, Dolphin Dive. (The other was closed for vacation.) When I told Adam, the manager how long I was going to be on the island for – he advised me to wait it out for a couple of days as the visibility wasn’t so great at the moment. That would be a first. It’s always “25 metres vis out there! We saw hammerheads dancing with dolphins, who were riding on the backs of turtles yesterday! It’s amazing out there!” And then you get out there and it’s Shit. I was well impressed with his honesty. I silently pledged allegiance to his shop immediately.
Over the next week, I did 5 dives with them and some laughs with my good natured DM – a local bloke who told me he was related to 80% of the island. We dove some real pretty sites under nice conditions, but on the whole there was nothing extraordinary to report. Apart from my first sighting of a “Dick Fish”.
On my second last day of diving, I pointed something out to Garry and made an underwater gesture: ‘What is it?’ With both hands, he started simulating a wank of the most massive pretend penis ever. I lost it! I laughed so hard my reg popped out of my mouth, and i took in a few good mouthfuls of seawater. I just did not expect that at all from this quietly spoken man. At all. When we surfaced, I spluttered at him – “WHAT THE HELL IS A DICK FISH!”
Apparently, it was a Black Spotted Sea Cucumber. Too fucking funny.
Little Corn Island is a proper tropical island with hundreds of coconut trees and lots of lush green dense vegetation.
Population: 1200 people, a few hundred chickens, lots of well-fed & happy dogs, and at least one cow. Almost everyone speaks Caribbean English and Kriole. A lot of folk speak Spanish.
There are zero vehicles on the island. There are very few shops, and no banks.
Power only runs from 3ish (give or take a couple of hours) in the arvo through to around 5 or 6 in the morning. Rest of the time they make do without. Businesses use gennys. The island does have its own water supply though which means you can drink the water here!
Typical foods here include coconut bread, and there’s a lady who lives down past the little school, who you can go visit two times a day to get the tastiest of them all – hot out of her oven. There’s a couple of kids who sell their mama’s “patties” which are kinda like little meat pies / empanadas. There’s a lot of plaintains & bananas which get served up every which way with gallo pinto (the omnipresent rice & freakinbeans). Then there’s a dish called Rundown, (pronounced more like ‘ran-dahn’ in the Carib accent). It’s a coconut soup dish consisting of seafood, plaintains, bananas, root vegetables and herbs & spices. I was well excited about the prospect of eating this.
And so it turned out, Skye had met a guy called Dennis (seems like every tourist does) on the beach who was touting a rundown by a bonfire on the beach, the next night. Sounded great. Only sticking point was he wanted the money upfront. I suggested we give him ½ that day, and tell him we’d give him the rest on the night.
Later that day, she & I and circumnavigated the island by foot which took us no more than an hour or two. There’s bugger all to see, apart from a lighthouse, which i think we must have missed.
What we did see though was a crazy amount of rubbish strewn along the shoreline. Tiny bits of Styrofoam that we mistook for shells. Thousands of plastic bottles. Hundreds of odd shoes. We hadn’t heard a thing about this from anyone. Why was no one talking about it? I asked some locals later that day and they all said it had washed up in the last big storm a couple of weeks ago. Garry told me there had been big clean up days in the past, and maybe something like that would be organised again before the high season hit.
We had the rundown on the beach that night, but neither Skye or I were really feeling the vibe. It just felt like we’d been suckered into a bit of gringo rort. There was a bit of a sleazy undertone to the whole affair. And to be honest, the rundown wasn’t what i had been hoping for. It seemed like a dish with great potential though. I vowed to hunt down the best one on the island before I left.
Skye left a couple of days after I arrived, for her friend’s wedding in Mexico. We’d been travelling together on & off for 5 weeks. There’d had been some difficult moments. But moreover, we’d had lots of fun and funny times in two stunning countries and we’d met some amazing people with incredible stories. There was a part of me that knew there were bits of travelling with someone which I was really going to miss. Like the travelling bits, in particular. But there was also a part of me that was looking forward to flying solo again.
I fell into an easy routine for the remainder of my days on the island.
I’d get up early, check the sea conditions on the both sides of the island (the beach side is on the East and it can get ridiculously windy there… whereas you can walk around to the Village on the West side and the sea can be glassy as a lake.) I’d have a chat with the guys in the dive shop. And then do some reading or writing over brekky. My dive was at the very civilised time of 1130am. After which it was time for lunch. I’d follow that up with a snooze in the hammock. I’d then go get ready for Happy Hour at 5pm. Have some dinner and be in bed by 9 or 10. What a life.
On my 2nd last night, I tagged along with Stefano (a tall Italian man who was one of the DMs at the dive shop) to the local reggae bar, Happy Hut. All the local lads were hanging around in hammocks getting high. I shared a few spliffs and kisses with Garry. And I must say – both were rather good. I also got given a bowl of a barracuda rundown which was being made by one the young boys, which was absolutely sensational.
Two days later, I was a bit sad to be leaving the island. I think so far it’s been my favourite (and yes, I know I say that about all of them).
I caught the early morning panga with Steph from the bar and learnt she was also going to Managua. She needed to go to Costa Rica for a border run. Steph is a tall, vivacious, pretty Brit who had a smile to shame the Caribbean. She decided to come to Managua Backpackers Inn with me and we really took to each other over the next 2 days.
By the end of it, we had decided I should come back & work in the bar with her (while her workmate was back in the States for a few weeks). She’d also said I could take over her house-sitting gig for the duration as well. That just sealed the deal. I could tell the two of us would get up to quite a bit of strife together. Throw someone’s sweet kisses into the mix & I was well excited about the possibility of returning to Little Corn, as I parted ways with Steph in Rivas.
2 or so hours later I arrived back at Little Morgan’s.
15 November 2011