Thursday, March 22, 2012

My time in Jurassic Park, Bluefields, and the Caribbean Sea

 The last few days have been relaxing, tiring, sunburnt, and delicious.

After arriving in Bluefields, I met a local family after this guy named Armando walked me all the way to the post office after my basic request for directions. They are all really cool people, unfortunately poor, but have a means to make money buy frying up plaintain chips to sell in snack bags and also selling coconuts and bananas from the front porch of their house. They also have a rooster, a chicken or two and a parrot, as well as a few stray dogs of varying size that are either their pets or wanderers they've taken in.

I ended up opting for a spare room the family had over paying ridiculous prices for a hotel. Needless to say, the room was a cement box with a halved door and corrugated tin roof. The rain comes down in torrents in Bluefields, but alas, the small cracks in the roof never gave way to ruining my night.

The people of Bluefields, formerly a pirate and slave haven, are of mixed race. They are African in descent, but have also some English, French, and Dutch pirate blood. They speak Creole, which is kind of like English, except they take sentences and crush them into short phrases and weird pronunications that make their normal conversation nearly undiscernible bunch of noise and laughing. They're always laughing. Also, everyone understands and speaks Spanish at times, and there are still several fully Nicaraguan families that live in the Caribbean port town.

I really like port towns in general, and Bluefields was no exception. Gritty, a bit dangerous, but with plenty of activity and new blends of food to try. I stayed for a few days, ultimately taking the plunge to visit the nearby islands. The Corn Islands are comprised of Big Corn (or Great Corn), which has cars and a lot of people living on it, and Little Corn, which is a carless jungle with super nice beaches and a population of 600. I chose the latter, but so did all the tourists. Uh oh.

Getting out to the islands was, far and away, the COOLEST transport I've yet taken in any travels. I bought some bags of water and juice for the boat ride, and the Gutierrez family stocked me with several bags of plaintain chips and some finger-sized bananas that are really delicious. We got onto the boat about half an hour before departure, and I had good conversation with a few Norwegians. We were all then ordered off the boat and into a line, so they could check everyone's tickets. Really efficient, after already getting settled in. My seat upon second entry was not a seat at all. I ended up standing along the starboard (right) side of the large ferry.

We parted from the harbor amidst grey sky, brown water, and some mild rain. My clothing for the trip is a necessary explanation for the story: black trousers, a wifebeter and white cotton shirt, with sandals. On my person was my camera, money belt, and a bag of all that food. We reached the inlet of the ocean, a small peninsula called El Bluff, to wait for the harbor police to assess the boat, so I moved over to the bow to sit.

Lo and behold, as soon as we reached the ocean, the enormous swells started. A squall had hit Bluefields, which was unusual for this time of year, and it certainly made for a harrowing adventure. Because I sat on the bench in front, I had the best view of the beautiful turqouise water in front of us. But it also had a good view of me, every time our boat fell over a huge swell. Occasionally I was pummeled with an onslaught of ocean water, so I bundled my camera into my white shirt and gave it to the Norwegians to hold, since they were farther back and very dry. This ocean pummelling was super fun for the first 2 hours, but the boat ride was 6.5. I sat soaking wet amidst the blazing sun and relentless winds, just trying to warm myself. I even sat next to some large metal boxes, perhaps 500 lbs or more, hastily tied down along the bow. Occasionally they would lift up after diving down the back of a wave, precariously shifting their place as if they were toy blocks.  That gave way to a serious condition of heat exhaustion, not to mention lobster-colored skin. Was it worth it? And to that I answer, Yes.

We arrived on Big Corn, and I hugged the dock and spent the next hour drying off as we prepared for a much smaller panga boat to take us the half hour way to Little Corn. A little loopy by this point, I chose to sit in the second row, next to a Swedish guy named Gustav, who I ended up hanging out with a lot on this island adventure. He's a chef in Norway and does a good job embarrassing the U.S.' lack of foreign language training with his near-flawless English. But I digress. On the panga, we were given a plastic sheet to hold over our heads for the journey, but I was laughing hysterically at the fact the front row did not have it for the journey...we held it down on our row, and occasionally we'd feel a wave spash the plastic. The ride itself was terrible. Every time the panga would ride over a 3m-high swell, we would catch air momentarily, only to be slammed back down into the nadir of the next wave. Brutal on the spine.

Little Corn
Needless to say, I spent the next day recovering from fierce exposure, only to decide the following day to join the Scandanavians for some beach action. After all, it's a tropical island in the Caribbean. Everyone on the island walks or bicycles to their destinations, and we proceeded to take a semi-paved path North, past colorful houses and mango, banana, and coconut trees. The path becomes all dirt and scorchingly hot starting at a baseball field, and from there it was all jungle to the North beach. Upon first sight of the sea, I was taken aback. I've never seen so many colors packed into one small chunk of ocean. It's exactly like the desktop screen savers of tropical places, with the palm and coconut trees hanging over yellow sand. The water was pool temperature, and there are reefs right offshore that house many fish, rays, and sharks. My first taste of the Caribbean was pretty sweet.

I spent the next few days recovering from far more sunburning, fishing, eating delicious seafood dishes (like rondon, which is slow cooked fish, lobster, and shrimp with yucca, in coconut milk), eating lots of weird foods (banana cake, sticky rice cake, pan de coco and more), and drinking. Rum. There's not a whole lot to do, which it seems was the true enjoyment for most of the travellers I met. I got pretty bored, but was still sucked into the super slow island life. I did some light wandering through the island, and I'm pretty sure I was in Jurassic Park. Look at some of the photos for an idea of what I mean. I didn't find any raptors, but I think they were all moved to Site B, off the coast of Costa Rica.

Jurassic Park, an island off the coast of Nicaragua.
Found the compound.

Great Corn, Corn Islands, Nicaragua

The awesome cargo ship back to Bluefields

I took a panga back to Great Corn on Tuesday afternoon, with a plan to catch a giant cargo ship back to Bluefields overnight. Gustav (Swedish dude) and I walked a bit on Great Corn, finding a place to eat yet more fried food, and trying to hold a conversation in broken English with an indigenous, grey-bearded Miskito. Pretty sure he was high on coke. In fact, so were a lot of other people on Great Corn and Little Corn. You see, these islands make for a convenient stop for the modern day pirates- Colombian drug cartels. Also, just 70km East from the Corn Islands are several more Colombian cartel-owned islands, the Islas San Andres. Hm. Alas, we reached the black cargo ship, and the ride was super smooth, enough to allow my sleep on a wooden box a little more comfort. Gustav got the sole hammock for the night, that asshole.

We grabbed a panga straight from Bluefields back to El Rama at 7am, and the ride was smooth and wind-chilled. We then immediately caught a 6 hour bus back to Managua over large tropical hills. We arrived back in Managua, took a cab to Transnica bus station, so Gustav could continue his journey today for San Jose, Costa Rica, where he's planning to attend a large music festival with artists like Gogol Bordello, Skrillex, and some other misc. artists. We stopped by a first world mall to eat, and I was surprised to see just how nice it was. Compared to streets filled with trash, homeless people, tons of heat, and relentless traffic and its exhaust. The choices were slim in the food court: Burger King, Pizza Hut, Quizno's, Subway, McDonald's, Mr. Lee, Pollo Estrella (Chicken Star, like Carl's Jr./Hardee's I think), and a few more fried chicken places. Nicaraguans love fried food, but especially fried chicken. Since I do not touch fast food except where forced, I opted for a Nicaraguan "cuisine" restaurant, where a lot of other Nicas were eating. It was delicious, and reminded me of my mall journeys for Indian food back in SD. Soon enough!

We parted company at the mall, and I walked over to UCA, the local university, to catch a minishuttle taxi to Leon. I got to Lazybones Hostel in a taxi ride, went straight to the computer, and listened to every song that we have mixed so far for Oddwood. And they are coming along great. It put me in a happy mood to hear those and to see the artwork nearing completion- it's all coming together! Also, I found out last night that I was excepted into UCSD this Fall! Hell yeah! University of California, San Diego, for Latin American Studies. I may minor in something else, and perhaps double major in business if I am able. But now I'm here, in Leon, and it's early morning, and I want to get out and explore the city.

This is all for now and more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

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