Culture Shock & Awe: The Atlantic Coast

>> Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our friend Danny told us that on his visit he wanted the quintessential Central American experience, so we tried to deliver and visit a variety of places during his week here.  We went to pick him up at the airport around 9:00 pm on Tuesday (December 30th... we've been busy lazy), and after a brief visit to our house in Masaya, we were back at the airport less than 12 hours later to go to the Atlantic Coast, an autonomous region that makes up about half of the geographic area of Nicaragua. From Wikipedia:

About 9% of Nicaragua's population is black, or Afro-Nicarag├╝ense, and mainly reside on the country's sparsely populated Caribbean or Atlantic coast. The black population is mostly composed of black English-speaking Creoles who are the descendants of escaped or shipwrecked slaves; many carry the name of Scottish settlers who brought slaves with them, such as Campbell, Gordon, Downs and Hodgeson.
For Volunteers, the Atlantic Coast is a magical land of mystery because of its distinct "English-speaking" (more on that later) culture and because travel there is highly restricted (and for good reason) by Peace Corps and the Embassy. It's possible to travel via land on a long, uncomfortable journey, but Volunteers are only permitted to travel by air after applying for and receiving special permission.
We got approval and trekked back to the airport to buy our tickets (reservations on the two small airlines that go to the Atlantic Coast seem informal at best) on one of the 12-seater planes for the one hour flight, but the pilot's inattention left us a little unsure.
Once we touched down in Bluefields we weren't quite sure what all of the hype was about--it looked pretty much like every other city in Nicaragua but some people had darker skin and spoke an English creole; we had imagined that the coste├▒os would speak standard English with a charming Caribbean accent, but this was not the case. There were some words we understood but also with Spanish and Miskito words thrown in to a grammar that was completely unintelligible. Holly's inner linguist was happy to experience the the Miskito Coast creole (it is not "poor English"; it has a grammar all its own), but the linguistic beauty didn't make it any easier to find out what time boats left or to order a Coke.  I'm sure after a couple of weeks we could have communicated, but instead we just spoke Spanish to everyone and people just assumed we were French, stupid, or both.

Bluefields was just a layover on our way to Pearl Lagoon, which was an hour away in the wildest boat ride we've ever been on, but everyone else seemed unimpressed.
We had read about Pearl Lagoon as being really nice, less populated, and more relaxed than Bluefields. While it was all of these things, we also expected a beach, but there wasn't one; instead, it was a small town with one newly paved road and brackish water at a dock. At dinner that night some Swedes came up to us and invited us on a boat excursion to "paradise" the next morning (New Year's Day). Holly and I had heard about the trip and wanted to do it, so we said yes. After that we went out to a pretty ruckus New Year's Eve celebration and I'm pretty sure that's when Holly's phone got picked out of my pocket (the phone got replaced when Danny got Holly a new phone for her birthday). We started back to the hotel a few hours after midnight, but those Swedes were still celebrating.

The next morning, our trip started to take on a charmed quality after a worrying start. At 7:00 when we were supposed to meet for the boat trip, we went to the front gate of the hotel and no one was there. No Swedes, no Miss Dell (the owner of the hotel), and we thought we had missed the literal boat. Instead, it turned out, the Swedes had gotten back only an hour or two earlier and were comatose and unable to go on the trip. When Miss Dell got back she told us that only seven people fit on this boat anyway so the three of us wouldn't have been able to go with the five Swedes, but she would be willing to forget about the Swedes (who were actually Swiss, but that's an unimportant detail) and take us instead. There was a cool British couple that was interested, so we all decided to go to island paradise.

Here's Miss Dell dealing with the tight security at the ocean outlet:
From the checkpoint it was another 45 minutes or so through the ocean to the keys, but this boat ride was relaxing in comparison. The water around Pearl Lagoon was all murky and brown, but the farther away we got, the bluer and prettier the water got. By the time the islands were in sight, we were patting ourselves on our backs for stabbing the Swedes in theirs.
There were several Pearl Keys scattered around, but we were heading to one of the most idyllic, and one with a tree hanging out over the ocean begging to be climbed.
The main thing I look for in quality Nicaraguan accommodations is the presence of least a few nice dogs, and this place fit the bill: it had several really sweet dogs (Daisy and her pups) that loved to walk around the island with us and swim in the ocean:
While convincing us that we should go on this boat trip without the Swedes, Miss Dell really emphasized the value of the trip because it included our drinks and sandwiches (sandwiches!).  I was sort of worried about our lunch prospects when one of the kids that was hanging out on the island that day was trying to catch fish, but the only one he came up with was this poisonous fellow:
Miss Dell actually cooked a delicious chicken lunch, so maybe she had just been trying to lower our expectations... we never did get any sandwiches.

We spent the whole day on two little deserted islands and we ended up climbing that tree:
 But Danny also ended up falling off. Twice. And skinning himself up quite severely in the process:
The day trip made the Atlantic Coast really worth it for us, and the boat rides, puppies, white sandy beaches, and beautiful sunsets were the perfect way to ring in 2009 before we went back home to Masaya for Holly's birthday celebration with friends.
 
  
 
Stay tuned for Part II: San Juan del Sur and Pelican Eyes as well as Danny's guest blog about the trip.

1 comments:

materials 8:23 AM, February 26, 2009  
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