The Story Continues and Now the Work Begins

Corn Island, Nicaragua
March 1978

It was pretty hard to get a truck out to our place

There was so much work to do on our newly acquired property. No-one had ever lived on it so there wasn’t even a road to get to it. Just a sandy track that was mostly used by Mr. Campbell and his horses. It was sure to get most vehicles stuck. We were happy to see that the middle of the island, which was a true swamp, was filled with popta plants. From living with the Misquito Indians in Honduras, I had learned the technique of building a thatched house using only the popta palm tree.

Let the party begin

The plan was to build 3 small houses leaving room for 9 others along with a communal cook-house/rec center. Finding someone to help us was almost impossible. One of our friends said that no one wanted/needed the work, but if we could somehow turn it into a party we might have a better chance of getting help. Sounded reasonable, so we made a plan! We bought a bunch of food and beer, and asked any abled body male if they were interested. To our surprise they all showed up.

That’s me hauling out about 500 popta leaves out of the swamp. We needed 30,000 just to finish one house!
Boy them are some short-short pants.
Now the serious construction work began. We also needed about 200 popta trunks for one house.

In no time at all – really about three months of hard-hard work – we were beginning to see the makings of our first house. The only tools that I had to work with were a machete, a hammer, a drill and my most useful tool a 99 cent kitchen knife.

Looking good!

The islanders thought that we were indeed crazy. They called this type of house a “trash house.” No one, they said all too often, in their right mind would live in something that only their great ancestors would build. Most days, a group of them would come down to Shallow Water, sit on the beach, have a smoke and a drink, and watch us work. Even though on Corn Island this type of construction was only used for building temporary structures, I knew that the popta leaf, if aged and properly laid, was good for about 20 years.

We Are Finally “Home” – Corn Island, Nicaragua

December 1977

Going from Puerto Limpira to Leimus was challenging, but comparing it to all of the adventures that we had experienced over the last year in Honduras, it was “uneventful.” Arriving in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, it was yet another wait-and-see time. We waited almost a full month for a shrimp boat that was going out to the Corn Islands. We were getting very good at enjoying the boring times of our adventure. We were lucky enough to meet a Baptist preacher who said that he knew a guy that had a fishing cabin along one of the many rivers. We bided the time taking hikes through the jungle, reading, and lounging around.

Going from Puerto Limpira to Leimus

Every few days we would go down to the municipal dock and ask the boat captains if they were going out to Corn Island. Most of them were going shrimping or lobstering to the Cayos Miskitos Islands, but eventually we found one who would take us. The captain told us that this was a working trip so it might be a while before they reached Big Corn Island. The good news was that he didn’t need us to work.  They would feed us and we could use the captain’s bed to rest in. The bad news was that we got a terrible case of lice, which the crew helped us get rid of by wrapping our heads in a dirty cloth and dowsing it with kerosene. Yes, it did work but….ouch!

The shrimp boat really started to rock and roll as we got further out to sea. It was kind of fun in a way, but also a little scary. We were out in the middle of the ocean on some rickety old wooden shrimp boat with a whole bunch of guys that we knew nothing about, headed out to the open sea to go to some place we knew nothing about. Despite the uncertainty, the trip was once again, uneventful.  I do remember however, when the water changed from a muddy brown to the deep Caribbean blue. After a long time, we finally saw our destination off in the distance. The hot noonday sun bounced off the white sandy beaches. Corn Island gleamed like an iridescent pearl. Rainy and I looked at each other and we instantly knew that we had found something precious. Even Nevada started to run around in circles chasing his tail and barking animatedly.

Pulling into port was like something we had been through many times before in our years of traveling around Central America. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time. When we finally landed, there was absolutely nothing that was familiar. We had no comfortable point of reference. There was a road, but it was only a sandy track that almost circled the island as a well-worn rut. A few clapboard houses rose up from the sand. They sat perched on large 24-inch boulders. There were no happy smiling faces looking to see who the young gringos were. Every one of the dozen or so people who sat around the dock, had a disinterested kind of scowl on their black faces. Hardly any of them even looked our way as we passed to survey this new landscape. We found ourselves beginning to expect to be a short stay. Little did we know, at that point, that Corn Island would become our home for the better part of a year and a half!

If I ever wanted to create a populated island from scratch, I would start with a road just like this one.

We didn’t have too much luggage with us. There was just enough that we began looking for a spot to store it. The oriental fellow who ran the local variety store said we could leave our stuff at his store, so Rainy, Nevada and I walked off down the sandy road to see if we could find a place to stay. The road followed the ocean and the beach very closely. In some places the ocean actually washed over the road. I remember remarking to myself just what a lovely walk it was. If I ever wanted to create a populated island from scratch, I would start with a road just like this one. As we got some distance from town the water turned a deep, rich aqua blue. It was so clear that even from the road you could see the fish swimming against a beige-blue sandy background.

 Soon we came to a two-story building called Capt. Morgan’s Hotel. The beach widened at this point. It literally sat on a 15-foot-wide spit of land. The surf gently lapped at the first floor. I told Nevada to stay downstairs, and we walked up to see if we could find the owner. Captain Morgan himself was sipping coffee on the porch and looking out to sea. He didn’t get up. He simply looked at us with stern eyes. I said, “Good mornin’.” and he nodded. I poured our life story out to him in 30 seconds trying to be as personable as I could. He was not impressed. Finally, I asked outright if he had any rooms available.

He replied, “Yes.”

“Could you please tell me how much they are?”

“245 Cordovas.”

I quickly calculated. That’s $35.00 US I whispered to Rainy. I didn’t even need to discuss it with her. It was definitely more than we were willing to spend.

“That is just a little more than we can afford. Do you know of any place that we can camp?”

“Anywhere you like.”, he answered.

I politely thanked him and as we made our way back down the stairs, I caught Rainy’s eyes. We were both grinning from ear to ear.

“Looks like this just what we are looking for,” I said.

“Yep,” she answered, “I think we might just be here for a while!”

We looked over and saw that Nevada was wildly racing up and down the beach first chasing a tan colored ghost crab, and then biting at the gently lapping surf every time it made slapping sound as it hit the beach. We walked along the beach, arm in arm, exploring the new magical world that had just been opened up to us.

We were very young and happy, happy, happy to be finally home!