We set off from Corn Island on Saturday night on the Captain D, the largest and allegedly safest of the boats available. The trip was very smooth, neither of us are prone to sea sickness but we took some nausea pills regardless to be sure. We woke up in Bluefields the next morning, and spent the day with our friends in Bluefields. The next day we made the obligatory stop at immigration, did some shopping then headed to Pearl Lagoon. It was nice to be "home" again and to see all the brothers, and all the exciting things that had happened lately with the new boat and Miskito class. When it was time to leave on Wednesday (there are normally two boats travelling to Corn Island on Wednesdays) we crammed as many things including wedding gifts into as many suitcases as we could manage to drag with us. Either the pangero (panga driver) was in a good mood or just wasn't paying attention, because we didn't get charged a single Cordoba for all our bags. As we pulled into Bluefields we saw the Captain D pulling into the dock at the same time, it looked like we were making all our connections easily this time.
Jean stayed with the bags while I went up to the office to buy our tickets, and then we hauled all our luggage onto the ship. Being so early we managed to get a bunk on the lower decks, today the boat was especially crowded, as we learned that Rio Escondido (the government owned passenger boat that normally leaves the same day) had broken down and was not running. In any case the Captain D is very large so we had enough space. The boat was scheduled to leave at 10:00 AM, so we waited on board, also meeting several other witnesses who were also traveling to Corn Island at the same time. At this point, everything looked great. Time went on, and we saw that the boat was not leaving on time. This is nothing new, in fact they never leave on time so we thought nothing of it. People from the wharf began coming on board to sell food and snacks to the passengers, I had a rather nice slice of pizza.
|Excited to go to Corn Island... we thought.|
We finally set off around 1:00 PM. We seemed to be moving slowly across the bay, although the boat needs to follow a long winding channel to get across due to the shallowness of the bay of Bluefields. We made it to the Bluff, a small island where the military checkpoint is before heading out to sea. It took about two hours to get there, it normally takes 45 minutes to one hour. As we waited for the paperwork to be finalized we heard the engines starting up... well, trying to. They fired up twice, and then went silent. No one paid much attention, but after several hours went by we knew something was wrong.
Finally around 5:00 PM, the captain came to inform everyone that the boat would not be able to travel, and that anyone that wanted a refund could get it from the office in bluefields. We were also told that another boat would be by shortly to pick up those that wished to carry on. This is the last piece of information that anyone was given voluntarily. As the hours went by, rumors spread throughout the ship among passengers. Some said the boat had just left from rama which was 6 hours away, others said it was coming form Corn Island. I had personally seen the boat in question (Isleño) in Bluefields as we were pulling away. Others said it had broken down as well, or that it was loaded down with cargo and wasn't taking anyone. In reality, it was coming from Bluefields but it was just taking its sweet time.
It finally arrived, well after dark. The boat was out of food to sell to the passengers, and people had only left what they brought with them. Jean and I had put our luggage on the deck in preparation to leave the boat, and were waiting upstairs by the bridge so that we could see what was going on. Isleño pulled up next to captain D, and immediately passengers started scrambling across the deck, climbing over cargo and vehicles to try and jump on to the Isleño. Several made it on board, only to be told to get off the boat and wait until they were called. We watched the chaos, worrying mostly about our luggage which now had people standing on top of it. Another hour went by with people standing and waiting to be let on the Isleño. Some were lining up to enter the bridge to speak to the captain, and find out if they would be allowed on. He explained that passengers who had come from Rama (and thus had been on the ship for 6 hours already before it reached bluefields) would be given priority. Jean and I were on the "third list" meaning that we would not likely be getting on. Isleño has a capacity for 60 according to rumors, and there were 40 passengers from Rama. So we knew we wouldn't be getting on.
seeing that people were starting to panic, we decided it would be best to get off the ship. We called the brothers and made contact with the local congregation at the bluff to find accommodation. Getting off the ship was easier said than done though. We took our backpacks off, after climbing and squeezing through a wall of frustrated people. Jean sat with the luggage on the wharf, while I tried to squeeze through and get our suitcases one by one. It took hours, because at times people were not willing to move from the spot they were standing for me to pick up the suitcase.
Finally, the Navy told everyone to get off of the ship... Nobody moved. I still couldn't get to my suitcases, and I couldn't get off the ship even without them because the people standing behind me wouldn't move either. Finally workers started unloading the cargo onto isleño (which evidently had priority over the passengers) and there was more room to move, I grabbed the last two suitcases and got off. The navy again told everyone to get off the ship, and no one moved.
|Refugee camp at the brother's home|
Once we had our things we left, leaving the angry mess of people behind. The brothers were already waiting for us outside the gate. 9 other witnesses also decided to stay at the bluff. We later heard that people were asked to form two lines, one of those from Rama, and one of those from bluefields in order to board the ship. No one cooperated, and people crammed on in a mad panic until the boat was full, and it left with only a fraction of the passengers from captain D, leaving the rest to sleep on the street at El Bluff without any food or water, only what they could find on the street. El bluff has no hotels and very few restaurants. I estimate around 120 people were left behind. The brothers found mattresses for people to sleep on the floor in one of their houses, and we were able to use the kitchen to prepare a proper meal.
The next morning we decided to go in service, to make the most of our time. We walked up a hill to a rock-quarry and preached to people sitting in makeshift tents, smashing rocks with a hammer. They were making gravel by hand evidently for a very small salary. It kind of helped put things in perspective to see what these people had to do to make a living.
|Rock smasher tent|
We went to the wharf again in the afternoon to see what we could find out. There were people everywhere, they had been there since the night before sleeping on the ground and in hammocks outside the gate. Some approached and asked us if we knew where to find a hotel, or food. Many had spent the night on the Captain D which was repaired and returned to Bluefields that morning. They had then taken a panga Back to the bluff in order to board the ship again as it was allegedly departing again the same day in the afternoon. One of the sistsers decided to go on our behalf and get the money back for our tickets, then return to the bluff to go on the next boat scheduled to leave Friday at 3:00 AM.
While she was in the office however she learned new in formation which she told us about by phone. There was in fact, no boat coming that afternoon, but one would be coming at 3:00 AM the next morning and that we should use our same tickets to board it. She wrote down our names on the "list" to get on, however she and the others decided to return to bluefields and cancel their trip to corn island for the time being. The company garunteed that everyone on that list would be allowed on the boat that was definitely coming at 3:00 AM Friday. So we spent another night with the brothers at the bluff.
Late that night however we got information of someone working at the company who we phoned. He told us the boat would not be coming at three, but at 5, or maybe 6 or 7 in the morning. Many of those sleeping on the street had given up and gone home during the day, leaving only about 50 who were determined to get to Corn Island. They were not aware of this development, although we tried to inform some of them, but they had been assured that it was coming at 3.
It never came. We showed up at the wharf with all our bags, along the way busting a wheel on one of the suitcases. Again, people were all over the place sleeping on the ground waiting and hoping that a boat would arrive. Hours went by, no boat. We made some phone calls and found out from someone in Rama (6 hours down the river) that he could see both of the boats that were supposed to have come at 3, and they were still there at the port not even moving. Around the same time the Navy told us the boat would arrive around 9 or 10:00 AM, which would be about 1 hour. Needless to say it never came. We kept phoning our contact in Rama and he kept telling us the same thing "The boat is still here". And every time, they kept telling us it would soon arrive. We phoned the company as well, and they said captain D was being fixed and would arrive shortly. We spent the entire day waiting, waiting, and waiting. Mid-day passed, some sisters from the bluff brought us food around lunch time.
Meanwhile we heard from our friends in Rama that the Isleño was not allowed to leave from Rama because it was overloaded with cargo (no passengers yet). The captain was unwilling to unload any cargo, so they sat there for another day. Finally around 5:00 pm, one of the passengers who had showed up later form the bluff, expecting to get on the Captain D decided to phone his buddy who owned a lobster ship to come and give everyone a ride. Word spread quickly among the stranded passengers and the general mood started to improve. Some were even singing and playing the guitar.
|Me, Jean, and another sister when we found out a boat was coming|
After about an hour the lobster boat arrived, and the captain came out from the port. Everyone waited silently to see what would happen.
"Everyone goes" said the captain. We all sighed with relief and were ecstatic to finally be going. Meanwhile we got a phone call from "Transporte Norman Downs" (the captain d's company) saying they were getting the boat ready and it should be able to leave soon. I said "Ok thanks" and hung up. We had waited two days and had lost count of the number of lies this company told us. They were trying not to lose the money they had made from the tickets and didn't want us going anywhere without them, but we were going.
Everyone was buzzing with excitement as we climbed on to the fishing boat, the crew helping people with their bags. We all kept thanking them for finally taking us home, and when we asked how much the trip would cost they said "Nothing". Furthermore, the fishing boat was cleaner and in better condition than any of the passenger boats. The boat was empty and on its way back to Corn Island, so it had no lobster cages or any fishing equipment, so all the passengers just put blankets and mattresses down on the deck, leaving more than enough room for everyone.
|On board the Pacific Dream, the fishing boat that rescued us.|
It was a smooth and happy ride back to Corn Island, we made it in around midnight. It was an eye opening experience. Kind of a good reminder that anything can happen and then no one is entitled to anything. Thanks to the brotherhood we passed through the ordeal without being in any serious danger or being completely lost. If this had happened in any other country, there would be no end to the lawsuits and it would be all over the news, but in reality no one will likely be held accountable and things will carry on as usual. Isleño finally did leave Rama, but they didn't stop to pick anyone up at the bluff. So much for the "Guarantee". Captain D is still broken.
I've also started a new side business, we're trying to make a little as "Travel advisers" using our experience in the area to plan and book vacations. Check out the information page at:
Now we're looking forward to our assembly at the end of the month, hopefully our next attempt to get to Bluefields and back is a bit more successful.