Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
After our incredible diving adventures in Honduras, we craved more. That was what led us to Little Corn Island.
We flew from Managua to Big Corn Island, departing from one of the most low-budget airports I had ever laid eyes on. Instead of boarding passes we were given a laminated number, which we returned as we climbed on board. The plane had just 12 rows of seats and propellers out the front. It was a bit of a shaky start but we arrived without crashing into the sea. Upon landing we had to show our passports so our names could be filled out on a handwritten register. Our luggage was delivered to us by hand.
To get from Big Corn to Little Corn Island it required a panga ride, which was an open-air, wooden boat that looked like it would fall apart if you kicked it hard enough. It was only a half hour trip but it felt much, much longer. There were five people crammed into each row, giving everyone space for approximately half a butt cheek on the hard seats. Of course once we got going it started to rain. As there was no roof, a large plastic sheet was draped across everyone on board, held down by the passengers on the sides. It was surprisingly effective.
On the pier of Little Corn we met a woman from the dive shop we had signed up with, who kindly offered us a place to stay in her large house. She often had boarders coming and going so this was no different to her. It was a huge deal for us though, staying in a real house, with proper bathrooms, a well set-up kitchen, a couple of dogs, a TV, couches and cheap rent. We didn't realise how much we missed that familiar, homely feel.
Little Corn Island lived up to its name. There were no roads, no vehicles, and only a handful of restaurants outside the handful of resorts. Other than diving, fishing and relaxing, there was absolutely nothing to do on the island. A couple of dirt paths could take you from one end to the other in under an hour, but after that the day was at your leisure. I was glad we had the dive course booked, because I think I would have gone crazy.
I think some of the locals had already gone crazy.
Our dinner on the first night was at a Cuban restaurant, and we didn't know what to expect. I asked if they could cook something vegetarian for me, as there was nothing on the menu without meat. They had no issues with this, possibly due to the lack of other customers in the restaurant at the time. Danny ordered a whole yellowtail. What we received ended up being one of the fanciest meals we had eaten in a long time. I was given something similar to a vegetable stack, which was outstanding, served with a salad, rice and a jacket potato. If this was anything like the food we would find in Cuba, I couldn't wait to get there.
The next morning we both awoke in a pool of our own sweat. We were sure we had left the fan running overnight, but now it was off. A few questions were asked before we learned that the entire island did not have electricity between 6am and 2pm every day (unless you had a generator). It really was the simple life out here.
The simple life.
As I was already gross and smelly I figured I may as well go for a run. I followed the paths through the middle of the island to reach beaches on the east and north sides. This led me to where the people with money were staying, which was nowhere near us. I bet they had 24 hour electricity.
Day 1 of our Advanced Open Water Diver course started with buoyancy-based water skills, with our American instructor showing us his party tricks that we clearly couldn't live up to. No time for a proper dive, but there were a few nurse sharks hanging around, probably laughing at our ineptitude at performing a vertical figure 8 underwater.
I found a cafe selling veggie burgers and I knew immediately that I was having one for lunch. I love a good burger and some Western food would be a treat. When it arrived, I discovered the patty was made of gallo pinto. Really, gallo pinto. Rice and beans. I couldn't escape the stuff, even in a burger. It turned out to be great, but not what I had imagined for a burger.
In the afternoon we headed out for our Navigation skills dive, at which we weren't terrible. This was our first chance to observe the sea life that makes Little Corn so famous for diving. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't on our side, but we did get to see a small turtle, snapper, tonnes of parrotfish and huge black angelfish. So far, Roatan was winning in the best dive spot contest.
Day 2 started off with a 45 minute rocky boat ride out to Blowing Hole, apparently the best dive site in the area. As soon as we entered the water we could feel the surge pushing and pulling us, making it difficult to steer clear of the delicate underwater structures. We completed two dives out here and saw stacks of marine life: stingrays, eagle rays, turtles, barracuda, jellyfish, plus enormous schools of colourful fish, rhythmically moving back and forth together in the surge. It was exceptional. The contest between the dive sites was now neck and neck.
The crater of Cerro Negro.
At night we took the boat out again for our night dive. Some of the larger animals were nocturnal, so we caught glimpses of more turtles and stingrays, as well as reef sharks, lobster and sea stars. At one point we were all asked to turn off our torches, which seemed a little stupid to me as it would be pitch black and we wouldn't be able to see anything. Within a few seconds though we were surrounded by an gigantic array of tiny floating lights, as though we were in outer space and all we could see were stars. It was surreal. I had never seen anything like it before. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever witnessed - I probably could have stayed there all night. We were told later that they are often called a String of Pearls, and it was caused by minuscule organisms that released light as part of a mating ritual (it wasn't so magical anymore). It was only visible when there was no moonlight, so we were incredibly lucky to be on the island at the right time. We then started to swim through this underwater paradise (still with our lights off), and the bioluminescence caused by our arm and leg movements helped us to follow each other without getting lost, or crashing into a rock.
No competition anymore: Little Corn had won out as best dive experience. And we were now certified as Advanced Open Water divers.
The next day was a day of celebration. We had successfully completed our dive course, we were on a tropical island in the Caribbean Sea and Danny and I had officially been together for nine years (awww...). And celebrating to us meant starting early, with the wine/beer cracked open at 11:30am. We settled into deck chairs in the sand under an umbrella, staring out into the exquisite turquoise waters, and didn't move for several hours.
After a quick lunch we needed to sleep off the morning's excesses, so the afternoon was spent in bed out of the blazing sun. Around happy hour time we emerged to take advantage of cheap daiquiris and the most amazing ginger cookies in the world (I wondered how many I could stuff into my backpack). We went slightly high-end for dinner by eating at a restaurant on the beach, with perks such as napkins and a wine list with a choice of four wines. And, importantly, no gallo pinto. It was excellent. The night was capped off back at the house, with a bottle of Nero d'Avola and a bag of microwave popcorn. Perfect.