February, 2002


Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 Mark E. Halliday


Four friends from Salt Lake City had planned a Nicaragua vacation for February.

They wanted to avoid the Winter Olympics, and were curious about the Corn Islands (I had told them about last years trip).

My pending survey job in Oman was delayed, so I could join my friends.

I booked a last-minute Continental frequent flyer ticket. I joined Bill and Traci at Houston airport, where we studied the Nicaragua map.



Into Managua at 9 PM, Don and Nancy were waiting for us.

We checked into the Best Western Las Mercedes across from the airport.

In the morning, we bought tickets for the 2 PM flight to Big Corn Island, then enjoyed the hotel pool.



Taxi from airstrip to Hotel Paradiso, where things had changed.

Last year two French-Canadian partners, Marc and Bruno, took turns running the place. Marc had partner Bruno put in jail somehow. Bruno got out, and threatened to have Marc killed. Marc went back to Quebec.

Bruno seems to be in charge. And it is still the best place to stay.


The next afternoon we went to the jetty to find our chartered boat to Little Corn.


The ride across was pretty smooth, going WITH the swells!






Landing on Little Corn.



Our bags were wheel-barrowed down to Casa Iguana.






There was no cabin for me the first night. I slept on the couch, moving into "economy" cabin #1 the next morning.

Grant and Cathy have.....................

added new cabins,

enlarged the dining lodge,

added some land,

expanded the garden,

and have satellite dish Internet !




Don tried Scuba Diving at the new PADI facility,

which was recently bought by Casa Iguana.

Lots of fine new equipment.

The diving is flat bottom, and the visibility not so good, Don said.






Most days we would walk the beach north to Elsie's place and have the $5 lobster lunch.




into town for sunset





...and music and beers at Happy Hut.







On the third day, Grant gave us the "Tech Tour".

We suggested he do this regularly for guests and charge a fee to boost his income.


A satellite dish connection provides high speed internet access !


The electrical system.

A diesel generator runs each morning to freeze the freezer and charge this bank of truck batteries for night lighting.




Grant said he would prefer a propane freezer next time.





The new garden was impressive.

They use seaweed as a base to add some nutrient to the barren sandy soil.




China (Habanero) peppers growing on a bush.








The old well

Grant and Cathy have put Casa Iguana up for sale,

apparently ready to leave Paradise for a while.


It must be difficult answering the same questions

from a new batch of tourists every few days.




We hiked up to the lighthouse one day, had a nice view.


On the way back, we were surprised by this sign !

The outboard engine was stolen from Grant's boat moored in front of Casa Iguana!

So he posted this reward.


Then he noticed a dark patch of water near his boat.

It was the engine!

It had simply fallen off.

How embarrassing.




As always, Bill attracts the children.





There was no charter boat available for the trip back to Big Corn and the flight out. We took the regular water taxi.

This was a mistake, it was terribly overcrowded. Waves were constantly coming over the gunwale, soaking the passengers.

Don and Nancy were sure the boat was going to founder.

Next time, charter a boat well in advance, we all agreed.




My friends flew to Managua, but I stopped in Bluefields for one night. I had enjoyed the Maypole festival last year, and met a few locals.

I stayed at the airport hotel, and checked e-mail at Bluefields Bay hotel.

Walking near the market, Marleth called out hello.

I had met her last year as Steve's (the Snake Man) girlfriend. But they broke up, so she is back at home with Mom.

And now she is 8-months pregnant, saying it is Steve's baby.

He says not, everybody will soon know !



Marleth had an interesting story...................!

Last year in Bluefields, I made the trip to Pearl Cays with two Canadian travelers. We visited one cay that was inhabited only by an English couple with children. They were the only owners still daring to live there, under threats from Pearl Lagoon fishermen.

I heard later about the attempted kidnapping of him and his family. It was thwarted when he threw gas on his own boat, and torched it, forcing everyone into the water....

Marleth told me the Englishman died of a heart attack in Bluefields a few months later!

She thinks he was poisoned by the locals ! He is buried on Steve's (the Snake Man of Bluefields) farm.

The next day I took the afternoon flight to Managua. Then a bus from outside the airport to Tipitapa, minibus to Masaya, and finally a taxi to Grenada, thinking I might find Don and Nancy there.



Stay at backpacker style hostel. Book morning tour to Zapatera Island, but canceled due to boat problem.

Drink coffee with Manny at breakfast. He is moving to Grenada after living in Rivas for many years. He has lots of stories to tell about Majagual Paul, Shane and others that I met last year.

I look for Don and Nancy at another Hostal in afternoon, but they had moved on. So, a quiet night, and in the morning try to rent a car. None available in Grenada, so I head for Managua.



Owner of Grenada hostel gives me a ride to Intercon, where I rent a small car for $20 a day.

Check e-mail at Metro Center, and call to meet Randy Wood and Josh Berman at Shannon.

I heard (from Casa Iguana) that they received the contract to write the Moon Nica handbook!

Later, at the Shannon Bar, Irish owners Paul and Paul are also now talking about Rio Coco tours!


Then I meet Randy and Josh, the two ex-Peace Corps guys with the Moon Handbook contract ! They were so proud of themselves !

We compared notes, so many places they had not touched on !

I felt sure I could have produced a more complete book. Later, when I saw their finished book, I wasn't so sure.

They did a good job. If only they had actually gone down the Rio Coco or been to Palo de Mayo. I never told them I spent six months on research after my preliminary letter from Moon expressing interest in the project!


Also met Richard Tuck, from a Canadian aid group, who had seen my web site.

We would meet in San Juan in a few days.




I leave Managua in the morning, and drive to Rivas.

Then left at the circle to San Jorge, the ferry terminal for Ometepe Island. Manny in Grenada had told me I would find Kimbo in San Jorge.

Sure enough, the crazy one-armed guy was right there, bought a little restaurant to keep himself busy.





I drive to San Juan del Sur in the afternoon, and find a small Hostal.

Down to Rick's for squid spaghetti, where I see Richard Tuck again (from Managua two days ago!).




The next morning I drive to Majagual, and find Don and Nancy!

We walk down the beach and enjoy some bodysurfing.







Watching the Sunset.







After sunset and dinner in the palapa, Don and Nancy head back to San Juan. Here is Nancy carrying her surfboard to the shuttle truck.

I stay overnight in a Majagual cabin, chatting with visitors from around the world.

Later we hear that the shuttle truck to town had rolled over!

Everyone was OK, although one went to hospital.

In the morning, I meet Don and Nancy for breakfast in San Juan. I hear the story about the truck spill, it was very close.......but nobody was seriously injured.

However, their rented surfboard was damaged, and they paid dearly for the dings!




I decide to return to Managua, and Chico Tuck comes along for the ride.

We stop at Majagual for a few hours, as he had never been there.


We went looking for monkeys in the trees, and found them !

Also found the Majagual eco-resort trash dump !



The route to Rivas is along the Chocolate highway, the old train route between Rivas and San Juan.

This is El Tanque, a local landmark and previously a train watering station.

Also visited the "Canopy Tour", but the business looked doomed.

Continuing north, Richard mentioned a pottery factory.

It was really fine quality! I bought two pieces.




Arriving Managua , Richard says I can stay the night at his place.

Later, we go to a Canadian consulate party at Bar Rhumba.

Daniel Alegria, the famous Sandinista, was there.

He helped me with Rio Coco logistics the year before.

He lost his job at Alistar; the Mitch aid-money had run out.

Now he is interested in running tours on the Rio Coco!


Next morning, I visit Richard Tuck's office, a Canadian aid agency.

He gives me directions to a mountain waterfall, but I miss it.

Drive all the way down to Pacific Coast to _____, back up to mountains, and down to San Jorge.





Chancho de la Playa





I find the one small hotel on the Lake Nicaragua shore in San Jorge. A beautiful sight with the Ometepe volcanoes in front in the setting sun.

Spaghetti dinner at Kimbo's, with two friends from Rivas.

She tells me the name-origin for the Chocolate road,

i.e. from the CHOCO bird seen LATE in the day along the road !





I pack my gear back in the rental mobile, and drive to Kimbo's place for breakfast. We take the ferry to Moyogalpa.

Kimbo wants to rent a house and live there.

I want to find Shane.

He is hiding out on the island after being run out of the San Juan-Majagual shuttle business and sued by Paul to get a truck back.

Arriving in Moyogalpa, we have a fun ride in this Chinese taxi.



We find Shane in his new home, and drink Flor de Caña rum.

Shane and I met in Bluefields nine months before.

I told him the strange news from Pearl Cays and Bluefields this trip, i.e. about the kidnapping and death of the Englishman we met.

Later, we walk back into Moyogalpa in a light rain.

Kimbo had asked Shane to look out for a house to rent, and Shane showed him a few possibilities.




Kimbo was not happy with the housing choices, and we catch the last ferry back to San Jorge.

Then he starts pleading for me to recruit him into the CIA.

He thinks his little spot here at the ferry landing is an ideal listening post; just what the agency needs to keep an eye on things in Nicaragua.

Of course, I deny such affiliation, which just convinces him further of my secret agenda. Finally. I agree, and tell him that I will forward my recruiting report.

He may or may not hear something.




I leave Kimbo at his lakeshore restaurant, driving to the Rivas "Pizza Hot" for dinner. Sleep early at a guest house.

In the morning I drive south to Penas Blancas at the Costa Rica border. Very nice views along the shore of Cocibolca.

On the return, I visit this new hotel created from a Sandinista military barracks. Nice pool.




I drive to Majagual via San Juan. It is very busy today.

A walk down to the surfing beach; big waves.

Everybody is getting ready for Semana Santa! The biggest party week of the year! I heard a month later that the Majagual main palapa burned down that week!

I decide to head to Managua, arriving after dark. Common sense says don't drive after dark....drunks on the road are the biggest danger. Not drunk drivers, but drunk farmers passed out on the road! Made it to Hotel Felipe no problem.



Next day, I return the rental car.

Then buy two wooden rocking chairs at the Central Market, all nicely packaged up.

To bed early, up at dawn for the flight to Houston...... and then McAllen, not Austin !

I was going straight to China, Nuevo Leon, Mexico to rescue the jeep!



Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 Mark E. Halliday