Monday, November 21, 2016

Corn Island Travel Blog

One of the things that Jean and I tried to do in order to make a living back on Corn Island was help plan people's vacations. We had a service of booking hotels for people and recommending good and safe places to stay and where to eat. Many awesome hotels and restaurants don't have websites and are not listed on tourist maps so one can miss out a lot without some insider information. As well, some of the "best" hotels and restaurants online have long since gone out of business or are run down and don't offer many of the services they claim.

Well, since we obviously can't do this anymore even though it was doing alright and we made some great friends in the process... I've decided just to share our information publicly. Below are some of the custom maps we made for our clients. You may notice the Little Corn map is a bit lacking but that's because we didn't have any clients who went to little corn yet. You may also notice a recommendation to steer clear of a few places. I have nothing against these places, and perhaps you may like them yourself, its just that having been there in person and seeing what they have to offer, and more importantly what their competition has to offer I did not feel their prices were justifiable.

Big Corn

Little Corn
Here's some good hotels on Big Corn:
Treehouse - Private cabins on long bay, absolutely amazing. Hot water, kitchen, wifi (thats hard to get on Corn Island by the way) and great service. Around $50 per night

Picnic Center - Best beach on the Island, possibly best beach in Nicaragua. Rooms around $40 per night. AC, hot water, stylish.

Hotel Morgan - prices ranging from $20 to $40. Very nice location, breezy. Good looking rooms with AC. Restaurant has good food for good prices with big portion sizes.

Alal Suite - Upstairs rooms have an amazing view of the ocean and all day breeze. AC not necessary. $25 per night

Some places to avoid:
Arenas beach - Looks pretty fancy. They have gazebos on the beach which are nice. We wanted to go there one day and they wanted to charge us $20 per person (5 of us) to sit in the gazebo. We asked the people next to us what they paid (they were Nicaraguan) and they said $10 for their entire group, which was 5 or 6 people. We asked to speak to someone inside and they simply said "The price changed, sorry". On top of that everything is 2x the price of Picnic center which is literally right next to the place. That being said its really a nice looking place if you're OK with being lied to about the prices and taken advantage of for being a gringo.

Paraiso - Used to be a very nice place, unfortunately it hasn't been maintained and has become quite run down. Some friends stayed there recently and left after the first night because of the poor conditions of the room. A lot of the services they offered online weren't there (like hot water).

Little Corn hotels:
Mostly, just wanted to add one we recently discovered while staying for a wedding on Little Corn. the aptly named "Grace's cool spot" which located right where "elsa's" is on the map above. $10 a night for a simple room, $20 for a private cabin. Probably one of the coolest places I've ever stayed in. All the cabins are actually on the sand, on the breezy side of the island, with the waves splashing just a few steps from your cabin's door. One of not so many hotels on little corn owned and run by local islanders.

As for the ones listed as overpriced, its just that. Too darn expensive. Yemaya for example is supposed to be a "resort" for $300-500 per night. I've been to resorts in Mexico. Yemaya is not a resort. It is a hotel. They also offer a private boat to pick you up from Big Corn, but if I were you I'd stick with the panga. Yemaya's boat is tiny.

Speaking of boats, if you're thinking of going to Corn Island, here is a video tour we made of the largest of the passenger boats that takes you from Bluefields to Big Corn. In this video we are on our way to Rama from Corn Island.







Friday, November 18, 2016

Atlantic and Pacific

Its often said that there are two sides of Nicaragua. The yearbook even called the Atlantic coast "The Other Nicaragua" highlighting the vast cultural differences between the two sides of the country. Having lived in both sides now we have experienced this first hand and can really confirm that it is true. The east side of Nicaragua, divided into two departments: Region Autonomio Costa Caribe Norte, or "R.A.C.C.N." and Region Autonomio Costa Caribe Sur, or "R.A.C.C.S." These when translated basically mean "North carribbean coast autonomous region" and likewise as the south. Many maps still show the old name of these departments: RAAN and RAAS, however this was recently changed likely due to RAAS being uncomfortably close to a curse word in the local Creole language.



Many people in the Atlantic regions still speak Spanish, however many do not speak it as their first language. Some speak either Creole which is a dialect of English, or Miskito which is an indigenous language of its own. Economically the Atlantic coast is far behind the Pacific. Many in the Pacific believe that people from the Atlantic coast are wealthy because the cost of living is higher, but the opposite is true, wages are generally lower while cost of living is higher. Having just moved to Jinotepe, Carazo we have found that prices of everyday household items like soap, as well as food are generally twice as expensive on the Atlantic coast, becoming more expensive the further east you go. Corn Island and Pearl Lagoon being the most expensive. This seems to be in part due to the lack of transportation. The highway stops at Rama, and any travel beyond there must be done by boat, or if you're brave by dirt (mud) roads. Another reason for the prices likely is the lack of competition, there are very few shops and no supermarkets besides the ones in Rama and Bluefields, so if someone is selling anything from the pacific they can charge any price they want even for basic necessities.

On the Pacific side of Nicaragua, first of all there's a lot more people. According to some sources 5% of the population lives in the two Atlantic Regions, and 95% in the Pacific. The Pacific is divided into many departments, all of which I have yet to memorize. We live in Carazo, other well known departments are Rivas, Granada, Masaya... names you have likely heard of. There is more business over here and many cities as well. Cost of living over here is generally 50% of what it is on the Atlantic side, although tourist areas may cost many times more. We pay a little bit more for rent over here, but that comes with conveniences that are hard to get in the Atlantic, such as wifi and hot water. We can even drink from the tap in Jinotepe, something we wouldn't even dream of doing in Pearl Lagoon.

Grocery store in Jinotepe

Tourism has a much bigger impact on the Pacific side as well. On Corn Island (RACCS) tourism is only beginning, and any tourists found in Pearl Lagoon are either hard-core adventurers or hopelessly lost. San Juan Del Sur on the other hand, in the Rivas department of the pacific has a lot more in common with tourist hotspots like Cancun or Hawaii. many things are priced according to "If you have to ask, you can't afford it". Rental apartments or houses in SJDS are rare, as most opt to rent on a per-night basis and are unlikely to agree to long term. Other communities away from the beach are quite different however and rent can be very cheap. Although the Pacific coast may be more popular with tourists, the Atlantic has natural beauty that is beyond compare, just lacking in accessibility.

Sunset in San Juan Del Sur


Crystal clear water of Corn Island


Architecture on the Pacific side resembles the rest of Latin America. Cities are made up of blocks laid out on a grid, and the buildings in each block are built with their exterior wall immediately on the sidewalk, and their interior walls connected to each other, making the entire block resemble one large building.

San Marcos

In the Atlantic however, houses are well spaced out and disconnected from each other. In fact, in smaller communities the houses may not even be built near a street, but rather be behind another house or simply standing on its own.

Haulover

These are just a few of my observations, but it really feels like two countries in one, and if you spend any time in Nicaragua its definitely worth going to the other side to get the full experience.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Making the move

So having decided to make the move, our first step was to find a place to rent in Jinotepe. This was easier than expected, thanks to some very helpful friends that we met at a circuit assembly who are now our neighbors.

But first, we had to get there. We sold many of the things we had in the apartment so as to be saved the trouble of moving them across the country. Thankfully a couple was moving to Corn Island shortly after we planned to leave, and wanted an apartment in our building. This made things very easy, we just arranged with the landlord that we would give them the key and they would buy our appliances and many of our household items. That got us down to a few suitcases full of items, mostly clothes and some dishes. We didn't have quite enough suitcases, so we bought some cheap 20 cordoba plastic bags known as "Quintaleras" and put them inside sacks commonly used for rice or sugar to make durable water-tight bags to carry our clothes in.

On the day of the move we loaded everything into one taxi, and rode with it down to the main wharf. We had planned to take the Captain D which is the largest of the cargo ships that head to the mainland, but for whatever reason it was a no-show. So we went the next morning on the Island Express, our second favorite... but after getting all our bags on board we found out that it was only going as far as Bluefields, and we wanted to get as far as possible so as to save trouble. So we unloaded all the suitcases from the boat and carried them over to the next boat, the IsleƱo, our least favorite and also the smelliest of the cargo ships. In any case we left around 11:00 AM on Sunday, and bypassing Bluefields we made it to Rama by midnight. This was now the most difficult stage of the move, we decided to stay in a hotel (we found a rather nice one in Rama for 350 cordobas). We had to carry all of our bags from the wharf, two blocks down to the hotel, and because it was late there were no taxis around. Jean waited with the bags by the ship while I carried them one or two at a time, taking about 4 trips in all. Thankfully Rama is a fairly safe place to be wandering around at night.



The next day we were on the 9:00 AM express bus to Managua, which was a pretty typical chicken-bus ride. 5 hours later we're in Managua. We were debating how to get to Jinotepe from Managua. It is 1 hour bus ride from La UCA bus terminal, however said terminal only has microbus type buses, which are basically big white vans. These can hardly take suitcases as big as ours, let alone so many. If they even agreed to take us they would likely charge for each bag as if it were a passenger, so we were dreading the cost. Also the taxi would charge a fair amount to take us there as well. We ended up finding a fairly reasonable taxi rate to get us to La UCA. He would charge us 230 cordobas, which basically equates to 50 cordobas per person/suitcase. We felt this was reasonable so we agreed. Along the way we were calculating that the bus at La UCA would likely charge the same amount or more to get us up to Jinotepe, when the cab driver asked us where we were going. He offered to take us directly to Jinotepe himself so we could skip the bus stage altogether. We asked how much and I braced myself for some heavy gringo-tax... but to our surprise, he offered to do it for 700 cordobas. Thats a one hour trip up into the mountains, in a comfortable air conditioned car with all our bags safely in the back. We gladly accepted his offer, and we were saved some huge headaches and got to avoid spending any extra time in Managua.

The drive up into the mountains was spectacular. We're both really going to miss the beautiful blue ocean and beaches of Corn Island, but this part of the country also has its own natural beauty. Everything up here is a deeper green color than we generally see on the coast for some reason, and as we went higher we could see further and further. As we started to feel the change in altitude we could see clouds at eye level on either side of the road. Finally, we went straight into them. As we passed El Crucero we were surrounded with grey mist and we could feel the air getting cooler. As we came out of the clouds we were entering Diriamba just as the sun was setting. After Diriamba came Jinotepe where the taxi driver took us to the house of the brothers meeting us.



Jinotepe is a city of about 50,000 people according to some Internet sources. It has an architectural style similar to that of some other Nicaraguan cities like Granada or Leon, however very little influence of tourism. The climate is also very different, being at about 560 meters, or 1,800 feet in elevation. The temperature ranges from about 18-30 degrees Celsius throughout the year and is very pleasant. That being said, coming from the coast it feels very cold. This side of the country is far more "developed" also. Jinotepe has nice grocery stores and fruit and vegetables are easy to find. One can even find computer and electronic stores. Cost of living here is also cheaper. I'm not completely sure why things are so much more expensive on the coast even though its less developed. Even things the coast exports are cheaper here, for example lobster is cheaper in Jinotepe than on Corn Island for reasons beyond my understanding.

We do pay more here for rent than we did on Corn Island, but that is mostly because we had a particularly good deal before. We're paying a lot more now, but a long with that we have unlimited Internet (wi-fi) included in the rent along with cable TV, appliances, and furniture. And having a stable Internet connection of course means being able to make a lot more money.








March 23rd 2019

Well we finished our move up higher into the mountains, but then found out the situation was quite different than what we had been told. Wit...