Nica Snapshot: A World of Boats, part 4: Caribbean Sea

Sun rising over the Caribbean swells
Sun rising over choppy Caribbean swells

Time came to make the passage from El Bluff to Big Corn Island — and we paid the price for not properly planning.  At 5 AM we wandered along the waterfront fence in El Bluff and — with the help of a local — found where we were to wait.  As other people slowly arrived we gained confidence we were in the right place.  The schedule we ran was the “Island Express” according to online sources, but our boat was not a traditional passenger ferry; instead we boarded a 50′ cargo ship that may have had a previous life as a large tug.  So we hunkered down on the wood planks of the cargo deck with the other passengers and began the journey into the Caribbean Sea.

Cargo and passengers strewn across the deck of our
Cargo and passengers strewn across the deck of our “ferry” to Big Corn

It quickly became clear we were the amateurs on this passage: we chose the wrong side of the boat and ended up in the rain when we hit a squall and then later in the sun.  And it was a long time in the sun.  We started before dawn on what is advertised as a 5-hour passage and became an 8-hour trip.  The increase in travel time came from the fact that we made the passage in pretty rough seas — so rough that the ferry we planned to use for the return passage opted not to make the crossing!  Swell height was just over 12′ by Big Corn and considerably bigger just outside the bay from El Bluff — up to 20′ if our estimates are right.

Riding down a swell into the next one -- swells as large as 20ft
Riding down a swell into the next one — swells as large as 20ft

Unsurprisingly, we arrived on Big Corn hungry and grumpy — and so perhaps it is also no surprise we were disappointed a bit.  It is a beautiful island to be sure, but the Corn Islands had been sold as the must-see part of Nicaragua, the one place to go if you can.  Big Corn is a beautiful island with some great resorts and a moderate tourist infrastructure, but it kind of has the worst of both worlds: the nuisances of tourism but not the benefits of a solid infrastructure.

While we were unimpressed with Big Corn in general, in large part this was our own fault: we came to Big Corn in perhaps the worst season.  The rough seas we experienced were not from a storm but actually the norm for January, the transition from the local wet season to dry season.  Rough seas meant supplies in general were low on the island — nobody was starving, but meals were sometimes limited in variety and certain things were far from fresh.  Rough seas also meant transit to and from Little Corn, which is done in an open speedboat, was unreliable: we chose not go for fear of missing our return ferry to Bluefields.  Rough seas meant no scuba diving.  Rough seas meant the ferry we planned to take to back to Bluefields delayed coming, and we booked a last-minute flight there instead: the passage that took 8 hours by slow, swaying ferry took about 20 minutes in a twin-engine turboprop.

A circle of boats off Big Corn Island slowly drawing in a large fishing net
A circle of boats off Big Corn Island slowly drawing in a large fishing net

But the people who lived and worked on Big Corn made the most of this season of rough seas — as they also got through every season.  So we resigned ourselves to relaxation and did little for a few days.  Then it was a 20 minute flight to Bluefields and a water taxi to El Rama to return to the car — back to our land-bound adventures.

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