Nicaragua, Part Five: Leaving Little Corn Island

Pulling away from the island
Pulling away from the island

Leaving Little Corn Island was difficult. I’m not just talking about the emotional aspect, although saying good bye to crystalline waters, gorgeous palm trees, daily diving, and an island lifestyle made me want to cry. I mean that literally. People who have spent a lot of time in Nicaragua joke about how things get crazy there. As tourists, it’s easy to laugh it off. But we were about to learn just how crazy.

We caught the morning panga to Big Corn Island. It left at six. After a 45-minute ride, there should have been plenty of time to catch our 8:00 flight to Managua.

View from the panga as we pulled away
View from the panga as we pulled away

As it turned out, we would have more time than we ever dreamed of.

Our tickets were numbered 31 and 32, meaning we would be on the third plane out of Big Corn Island. The airport is really small, only serving one airline. There weren’t any planes already at the airport, so had to wait for the incoming flights to arrive. Those would be the planes bringing us back to Managua. We settled down in the one-room airport, making ourselves comfortable in the breezy seats next to the window. One plane landed, taxied to the terminal, and emptied out: an incoming flight from Managua. Another plane landed. The passengers deplaned and left to enjoy Corn Island. Finally, the third plane landed… and stopped in the middle of the runway. Its passengers got off in the middle of the runway and walked a solid 500 meters to the airport, lugging their baggage.

The plane, stuck on the runway for hours
The plane, stuck on the runway for hours

As it turned out, the plane had blown a tire. This sounds like a simple fix. Swap out the tire, resume the flight schedule… right? Not so much. They didn’t keep extra tires at the Corn Island airport. Nor did they employ a mechanic. Those things would have to be flown in. After a couple of hours, they let the first two planes leave. The group of passengers destined for the third, plane, however, had to wait. And wait we did… for six hours.

I read approximately 90% of my book during this period. We also ate a ginger cookie, chicken tacos, and chatted with some of our fellow passengers. One of them was a gringo from Philly. He had just finished two years in the Peace Corps and was headed to Costa Rica for vacation. After we’d talked for a little while, we realized that we had both attended a 2011 Stanley Cup quarterfinals Game 5 between the Flyers and the Sabres. It was his last Philly sports event with his dad before leaving for Nicaragua. For me, it was a last hockey game with my brother before I moved in with Xavier in Tampa. We both remembered it well because the Flyers sucked so spectacularly. Small world, right?

Chicken tacos from the airport cafe.. not bad
Chicken tacos from the airport cafe.. not bad

All of the gringos laughed when we saw that a local had emerged from the woods and was standing by the parked plane on the runway. Someone joked, “He’s going to ask the pilot for 20 cordoba (about 80 cents USD) when the crew gets back, since he made sure nobody touched the plane.” It seemed very typical of what we’d seen so far in Nicaragua: people act nice, then ask you for money.

Our flight finally left around 1pm, destroying any chance that we’d get to enjoy a long day exploring Granada. We made it to Managua, caught a taxi to the bus depot (70 cordoba/$3 USD each), and jumped on a chicken bus to Granada (50 cordoba/$2 USD each). We had just enough time to grab half of a fried chicken from a street vendor.

Now chicken buses! Those were an experience. Imagine an American school bus, painted in gaudy colors and stripped almost bare inside. Anyone who can fit on the bus is allowed inside. If you’re daring and the bus is so full that you can’t manage to squeeze yourself into anyone else’s personal space, you can ride on top of the bus with your bags. And there will definitely be someone toting a live chicken, which will squawk relentlessly and attempt to peck its way free from its bag prison throughout the journey. I loved it.

What you may see inside a chicken bus...
What you may see inside a chicken bus…

Even more interesting to me were the vendors. On many of the stops, street vendors would hop onto the bus and sell their food and wares to passengers. You could buy anything from soda to homemade pastries to weapons (pretty sharp-looking switchblades!). Some of the pastries and meat turnovers looked wonderful. Unfortunately, I didn’t partake in any of the goodies. After a nasty bout of food poisoning in Ecuador last year, I only experiment with food when I am within striking range of my hotel.

Finally, we arrived in Granada late in the afternoon with not an idea where we’d be staying…

What’s your favorite mode of transportation while traveling?

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