December 30, 2017
Sorry — this post is a bit delayed.. we’ve been on the go for the last week but wanted to share a bit about our adventures in Corn Island! 🌽
While we were in Ometepe, Nicaragua we booked flight tickets to go to the island of Utila in Honduras to do our diving certification, based on a recommendation from our friend Dean. (Hey Dean!👋)
We quickly learned flights in Central America are VERY expensive and can be VERY inconvenient. There’s very little direct flights from one country to another, so most flights will cost you upwards of 500$ one-way for a 1 hour flight and will involve 15 hours of layovers. This is due to the low volume of demand — and the fact that everybody takes the bus here.
So after a ton of route visualizing — we got lucky and found a 150$ flight from Tegucigalpa, Honduras direct to Roatan, the island next to Utila. Nice! We’ll take the bus to Tegucigalpa, and fly from there, then take the boat across to Utila — it’ll be a piece of cake.
Barely 24 hours after booking the flight tickets, we met a wonderful British couple in our hostel. “We’re going to Utila next it’s going to be so fun!” we told them. To which they responded “Hmm… Didn’t you hear about the elections….?”
Basically, 3 days before, Honduras had presidential elections, and through a healthy mix of presumed electoral fraud and technical difficulties, they still couldn’t announce a clear winner to the elections. People took to the streets, and massive protests started happening throughout the country with lots of violence. Martial law got declared the next day, and a nation-wide curfew was put in place from 6pm to 6am….
Not exactly the kind of place you want to hang out in. So after a ton of research (Talking to locals on Reddit, looking into alternative ways to get there at a later date and even flying to the US to then fly back to Nicaragua …) of all our options, we agreed to put the 150$ flight tickets in the “operational losses” column of our spreadsheet and start a new travel plan from scratch.
We were leaving Ometepe in 48 hours and had to figure out our new plan. After briefly considering going to Costa Rica and following our new friends, we decided instead to head to the Corn Islands, a pair of Caribbean islands off the cost of Nicaragua that are just starting to get a lot of tourist hype. It’s a 1 hour flight away from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, on a small propeller plane and offers scuba diving, beach life and would make the perfect proxy for Utila!
Geography lesson: there’s Big Corn Island, and Little Corn Island. The airport is in Big Corn, and then you can take a boat to Little Corn — that’s what almost all tourists do.
So the big question always is: where do I go - Big Corn or Little Corn?
On Big Corn, there’s less tourists, so most things are cheaper, and you’ll hang out with the locals. You can enjoy limited food options since most things come from main land, and have a handful of beach to walk on (during the winter, the ocean rises pretty much to the point the beach and road meet— so there aren’t many beaches to actually sit and relax on). On Little Corn, it’s more expensive due to the tourist boom, there’s a ton of parties + a lot of people, and a ton of restaurant options with first-world delicacies — like cheese!.
Based on our goal of becoming certified divers with good wifi and better vibes — Big Corn was an easy choice to make.
Things we learned: Big Corn is a 12.9 square km island with a population of about 7,500 people. So it’s pretty small! There’s only one road, circling the island. Taxis drive in a circle all day (also the taxis are awesome and pimped out with lights, lasers and hood stickers — oh and are all small cars like Yaris or Echos). It makes everything very easy — since there’s only one road, you’re either try to go one way, or the other. And a taxi costs 20 cordobas (a little less than 1$) per person, no matter where you’re going. Going to the other side of the island? 20 cords. Going to the restaurant 100 meters away? 20 cords.
Also, there is always more space in the car. Sitting on a stranger’s lap in the front seat, in the trunk of the car… Storing small children on top of other passengers is also a great way to optimize space. (and all things that we experienced us)
One of the first things that strikes you about the island is that a lot of the people don’t look Nicaraguan. And doesn’t sound it either: They mostly speak english …and créole?
Turns out that the Corn Islands used to be a British colony (as opposed to Nicaragua which was a Spanish colony). The islands were only annexed by Nicaragua in 1894, which gives it a very distinct culture.
So after a day of getting settled in our new home — Los Espados — a glam tent Airbnb with views of the ocean — we were ready to get down in the water and dive!!
Diving in a Storm
Maeghan has been known for her luck… and luck struck: a tropical storm was headed for the island in two days with level 1 hurricane winds.
Now for those who aren’t divers — to become one, you must first go through the nightmare of e-Learning. Basically, you have to learn all the scuba diving theory online, and once you have completed all the classes and tests, you can get in the water.
That’s supposed to take 2 days. Except that the early beginnings of the storm were slowing down the island’s all-satellite internet to a crawl. So it took us about 3 days to get 10 hours of content done, trying not to go mentally insane with the slow wifi.
100kbps internet (VERY slow internet for your non-computer nerds) is worse than no internet. Normally when there’s no internet, you just go outside… but that didn’t even work out.
Juuust in time before the storm arrived, we managed to get 2 of the 4 dives required to get our PADI certified. Now, our first diving experience... was.. eventful. Both Maeghan and I have been exciting for diving.. but a bit nervous for what its really like. Our first dive was in a pool to practice the exercises and when it was time to get in the ocean, we were both feeling a bit stressed.
We got out on the water, in a small 10 person boat. The waves were really picking up with the wind that had been coming from the storm so it was a bumpy / wavey ride.
We stop at the dive spot, and get our gear on.. when I look over at Maeghan, and she starts to have a panic attack. Breathing all weird and shaking like crazy. Then the motion of the boats on the waves started rocking… and I realized my stomach wasn’t doing ok either… The french toast I had for breakfast was coming back to haunt me.
Gross story short… the fish got some breakfast that morning and Maeghan worked up the confidence to try again and get into the water (it was open ocean.. in the middle of nowhere). We slowly ascend and practice taking our mask off, breathing out of each others octopus (there’s probably a good joke in there) and we did it!
But after that first dive win, the storm came… and it was worse than we thought. The winds were insane causing the power to be out most of the time- internet was definitely down and there was literally nothing to do.
What do you do on an island where the only think to do is get in the water, and you can’t ? You do like the locals do, and you drink! 🍻
Other than that, we tried to participate in the very few activities that happened on the island. One of them — is trivia night. Now, Maeghan and I have been participating in Trivia nights through out the last few months and have learned a bunch of random shit. But normally, we come in last place or that one time we came in 2nd and it felt like first (Holla to Charlie, Justin and Casey!!) but in Corn Island… the stars aligned and we won our first trivia night in a landslide! and better yet — won a bottle of rum that we shared with everyone at the event.
What else did we do.. oh we ate a lot of Lobster. It is crazy here, there are a lot of lobster divers that will go down in the ocean, with one air tank and share it while collecting their lobster traps. But the problem is they do not follow any safety procedures... and many of them end up with the Benz and need to go to the hospital to go into the newly installed decompression chamber. But for people not diving for lobster.. you can enjoy a 15$ plate with local rice, beans and good old garlic sauce.
Through our eLearning we learned that the most common injury is ear injury due to water pressure. And a few days after our dive, my ear was feeling weird and I got nervous that I had done some damage to it with the water pressure. So I decided to mess around with it given that we had more dives to come, and swing by their newly constructed hospital.
Because why not, healthcare is free in Nicaragua, for everyone, even tourists!
We got to the hospital — and it’s brand new. We learned that until a few years ago, pregnant women had to get on the boat to Bluefields, the closest town on the mainland, to deliver their babies and because of that, many would die or have complications. So the main use of this hospital was for pregnant women, and for those crazy lobster divers using the decompression machine.
When we arrived at the hospital that morning, I think we waited something like 90 minutes — which is really not too bad! During out wait, I went to the bathroom and went to wash my hands when there was no soap….. You’d think that the need for soap.. in a hospital… for doctors and people would be important… but turns out, it wasn’t. I saw many doctors and nurses use the bathroom… and can’t stop thinking about how concerning that should be.
In any case, we saw the doctor and he says that everything is ok with my ear, plus side — my Spanish is really improving. After 3 months in majority Spanish speaking places, I’ve been better able to get around than ever before. The doctor told me my ear was just badly irritated with the pressure and salt, so we can dive no problem.
The storm lasted 6 days and we mostly hung out at the dive shop with the other divers and instructors. But by the 5th day, everybody looked so depressed, island fever had definitely kicked and and everyone looked like their dog just died or they lost their best friend.
So remember that place we were stayed? Los Escapados the glamping spot? well, in tropical storm.. that was not the most enjoyable spot to sleep. The winds would blow like crazy and shake the tent at night. Plus you had to keep your windows closed or the rain would leak in. We spent the week there and decided (of course.. just as the sun came out) to switch to a closer more cost effective place so that if we walked into the dive shop and they said “Its time to dive!” we would be ready!!!
8 days later, the day had come!! The winds were in our favour and we could do our scuba activities in the ocean.
We did our last two dives in one day and had the most awesome experience. After the theory was done, our instructor (Roberta — you’re awesome!!) took us on an under water tour of the reef, and we saw some awesome wildlife: Trumpetfish, white grunt fish, seaworm, lobsters, sea spiders, stingray, jellyfish and more!
It was such an adventure just getting our diving certificate but I am so glad its done and we can just enjoy the open water. Our cards are in the mail and Maeghan’s family are bringing them to us in Mexico — but we have a few dives planned before then.
In the next episode, we try not to get lost in Guatemala!
See more on our website www.alittledetour.ca🌏✈️👫