No, really (or maybe?). But we’ll get to that.
So left Grenada in a taxi, hoping to get to a town said to be lovely. A place called Jaigalpa. A place that is distinctly not lovely. It was interesting to see guys dressed like they were from Texas, big boots, jeans, I think even some cowboy hats, but the place itself was rough, even more so since it was well off the gringo trail. As my friend Mary states in her blog, there’s benefits to the gringo trail. In my case I draw a little bit less attention when I’m on it and usually feel a tiny bit safer for that reason.
I wound up staying at the disco hotel. No really. They had a huge dance floor though I don’t know that anyone cared. It was insanely loud and I decided to hit my crappy bed before things got to exciting. The next morning I was up early and with the town not catering to tourists I decided to hop on the bus without trying to find breakfast, something that often doesn’t exist in an easy to find way when off the gringo trail.
The bus ride was four hours long or so. With no stops. And no bathroom. I knew this in advance and didn’t drink too much water as there’d be nothing I could do if I needed to go. HEADACHE! No food and no water will do that to you…. but I had planned on that. Yes, I had planned on having a horrible headache. Who does that? Once I got to my destination, El Rama I finally found the area to catch the panga to Bluefields. Rama was said to have cleaned up a bit from its seedy past but I can’t see it. This is a place I’m very glad I didn’t stay, or get to after dark. It was sketchy walking around during the day.
I can’t say how I judge places to be frightening. I think it’s a combination of garbage (everywhere here but worse in the bad places), a lack of people who seem to be doing legitimate business, a lack of clean-looking businesses, roads that are mud pits more than roads. But there’s something more to it too. A general sense you get that people aren’t up to any good. There’s plenty of small towns that don’t freak me out at all. In the end you just have to trust your instincts I think.
Anyway, the panga to Bluefields was… funny, scary, hilarious, absurd. Think small boat with 18 or so people shoved in, squeezed in is more like it. Open top, so like a big row-boat… with a motor… going so insanely fast that no one but the standing captain could see over the front of the boat. And all our stuff is piled high in the front virtually hanging over the sides and not tied in.
I was a bit worried about taking the open panga since it had been raining on and off for the last several days. What would we do if it started to rain? The rain here is the kind that can drench you completely in a matter of minutes making this a decent concern. Well I learned soon enough. What we do is huddle together under this big piece of clear plastic that those of us on the outside have to try to hold down. Something that’s extremely hard to do at the speeds we’re going. Of course this gave all of us something else to do besides worrying that we were going to die which frankly seemed pretty imminent.
I really wish I had pictures of any of this but between the rain and the general sketchiness of the places I was there was no way I was going to pull out any kind of electronic gadget.
The speeding boat went around corners so fast I could have easily stuck my head in the water without leaving my seat, or at least that’s the way it felt. Of course the other problem with rain is that it comes with wind, wind that makes the water very rough especially on wooden plank seats, as if there needed to be more to this adventure. Oh, wait, but there is.
Pirates. OK, maybe not but here’s what happened. As we round a corner this bigger boat speeds out in front of us and stops, blocking our passage. We slow more quickly than you’d think was possible and swing around so we’re side by side to the boat. The guys in the boat seem to be arguing with the guys on the bigger boat. Eventually a ton of cordobas are handed from our boat to the bigger one and we move on. Sure, there’s probably a perfectly good explanation for this but the sunken ships on the side of the river added to the mystique and the yelling and arguing didn’t help. I had meant to ask the one English speaker on the boat what was going on but later forgot after a few more sessions of rain plastic and rough water.
At one point I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I could have flown to Corn Islands and skipped this whole thing but that wouldn’t be quite the same now would it? I simply had to have the authentic experience and yet I was starting to feel like a character in some novel only missing my adventure hat and vest. Here I am, a single woman in her late thirties in some tiny boat on a filthy river with a bunch of people I can’t talk to. Who the hell does this crap? People in fiction novels, that’s who. I guess that means it just seemed a bit surreal.
Getting to Bluefields I realized that this entire experience would be very “authentic”. Yup, another place I shouldn’t use the camera. While not horrible it was the first time I thought “there’s a fine reason this isn’t on the Gringo trail…. there’s really nothing to see or do here”. Sure, the place is named after a pirate but that’s about the only charming part of it. Ethnically there’s a ton more going on here than in Western Nicaragua but most of the exploration into the native groups of people involve heading north to remote areas that I won’t go to alone for obvious reasons. But hey, I have been to the Mosquito Coast and that’s something.
The next day I went to the airport and bought a ticket to Big Corn Island. While in theory I could have taken a boat here they only run on certain days and apparently then only run if they’re full and take all day. The flight takes about 30 minutes. I also bought a flight back to Managua. As much fun as the panga experience was I think I should only tempt fate that way once. Yes, I’m wimping out and I’m ok with that. Shortening travel time is my new mantra.
So now I’m on Big Corn Island. While Little Corn is supposed to be “the place” to go the huge amount of gringos heading there was just a bit too much for me to take. There’s something about self righteous girls from LA insisting that the airline worker take their picture and getting pissed off that the worker didn’t want them to get too close to the props on the plane that just makes me want to smack people. I wound up in a cab with them and they were nice enough, just young and self-absorbed like most are when we’re young. And yes, there’s nothing but gringos at this little slice of heaven but there are a few more natives on the island as well. A lot more really considering that Big Corn seems to have been eclipsed by his little sister. There isn’t much of anything here and at least a few places in the guidebooks from just two years ago are already closed.
Walked past this house and there was a guy on the porch playing the Christmas Song on saxophone.
Ice Cream Man
That means that tomorrow is rest day. Reading, relaxing, doing nothing and maybe finding the little hotel owned by Italians down the road that is said to have the most amazing food in Nicaragua. Seems like a good plan for a day.