Facing nearly a month off of work, I was quick to rationalize that this was the only time I would be able to make the trip to the east coast of Nicaragua. I came here with the goal in mind to learn everything I possibly could about this country. After being here for over four months now, I feel as though I will never be able to see it all, but my overall objective is to take in as much information as possible before I depart. From the countless stories and conversations I have been apart of, it appeared to me that I would be stepping off of the plane into another world. To say the least, I explored many worlds along the Caribbean: the world of language, the underwater world, and the world of friendship. From the feelings of “I could live here forever” to “get me the hell off of this island,” living in paradise, or on the Likki Corn Island, for two solid weeks taught me a series of many important life lessons that in turn have prepared me for my second phase in my life abroad. Needless to say, I am eager to get back to work this semester, now with more concrete ambitions and goals for the road ahead.
Coincidence or not, upon arriving to the airport, I made friends with the person whom I would be taking a scuba diving course with, sharing not only a dorm room but also a bunkbed, and joining together upon every mealtime for the first days on the island. His name is Mitja like “nice to meet ya” as he told me and continued to do so with nearly every new person we encountered. Trust me, this was hilarious, and sometimes the person we were meeting would even beat us to the punch line. It was fascinating to be able to meet people from all different parts of the world. This is something that I had never really experienced in my hometown, now opening up a wide array of perspectives and traditions that I never knew existed. Germans (Mitja), Canadians, Dutch, and Australians were the nationalities that I encountered most frequently. I was surprised by the fact that it was rare to meet someone from the United States. Based on the population of each of those countries, one would expect to encounter more “Americans” but I guess we aren’t that well traveled. Many other parts of the world have us beat. On a positive note, I noticed that many Germans are almost expected to speak English, and surprisingly enough Mitja spoke at a level in which we could speak at any level of intellectualism desired. Anyways, it was great to have a friend with me to commence our adventures into a new environment. Especially during the holidays, which were tough at times, I had already established a family to mock what I would normally experience back at home. I am visualizing Christmas Day, where we had a table of 12 and an excellent chicken dinner prepared by a Cuban restaurant down the street. That night, we shared many laughs while simultaneously competing at our favorite card games (which everyone played differently based on region). My contribution and family favorite, Rummy, hit it off, leading me to believe I was back at home surrounded by the people I love. The magic about developing these close relationships in such a short amount of time was undeniably the best way I could have come to an end of an exciting and eventful year.
It was great to be able to interact with Nicaraguan locals who have very different stories and an overall way of life than I am accustomed to. Come to think of it, the Nicaraguans on the island don’t really consider themselves a part of the rest of the country. It seems as though the majority spoke a mixture of Spanish, English, Creole, and Mestizo. Reminiscing, I remember that I could initially understand the Spanish better than the English, I never would have pictured that scenario 4 months ago. The first night, we went out to a locally run joint called “Reggae Bar.” Met with a few looks upon entering the door, we were quickly welcomed to games of pool with the Caribbean Nicas. Looking back, we were easy to beat and would pay for the pool table, but we also showed deep inquiries into their lives, an aspect I continued to further explore. As a card game enthusiast, I saw a group of locals huddled in the corner throwing money, cards, and going from silence to yelling in matter of seconds (it was all in good fun). I skated my way nearby and stood watching the card game. After about 10 rounds, I slapped some money down on the table and joined in. I have to admit, I was met with strange looks and noticed a few poorly hidden smirks. Luckily, I can pick up on card games pretty fast, so within a few rounds I actually won a game. Somehow, I started winning round after round, which was very short-lived unfortunately and I left the table after returning to zero. However, I had respectively earned a head nod each time I saw any of the players cruising the island thereafter. It felt good to share a common tradition on the island, and accompanied with one of the local employees where I was staying, we brought it back to the hostel and taught all of our new companions. After many long nights of pool and cards, I picked up on the language and accent without even realizing it. When I noticed my self saying tree instead of three and speaking in a different dialect of my own language in a way I would originally consider informal such as “me is just a passing by now, todo tranquilo my friend,” I had an epiphany about language that never occurred to me before. It came from a deep place of intellect, something I haven’t yet entirely understood. However, I plan to continue to pick and prod and this feeling until I can decipher its significance.
Of course, I have to put the island cuisine on a spotlight. Being that my grandma here is a famous fritanga (fryer) and she has passed on her infamous cooking skills to her daughter, I strongly prefer to eat at home. When I am away, I tend to seek out the least fancy-looking restaurants that are run out of someone’s home. I have come to the involuntary conclusion that Nicaraguans believe that there is no reason to focus on ambience if the food being served makes you gasp “riquísimo!!!” I’m talking drooling at the table while waiting for your food, it smells that good. I prefer smell over looks any day, just saying. Where do I even start? The most famous traditional dish on the island is called Ron Don. It’s also referenced by some as Run Down, but I have a feeling that was just a bunch of expats trying to make it their own. What makes this dish special like many others on the island is that the main ingredient is derived from the very plentiful coconut. With a coconut based broth, the flavor of all of the other ingredients is brought out by cooking this stew over an open fire. But what really makes this dish one of a kind is that you can basically use whatever is available or the cheapest on the island at the time. Every Saturday, there is a shipment of food that comes on a barge which determines the types of vegetables available. Then, whatever the catch of the day is determines the meat. One day at the infamous beach party, we went out and caught fish and dumped them whole into a monstrous cauldron with coconut milk, potatoes, and plantains, a savory stew for everyone to enjoy. Another day, we took loads of lobster, yucca, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, plantains and coconut milk and had the meal of a king. It fed about 16 people that night and didn’t cost more than 50 U.S. dollars. Lobster is so plentiful on the island that you can get it with garlic sauce, tomato sauce, curry sauce, jalapeño sauce, grilled, fried, and any other way you could possibly think of, including ceviche. One morning, I spent 100 cordobas (about $3.40) and had the breakfast of champions: lobster scrambled eggs, gallo pinto, a fruit bowl, toasted coconut bread, and a tall glass of juice. Too bad I found that place on my last morning, or I would have gone there every single day, it was that appetizing.
To be truthful, the main reason I came to the Little Corn Island was to scuba dive. During my first week there, I completed the PADI Open Water Certification Course, enabling me to dive to the depth of 18 meters. The first day was the least exciting, as we had to sit in a room and watch movies on scuba diving theory (yes, that is a thing). It was basically a drawn out version of all of the skills and safety measures we would be completing, nearly impossible to pay attention to on a cloudless day. Continuing on, we went for our first skills dive to practice breathing underwater. I went in with a complete and utter sense of confidence, of course. However, immediately after submerging into the water breathing out of the regulator, my instincts kicked in and I freaked out. I don’t think I ever knew the true feeling of anxiety until that point in my life. My lungs felt as though after every breath, there was no satisfaction and that I was going to drown. I quickly learned that I had to empty my lungs of air as much as I could before taking another slow breath it. That aspect deeply frightened me at first. After a few more attempts, I got the hang of it and we went for the first dive. Our diving instructor told me that as soon as I saw the beauty of the coral reefs, I would forget about everything else in the world. Sure enough, he was spot on. The moment I laid eyes on these underwater fortresses, my breathing pattern regulated and I felt a strong sense of absolute bliss. I saw so many different types of fish before my eyes, blasting the most intrinsic and mesmerizing blues, greens, yellows, purples, you name it. I gliding through the water, doing front flips and backflips, picking up a handful of white sand and letting it trickle through my fingertips, and observing an array of sea anemones and a nurse shark in the process. During the following 4 days, we completed several skills such as taking our mask off, replacing it and clearing the water out afterwards, using our partners extra regulator to get air in an “emergency” scenario, and navigating to ocean floor with an underwater compass. Some of these skills were a bit stressful, which an instructor pointed out to me is the exact opposite of how diving is supposed to feel, how ironic. Once we completed the course and got certified, we decided to do a night dive. It felt like an expedition, as our group of about six people each had their own flashlight to use underwater. We uncovered two massive green sea turtles, lobsters, an octopus, a stingray, and many strange looking fish. Half way through the dive, we all kneeled down in the sand and turned our flashlights off. It was a bit bone-chilling to not be able to see my hand in front of my face, underwater. Nevertheless, as soon as we started rapidly moving our hands throughout the water, we were able to see the bioluminescence of the plankton, a stunning, lightning blue. That moment was hands down one of the most miraculous in my life. I would have never been able to witness such a feat of nature if it weren’t for my desire to explore a world unknown to my senses. Similarly, I wouldn’t have been able to create the friendships I did, gorge in the seafood, or experience the endless possibilities of language if it hadn’t been for my passion for the exploration of knowledge and experience. I promise to myself that I will never let that go.