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Little Corn, Nicaragua – a world away from Dubai

It’s almost week six of my summer trip and although I have a couple more weeks to go before heading back to Dubai, I think I’ve just experienced the highlight.

Big Corn’s baby sister, Little Corn, is a 3km long island in the Caribbean sea off the coast of Nicaragua. With less than a thousand residents, the major players in guidebook land have dedicated just a few less-than-detailed pages about its glory. Big smiled Betsy, the main host at our chosen place of accommodation, Casa Iguana, gives our bags to a porter who carts them off before us on a wheelbarrow as soon as we arrive on a tiny boat (there are no cars at all on Little Corn, and only marginally more dogs than people).

Winding our way through jungle paths towards a row of casitas overlooking the sea, Betsy chats about the week we’ve got in store. “I hope you brought your flashlight!” she laughs, and points out the only two places en route to Casa Iguana from “town” that offer light on the walk home at night. “Dinner is at 7 if you’re eating with us. We all sit down together, and if you’re not there and haven’t told us before, you’ll be billed for your food.” She doesn’t mean to be harsh. The need for such discipline is necessary when you’re cooking fresh each day and paying the local fisherman, who is basically catching to order. We go out with him one day, a great guy from Hawaii called Chris:

“Twenty years ago they say you could wade out just a few metres and pluck a lobster from the bottom! Several families got rich from it but now you have to go miles out to get anything. They’ve taken too much... but they’re quick to blame other people,” he says, in a darker tone, before explaining that being a separate entity from Managua, the island adopts its own government and rules. “I’m only allowed to bring back four fish when I take tourists out, but the locals can take as many as they like. I bring back five and give one away, [the others go to the tourist’s place of accommodation], I try and keep the guys happy. There are a lot of poor people on this island.”

Poor maybe, but the state of their bank accounts is perhaps not so much a concern for the people here, who clearly bask in riches of a different sense. Betsy explains: “We employ people from the main land; the locals here don’t want to work. And why would you, when you can fish from the sea, sleep in a house you’ve built yourself?” I think it’s a fair point.

Our days on Little Corn are spent lazing in the sun, catching up on essential reading (chick lit for me, I’m on holiday) and eating the abundant seafood (a lobster dinner will set you back on average $8 USD). Naturally, I couldn’t wait to dive again and the reefs here are even more incredible than those in Jamaica. We spot puffer fish and turtles, nurse and reef sharks… an experience that is somewhat heightened by Casa’s evening showing of Jaws, on the projector.

Our casita is basic, with an outdoor shower running from a tank and a bed constructed from what looks like a giant table, with a mattress on top. It’s levelled with the mesh-covered window, so lying there at night you can hear the waves breaking almost beneath you, or watch fork lightning blaze a vertically striped firework display across the sky as rain hammers menacingly on the tin roof. And if you’re ever in doubt that nature reigns supreme on Little Corn, just ask the plastic looking lizards, clinging to your ceiling.

What makes the stop for us, really, are the staff and residents of the island. Betsy, our hostess with the mostess, John (who founded the Little Corn Dive shop), Chris the fisherman, Jonathan, the Israeli barman and Leah, the gorgeous Dutch lady who hasn’t left the island in four years and couldn’t be happier about it. They treat us and all their guests like family, eating dinner with us, really sharing their passions and interests in the place with us and making us realize in envy exactly what it would be like to live here, and not just visit. 

Who knows where I’ll end up once the novelty of Dubai has worn off. But let’s just say that having visited Little Corn, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’d like to start.


Posted: 19 September 2009

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