A blonde walks into the jungle…

The Corn Islands are ~70 km off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Once a popular haunt for pirates, the Islands now boast a growing tourism industry. There are about 10,500 people between the two islands; only ~500 inhabit Little Corn. While Spanish is the official language, the locals mainly speak a version of Creole.

I booked a – treehouse? Bungalow? Hut? – at Ensueños, via Airbnb. Ensueños is on the northern tip of the island, about 30 minutes away from the Village. I had originally arranged with the host, Ramon, to have his neighbour Carlos pick me up at the pier, and take me via boat. However, the boat was broken so I had to make the trek alone. Ramon gave me clear directions and assured me the path was well-marked. I set off with my backpack into the jungle.

It was midday – roughly 32 degrees Celsius, with what felt like 1,000% humidity. My hair threatened to summon its own weather system and I quickly started a full-body sweat. Little Corn is still relatively undiscovered by the masses; the path was bordered by hostels and local homes with the odd large house – built by retired North Americans – dotting the landscape. It’s still wild; the path isn’t perfectly manicured and in some spots it complete disappears under fallen palm trees, leaves and branches taken down by a wind and torrential rain. Geckos scurry along underfoot.

(One home had a solid white wall, roughly eight feet high, that had been vandalized – “Down the Wall”; “No Wall = No War.” Clearly not Trump supporters.)

I walked for what seemed like forever. Just went I was certain I was lost, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean opened up between the trees. Turns out I actually was lost – I had missed a turn – but the view took my breath away for a moment.

I traipsed along the beach, finally stumbling into Ensueños. Ramon and his wife Judith were surrounded by their small children (I counted at least three, but kids under five always look the same to me so my observations are unreliable) amidst what I could only describe as a tropical commune. A central kitchen and eating area overlooked multiple huts and tree houses with thatched roofs, all built to disappear into the landscape. Twisted driftwood made for eccentric art, and shells and stones were set into concrete paths. The outdoor bathrooms and showers had walls made of concrete and coloured glass bottles.

I stayed in the Coco Hut, which I believe is how the Flintstones would design their vacation home. I took photos but they don’t do the place justice; check out the link. The window beside my bed offered a beachfront view, and an ocean breeze to keep me cool at night. Despite nights filled with gale force winds and some epic rain, I slept great.

One reason I picked Ensueños is its proximity to Otto Beach, which is noted as the best beach on the island. The property that overlooks Otto Beach, Yemaya, is recognized as one of the best Small Luxury Hotels in the World. When you can’t afford luxury, the next best thing is to stay adjacent to luxury, then crash its beach bar.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading in a hammock by the ocean. Ramon’s staff prepared lunch for the guests – “rundown” soup, which is a catch-all fish soup that serves whatever the catch of the day with an assortment of fruit and vegetables in a coconut broth. Of course, the ever versatile banana made an appearance. This was a new one – I had never experienced it boiled in soup.

There was a family from Edmonton staying at Ensueños – David, Sarah, and their two kids. Sarah and I began chatting over lunch and made arrangements for me to crash their family dinner that night, as I was nervous about walking through the jungle by myself.

[Sidebar: I had heard single women were discouraged from walking through the jungle at night from people that had visited Little Corn, and from the staff at Ramon’s. There have been stories of local men harassing and assaulting single women when drunk. I didn’t experience this at all – I ended up walking through the jungle alone at night multiple times, and was more worried about snakes than men. However, I was always sober and the island was quiet due to the recent storms. I would be extremely cautious about walking anywhere alone inebriated. Make friends, be smart, and use the buddy system.]

We all donned our head lamps (it gets dark at 5 pm) and hit up Tranquilo Cafe for happy hour (two for one drinks – the kids took down virgin piña coladas like college students) before checking out The Lighthouse, which had been recommended by my taxi driver on the big island. The food was delicious; really light, fresh fare. Their son won dinner though; his barracuda was divine. My Spanish failed me; I ended up with nachos. But they were excellent.

Full and content, we headed back into the jungle. White crabs scurried across the pathways in front of us, nipping at our ankles. Once back, I secured my mosquito netting and settled in for my first night in paradise.

Check out all of Ensueños’ available rooms here. If you’re new to Airbnb, use this link to receive a CAD$45 travel credit towards any Airbnb booking, anywhere in the world.

One night in Managua

I had my favourite kind of travel day – uneventful, with frequent doses of wine. I landed in Managua around 19:30 and began the search for my hotel shuttle. It’s overwhelming when the custom doors open and you’re immediately accosted by taxis. Luckily, the driver from Hotel Europeo was right at the front.

Hotel Europeo was a Lonely Planet-endorsed find. My original plan was to take advantage of my one night in Managua by checking out a well-reviewed Peruvian restaurant, then take a shower and go to bed early, as my flight to the Corn Islands was at 6 am the next day.

Because I’m me, that’s not what happened.

I ended up making friends with some Hondurans at the hotel bar. One beer turned into more, which magically turned into a bottle of Nicaraguan rum and cigars. The kitchen was technically closed, but they managed to convince the woman running the place to make me a sandwich. Rather, a loose interpretation of a North American sandwich.

My driver was picking me up at 5 am. As that hour drew near, my new friends tried to convince me to forgo a day on Little Corn Island and go to Granada with them; they had intended to go back to Honduras on Friday but protestors were planning on blockading the roads – Honduras is still reeling from the effects of fraud in the recent election. My inner political nerd was fascinated to learn what was happening on the ground, where a number of people have died. Honduras has had actual coups with a lower death toll than this election. Another reason to be a grateful Canadian.

I assured them if I missed my plane to Little Corn, Granada was my back-up plan. To my shock, I managed to get up with my 4:30 am alarm and was actually early to meet the driver.

Still unknown: why pickles are the highest priority contraband item for La Costeña.

I made the plane to Corn Island (free rum on the plane, BTW), and shared a taxi from the airport to the pier with a trio of Dutch kids. They were the first of many I encountered; it appears that Canadians and the Dutch have the exclusive backpacking rights to Nicaragua.

I had some time to kill, so I grabbed breakfast at the spot near the pier. They’ve figured out tourist pricing, but I was in desperate need of coffee and carbs. Here I encountered the developing world’s favourite breakfast: warm banana sandwiches. I first encountered these in Indonesia; since then, I’ve recognized that nearly every semi-tropical developing nation takes pride in utilizing the banana to the fullest, if unconventional, extent.

The pier on Corn Island

There are two ways to get to Little Corn: a panga (small, wooden open-air boat) or a bigger boat. The panga takes about 20-25 minutes, costs US$5 and is relatively painless. The big boat costs US$20 (basically extortion – it goes when the seas are too rough for the little boat), takes 2.5 – 3 hours, and causes everyone to get sea sick. The weather on Little Corn hasn’t been great; last week, no boats ran for three or four days. Everyone I met who had experienced the big boat had a horror story, so I am eternally grateful I ended up in the panga.

Crammed into the panga. Not pictured: the elderly women who is not impressed I’m sitting on her lap.

I’ll save the arrival on Little Corn for the next post. Let the island adventure begin!

Lessons of the day:

  • Must learn moderation when drinking before early morning flights (highly unlikely)
  • If not in North America, “stuffed French toast” probably means warm banana sandwich

Filling the passport

I decided to start this blog for a couple of reasons:

  1. One of my girlfriends chronicles her travel adventures on a personal blog (check it out here; her activities are so much better than mine), and I love the idea of having an archive. My memory is atrocious, and I want to remember what I do (and more importantly, what I ate).
  2. This is a low impact way of providing proof of life to my family.
  3. When people ask for recommendations, I can just send them here instead of having to remember / re-type my itinerary. #lazy

This travel year was fairly epic. I kicked it off by spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve in London. A couple months later, my friend Megan and I had a three cocktail lunch (as you do) and ended up booking a trip to Indonesia before we finished our mains. We spent two weeks beaching, hiking, scuba-ing, and sailing, and came back with matching tattoos commemorating a memorable encounter with a Komodo dragon. As you do.

Climbing a volcano before 8 am means cocktail hour starts at 9 am – enjoying the Toya Devasya Natural Hot Spring with our new friend Christine.

Next up was Colombia – a 10-day sprint through Bogotá and Cartagena with the most amazing women you could ever hope to travel with: Geri, Cindy and Renata. #BitchesInBogota became a thing, and I truly fell in love with Colombia. In the words of Anthony Bourdain:

“It’s ludicrous this place exists and everybody doesn’t want to live here.”

Channelling our inner Colombia beauty queens at Andrés Carne de Res – a hedonistic fun house that defies description.

Sprinkled amongst the big trips were quick weekends in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Oklahoma City. I’m going to sneak in one more adventure before ringing in 2018: Nicaragua. I’m 36 hours from getting on a plane; the passport is ready and the bikinis are packed. Of course, the pants are staying home.