Monday, October 31, 2016

Coyote ugly, Corn Island style

Well, let it not be said, that we don't have a knack for slipping into the action. The school teacher for the hotel owner's kids was celebrating her birthday party and we were invited to attend. Some of the kids, including ours, were dancing and having a great time. Then before you knew it, the owner's daughter hopped on the bar and shortly thereafter our girls joined her and started dancing to the music. The crowd enjoyed the kid's energy and above all it was adorable to see. No health inspector to shut down the barefoot fun. The owner's of the hotel were genuinely delighted to have us, especially our kids, join in their fun. Islands are small but their resident's hearts are big. Truly a lovely evening, and one, we shall not soon forget.

The girls listened for the beat then got into the groove.

Just like Coyote ugly, but island style. 

The girls danced for about a half hour and very much enjoyed the limelight. 

The kids danced while the band played.

Yes, those are my kids dancing on a bar, bare foot and having fun. No health department violation here, just happy people admiring the kiddo's bravery for dancing before an audience.

The girls had a break between songs.

Little Corn island for the day

We decided to go to Little Corn island and check out the action, or lack of it, for the day. We had a bumpy boat ride in the straight between the islands which left us not feeling too good when we first arrived to the island. However, we quickly bounced back once we were on dry land again with ice cold water and solid footing. The island has a population of about 1,300 and is very laid back. I have to say it is a pleasant place to visit and having zero cars on the island is a major plus. The views are amazing and the little cafes dotting the beach were something out of a postcard. Yet again, nobody was trying to sell us hammocks, pottery or any souvenirs. We were left alone and only occasionally interrupted, the best way possible, with pleasant greetings. So, if seeing an occasional slow moving car around every 20 minutes or so proves too much for you, then staying on Little Corn might be perfect for you. Nicaragua has something special here and we hope they can manage to keep it this way.
    For the snorkeling portion of our trip we ventured off to the northern side of the island which has a large lagoon. The northern part of the island is protected by a barrier reef approximately 400 meters off shore. The reef limits the impact of waves hitting shore and provides a wonderful habitat for sea creature big and small. We swam with nurse sharks and several species of rays along with thousands of fish. One of the most beautiful things about the reef system are all the soft corals swaying in the currents. The Mesoamerican reef is almost 700 miles long, is only second in size to Australia's great barrier reef, and is home to many unique species. The damage done to this reef comes mostly from hurricanes that pile through this area from time to time. Corn Island diving lives up to its reputation, our visibility underwater was more than 60 feet, which made snorkeling delightful.

Eeny meeny miny moe, catch a shark by it's tail. Our boat guide asked me to flush the shark out for better viewing so I obliged. If you listen to the video about half way through you can faintly hear Sierra shrieking underwater, 25 feet about me, when I touched the shark.

50 plus foot visibility was wonderful on Little Corn island.

The reef was an oasis of life for the kids to see.

The girls saw at a moray eel and many fish species.

The soft corals gently swayed with the currents.

The reef looked healthy considering how many hurricanes come here. 
We enjoyed the underwater views.

A couple of spotted eagle rays swam by us.

Lots of fish were in the reef, which is a good sign.

A nurse shark around 30 feet deep. 

The main road on Little Corn is little more than a sidewalk.

Some of the restaurants had amazing views indeed.

A small cemetery on the island reminded me of Louisiana cemeteries.

Wonderful simple island home.

Yes, the water was that blue.

How's this for a beach house?

A meal with a view.

The kids chasing each other on the beach.

Our resident tree climber.

The girls found a swing, on a coconut tree, over the ocean.

Not all shipwrecks are under the sea.

One of the few family photos, from the vacation, that we have together.

Beautiful resort on the north end on Little Corn island.

Waking up in wonderland

As a family, we usually start our days pretty early. So when we go on beach vacations, we are usually some of the first people on the beach. On our second day, we awoke to overcast skies, slow moving breezes and no engine noise whatsoever. The morning felt good and as the time moved on we saw a group of people walk, fully clothed, into the ocean. It turned out to be a baptism for a few of the congregations faithful. The islanders, yet again, were warm and friendly without exception. Around 8 o'clock in the morning, the skies opened and it poured for about 40 minutes but eventually gave way to mostly sunny skies for the rest of the day. The sounds of nature chirping, mooing, barking, and neighing are all wonderful sounds to wake up to. But seeing the horses strolling along the beach, the starfish in the shallows, and the curious birds following us on the beach made it feel like we were waking up in wonderland.    

Sierra and Zoe like horses very much.

The horses appeared to like the beach as much as humans.

The kids are such good friends together.

A baptism occurred in the early morning hours. 

Sierra spotted starfish and hopped into the water with Zoe to investigate. 

The kids were playing in the torrential early morning rains.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How do you spell paradise? CORN ISLANDS

We decided to take a break from Granada and explore the Corn Islands for a few days. We've only been here for the day and we've already extended our stay because it is so nice here! For those of you who have read our blog entries, last year, regarding the Yucatan peninsula and Belize you will recall our disappointment over the Sargasso grass and trash strewn on the beaches. Well, happy to report, the Corn Islands are absolutely stunning and without any of the Sargasso grass and only minimal trash. The people here are awesome too! The locals speak English, Spanish and Creole (a mix of several languages). People come right up to you and say, "Hi, thank you for coming to our island." and they are not even trying to sell you anything. Most travelers would admit, tourist areas somehow become magnets for vendors and hagglers. Thankfully this is about as low-key as one can imagine and it is so refreshing.
   The Corn Islands are everything that Bocas del Toro, Belize and Roatan aren't. In fact, I would think it's about as opposite as you can get from those places and it is so refreshing. We almost gave up on the Caribbean because we constantly felt over promised and under-delivered. Whether it was the poor infrastructure, safety concerns, no accountability, or all too often, a disregard for environment, the Caribbean can be a real letdown at times. I spoke with a retiree and he summed it up like this, "Corn Island feels like Jamaica, 40 years ago, before the mass tourism and the all-inclusive hotels." Perhaps not having a major hotel chain on the island did keep this place more genuine. Not sure what to make of it either way, but we had a great day, in a place, that the locals love as well.
   In the shallow waters off our hotel's beach we discovered a shipwreck. My daughters never had more fun in their lives than exploring this broken corpse of a vessel. Sierra even said, "I can hear the screams from the people that died on the ship," probably in reference to the Titanic. Since the ship was probably a fishing trawler that sunk during a hurricane, I doubt many people were screaming on the ship. In the latter part of the day we learned of an even better shipwreck, one with canons, and it's not too far from where we are staying. We still need to investigate this before we can confirm it though.
    We are staying at the hotel Paraiso  while on Big Corn Island. The owners of the hotel are from Holland and have kids that Sierra and Zoe immediately clicked with. Actually, at one point today, we thought the whole neighborhood was playing together. We could not have fallen into a better place, for our situation, than this hotel. We capped off an amazing first day watching a fiery sunset while my kids, and their new friends, swam in the shallows searching for sea urchins.

My legs floating in the ebb and flow of the current. 
A mangled shipwreck, 15 feet under the water

Eerie sights under water.

The beginnings of a reef are taking place.

Nature is taking over the wreck.

Zoe was checking for more debris.

The kids just loved diving around this wreck.

We taught the girls to stick together whenever possible. 

Once a proud vessel, I am sure.

Sierra liked imagining the ship in its glory days.

Sierra checking out the nooks and crannies.

We allowed the girls to poke around but never allowed them to dive underneath or into any part of the structure for safety reasons. They always had a clear shot to the surface.

An idyllic beach setting.

The hotel sign post.

Sierra was showing Zoe where we were on a map.

Breakfast time.

Looking eastward on our same beach.

Our hotel is right behind these boats.

Kids playing.

This dog quickly became our friend.

Playtime for the kids on the hotel grounds.

Our afternoon view.

Fiery sunset was mesmerizing.

The sunset was behind me when I took this picture, so I could show how the light on the opposite side of the horizon was changing too.

A floating tree came by at the perfect time.

Sierra and Nicenel showing off their sea urchins which they later released back into the ocean.