The 1:30PM panga boat that goes back to Big Corn Island was already full by the time we got to the ticket lady at the head of the slow-moving line. The ticket lady handed us our tickets as the boat kicked off the dock and sped away. We stood by the dock with about ten other people, feeling like we were stranded in Little Corn Island. The ticket lady told us to wait for the next boat which turned out to be the same panga boat that came back after an hour for a second trip to Big Corn.
A half-hour boat ride later we arrived in Big Corn and got a room at the Hospedaje La Rotunda for the week. I think we got a great deal and the owner is really nice. She is a strong woman who keeps this hostel running on an otherwise slow island where things take a while to get done.
We met Omar and Viky, for the second time it turned out, at the terrace of the hostel. They had stayed in the same hostel where we stayed in Granada the first night that we were there. We talked for a bit, the usual questions in the travel circle, how long have you been on the road, where are you headed next, and so on. They are easygoing and have absolutely no pretensions whatsoever. We liked them right away.
The next evening we grilled some fish that we had bought from the fish market. Omar and Viky were so excited because fish is very expensive in Sardinia where they live. While we were eating and enjoying our conversation, a lady from Catalonia joined us. Her name was Roser and she was staying in a very tiny room across the compound where the light bulb had to be tightened to turn the light on, and loosened to turn it off. She didn’t mind because the room was so cheap and she did not seem to be bothered by much. She was accepting of other people and cultures without reservation.
We chatted for a while and got to know them a little bit more. Omar and Viky work as masseuses at a resort. They work for half the year and then travel for about five months. Roser is a shepherd. I can’t say I’ve ever met one before. She seemed well read and very knowledgeable of many things. The conversation flowed easily and we talked about travel and politics and, oddly so, the qualifications required to work in the adult film industry.
“So tell me about this pyramid we are headed to,” Omar said to me the next morning, as we strolled along the road that paralleled the airport runway. We had just walked across the runway where I asked everyone to walk single file so I could take this Abbey Road parody.
“It’s some sort of artwork where they try to fit an imaginary cube within the earth, and this pyramid is one of the corners of that cube.” I said to him. English is not his primary language, and I don’t think he got what I was trying to say.
The intense Caribbean sun was beating down on all five of us. We walked at a leisurely pace to minimize the heat that is the byproduct of heightened physical activity. Besides, there really was no need to hurry. We were lounging by the terrace of La Rotunda after breakfast that morning and just decided to go see this pyramid. That became the goal for the day. Not a long list of things, just this one thing to accomplish for the day.
One Canadian lady who stayed in the hostel made this observation the other night, that during travel, sometimes there is only one thing on our list to do for the day. This has been true for most days for Bonnie and me. Long term travel has simplified our daily life into this simple rigor.
We walked along a stretch of road that gave us a nice view of the Big Corn Island coast. It is such a pretty island that you don’t have to walk far to see a beautiful sight, be it a beach, a mountain view, or just the simple joy of seeing two kid goats playing in the meadow.
Eventually a playground appeared on our left and in the middle of which sat a yellow pyramid.
“I think that’s it,” I told everyone. We walked across the playground to the pyramid. It was made of cement and painted yellow. If you allow yourself to buy into the concept, you could imagine that this is a corner of a humongous cube. There were a couple of plaques on the ground that demonstrated the idea of the artwork. To figure out a way to rotate that imaginary cube such that the corners or vertices of the cube all emerge on land instead of sea is amazing to me.
Omar was not so impressed. “How much did we pay for this tour?” he joked.
There was a set of swings next to the pyramid and we sat and swayed on it for a while. We talked about how long it had been since we sat on a swing, the Nicaraguan health care, how easy it is to buy antibiotics and painkillers over the counter, and how Roser preferred not to use a nebulizer for her asthma.
After a while we decided to move on and we started to go back to the road. I found a slingshot on the ground. It was one of those old fashioned ones constructed out of a Y from a branch of a tree. I shot pebbles towards a tree. Omar and Roser wanted to try it. Apparently neither of them had used a slingshot before and Bonnie and I showed them how.
At that moment, the yellow pyramid did not seem to matter anymore. We simply enjoyed this temporary relapse to childhood.
We took a dirt path that led to the beach but halfway there we saw a tiny blue house that could not have been more than 10 square feet. It had solar panels on the roof and a porch with a gorgeous ocean view. There was a hammock on the back. It was a cool house. “That’s really all you need,” somebody said. Everyone concurred.
The clear turquoise water at Arenas beach is delightful . The waves are very subtle and barely disturb the white sand beach. This is the beast beach in Nicaragua to me. We reached the beach and quickly lost our shirts and dumped our packs and jumped into the water. It was just the right cool temperature for our overheating bodies.
The next day Bonnie and I headed out to explore the northern side of the island. We walked along Via Principal hoping to catch the island’s only bus that goes around every half hour or so. There was a nice breeze and we ended up skipping the bus and just walking along the beach for most of the way.
We stepped into Island Bakery and Sweets for a snack. This was the first of two goals for the day (we were overachievers). Bonnie tried the lemon pie and I had a chocolate cake. It’s one of those little things that make life on the road worth it – a special treat, a cone of ice cream, a free ride, a slice of cake. It doesn’t take much. We also tried the sorrel drink, a homemade Jamaican beverage made from the flower of a Roselle plant.
The highest point in the 4 square mile area of Big Corn Island is Mt Pleasant at 371 feet. It can be reached via a road just off Casa Canada. The road ends at a school halfway up the hill, then continues to the top as a double-track. At the summit, we climbed up a tower which gave us a beautiful vantage point to see most of the island.
On the way back to the hotel, we made a detour to take a dip at Arenas Beach once again. We weaved in the water and found Roser hanging out there as well. We talked to her for a while about Catalonia culture, food, and a bit of her personal life.
Back in the hostel, we prepared our final dinner with Omar and Viky. We cooked fish that we had purchased from Pasenic, one of the local seafood suppliers, and enjoyed the meal with some Toñas. We talked some more about travels and travel destinations. The more travelers we meet the more destinations we discover are waiting out there, and our list of destinations continues to grow. We talked about family, work, dreams and countries and governments until late into the night.
In the morning we said our goodbyes. Omar and Viky were headed to Little Corn while Roser was going to explore further south towards Rio San Juan. We exchanged information and promised to meet if we ever get to each other’s part of the world.
We still have a day left in Big Corn but already it has provided us a memorable experience. The island provides a backdrop for people’s lives to intertwine and create moments that, though ephemeral, enriches our lives with the lasting memories that they provide. In the end, I think that what we remember most are the people, while the island fades in the background.
Perhaps this is true for any place we go to, and each of our experiences is a unique combination of the interactions we have with the people there, more than the attractions that the place has. I am reminded of a line from Dave Matthews Band: Turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters.
Maybe when Roser returns home she will have 40 goats instead of the 20 she left behind who were all pregnant. Maybe Omar and Viky’s dream to put up juice bar will come to fruition in the next couple of years and we would be able to walk up to the counter to find them there. Who knows. After a few days here Big Corn Island doesn’t seem so big. I have started to recognize most of the faces that I meet. Maybe the world is not so big either.
BlueDoors Best Deal: Arenas Beach/Picnic Beach – This is our favorite beach in Nicaragua. Clean crystal waters, subtle waves. Free to swim.