Monday, May 20, 2013

Corn Islands

Off the east coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean sea there are two small islands, they are known as the Corn Islands or Islas de Maiz in Spanish. After i decided to stay in Bluefields, the brother who i was traveling with decided to go and serve in the small spanish congregation on Big Corn Island. A few months later a brother from Mexico named Eduardo who had just finished his assignment in La Ruta came to stay in bluefields for a few days. He was on his way to Corn island for a vacation, and when it was time for his boat to leave i took him to a cab (we will come back to Eduardo later). About a month later, two pioneers from california who had come to the bluefields english congregation were making plans to go and visit Corn island, so i mentioned that i had a friend who had been there since i got to Bluefields, and by this time i needed a vacation too so we all went together.

To reach Corn island from bluefields, you can fly, or if you're on a pioneer budget you can go by boat. The boat leaves bluefields on wednesdays and returns on sundays (except when it doesn't). We bought our tickets on monday and were told to be at the wharf by 10:00 am wednesday. When we got to the wharf we only found one boat going to Corn island, a small boat called the Rio Escondido which the brothers had warned us not to take (apparently it doesnt handle the waves well). Out of options we showed to captain our tickets. "Oh lord, not this boat" was his response. The boat we had tickets for was not in bluefields. The lady at the ticket office at this point decided to tell us that it was at El bluff. El bluff is an island on the other side of the bay, and by now it was 10:30 and the boat was leaving at 11.

We went to another wharf to catch a panga to el bluff. Pangas normally leave when the driver decides the boat is full, but our ship was getting ready to head out to sea. Our only option was to buy all the empty seats on the panga. Thankfully this still was not very expensive, as getting to el bluff is not costly.

Now on the other side of the bay we hauled our luggage up some stairs until we made it to the right wharf. We could see the boat, so could relax a little. We were not allowed to board yet, so the gate was locked. We waited another hour roughly before we could board the boat, and after being searched by the navy it was another hour before the boat started to move.

The name of the ship was "Captain D". It was a large white cargo ship that had wooden bunks assembled on the deck towards the back of the ship, with a tarp over top and sides of the bunk area. There were also a few padded bunks on the inside of the ship, but we were told that to avoid getting sea sick its best to be outside. Inside on the lower decks there was a cafeteria, which served ramen noodles and beer. The journey took 5 hours, we could see the Rio Escondido (the other boat) following us from a distance. The ride was fairly smooth but thie was still my first time at sea, so it was very difficult to walk.

Many people had been leaving their cans and soup bowls all over the place and on the ground and since many likely knew we were witnesses i thought it would give a good witness if i did some cleaning up. On my way to the garbage can someone saw me and said "don't have too many or you'll fall off the boat!"... so there i was with an arm full of empty beer cans (which werent mine, in case you were wondering), and staggering heavily from the waves. A good witness indeed.

We finally reached Corn island, the water was turqoise blue and clear. I didn't know that water could really be that color in real life. I thought it was only in cartoons. The island itself is very lush and green, with many coconut and mango trees. We got off the boat and waded through the crowd of taxi drivers waving their keys at us until we met up with Dai Jun (the brother i had travelled with), He took us to the places we would be staying.

While we were on Big Corn Island we would go in service in the morning, and then go snorkeling in the afternoon. There was one beach in particular where the water was shallow but calm like glass, a very nice place to swim. What stood out to me though, was the responses we got in service. Half of the islands population speaks Spanish, and the other half speaks Creole english. I was working with a local sister and she took a call in Spanish, the man wanted to study the bible, but ther sister told him that no one was avaliable to study with him right now. The man pointed to me and asked "What about him? Does he speak Spanish?" The sister replied, "he speaks enough, but hes only here visiting." That moment really stuck with me. I still think about going back to corn island a lot. Is that man still waiting for a bible study? How many others are there? Did i make the right decision to leave? Oh well, its something i have to leave in Jehovah's hands now.

Now, Little Corn Island is just north of the Big Corn island, and from the beach on the north side you can even see it on the horizon on a clear day. To get there we took a small red boat that sounded like a deisel truck, the trip was 1.5 hours of madness. It was like a roller coaster that should be closed down.the waves were huge and they just wouldn't stop. People were throwing up, things were rolling around on the deck, and the ice cream man's cart fell over (even though it was tied down). It was worth it though, little corn island is quiet and peaceful, and perhaps the most beautiful place on the planet. Post cards that have been photoshopped dont even compare. There is something about it that is lost when you take pictures, you just have to be there to appreciate it.

Our plan was to go in service right after we got off the boat, but none of us had the strength after that ride, so we found a hotel and slept. Now, Dai Jun had told us that a brother from Mexico had been trying to start a group on Little corn island, since the congregation on Big Corn Island is only 12 publishers and they rarely get the opportunity to witness on the Little island. That brother came and met us at the hotel, and to our surprise it was Eduardo! The last person i expected to see. This brother has a habit of showing up unexpectedly, I'm sure ill run into him again some day.

He invited us to the meeting, he and a two brothers that were doing secular work on the island had been having meetings since he had arrived. Eduardo was giving the public talk and conducting the watchtower study on saturday night. But since we had a boat to catch and because the group was so small they were able to move it to Friday night so that we could attend. We had the opportunity to go in service as well, so we used every opportunity to invite those we called on to the meeting. It was quite easy to direct people to the meeting on such a tiny island, we basically just said "its over there behind the restaurant" and pointed.

The Little island only has a population of about 500 to 800 people, so the territory is very small. Nonetheless it is extremely productive, Eduardo's time in the ministry was almost exclusively spent conducting bible studies, from morning until evening every day. We managed to do some territory, the main strip of buildings a long the southern beach. There were some dive instructors and shop owners from other countires who were shocked and horrified that Jehovah's witnesses had found their little island, but the local people responded very well. Conversations went something like this

"Good morning, today we are visiting people on the Island to share a message from the bible, do you have a few minutes?"

"Well... if its about god then i have time."

Many of the ones we spoke to also said that Jehovah's witnesses had never called on them before, it was a priviledge to be the first.

After a wonderful day in service, a fight with a monkey, and some more snorkeling the time came for us to go to the meeting. The meeting was being held on the porch of a bamboo house, with an electric light tied to the window. The house was just two rooms where construction workers from the big island would sleep. The attendance at the meeting was 10, three brothers from Big Corn island, 4 in our group, and 3 interested ones. There were also several that walked by and stopped for a moment to listen. Throughout the meeting the power went off several times but the brothers didn't seem to notice.

As hard as it was to leave, we had to get back to bluefields. First though we had to get back to the big island. There are two options for travelling between the islands, a larger boat (the bad roller coaster) and a panga. The panga is smaller, but the trip is only 20 minutes so we decided to give it a try. I may have mentioned in a previous post that pangas safely hold 12 to 14 people. This one had 34 on board, about 3 or 4 of those had to stand. I was not lucky enough to have a seat, nor enough room to stand, so i sat on the rim of the boat near the bow, one hand on the luggage and one on the rim of the boat. Thankfully the ride was much smoother, we skipped across the waves and made it back to the big island in what seemed like no time.

Now the fun part. Upon arriving at Big Corn island, we were informed that the Captain D was going to Puerto Cabezas, and that we would have to take the Island express. The Island express is only slightly smaller, but it has only 4 bunks and usually carries around 40 to 50 passengers. The boat was scheduled to leave at 10:00 pm, so we got there early to find good seats. Being early was kind of pointless because the boat had no seats in the first place. Some brothers from Big Corn island joined us for the trip home, as they were going to pioneer school in Bluefields. They brought straw mats to lay on, as did many other passengers who all made their own beds on the deck. There was a tarp over the front deck as well so at least we were protected from the rain. I had brought a small air mattress and used my life jacket as a pillow.

We were delayed however because another ship was blocking our exit, it was a lobster boat and no one knew where the captain was. Eventually they found him (its a small island after all) and we were under way at about midnight. As we got further out to sea the winds picked up and it started to rain. There was an opening in the side of the ship which they used to load cargo, i had assumed they would close it when they left, but it stayed open. So i could see the waves going by at my feet as i layed on the deck. Hopefully they would notice if i slid out into the water, and would turn the boat around and get me...

During the trip i didn't sleep much, so i walked around a bit. I ran into the same man that saw me with the beer cans on the way to the island, this time i wasn't so wobbly and didn't have any empty cans so i was able to explain who we were and what we were doing. We made it back to bluefields after sunrise, and the boat moored next to another boat. There were at least 4 other boats in between us and the wharf, so we had to jump across from one ship to the next with our bags to make it back to land. I dont recommend this trip for anyone with mobility issues.

This was one of my favorite trips that i have been on, I really enjoyed being on the ocean and seeing the different island cultures. I hope to do some more sea travel in the future. I stayed in bluefields for a while longer before going back home to Canada. Travelling back across Nicaragua to the airport in Managua was not so scary this time, nor was the airport. It was summer time when i got back, but it seemed very cool to me after adjusting to the tropics. I got my old job back and started saving for the next trip right away.

December 31st, 2018

Its been a few weeks now since we sent our application for Canadian residency, now we just have to wait. Meanwhile we are moving again. This...