Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

“It’s another day for you and me in paradise” by Phil Collins is the theme for the day, for the week and perhaps longer as I just might have to buy/build a place here. If you make it to Nicaragua, you have to visit Little Corn Island, which is, without a doubt, the perfect balance of all things you want in an island getaway. “Idyllic” is the best word to describe it. The hardened sand trails through the jungle filled with palm trees, flowers I haven’t seen before and other foliage lead to the oceanic splendor of Caribbean greens and blues (and yes, you get all the greens and blues on Little Corn depending on what side of the island you are on). There are times when walking alone during the day that you feel like you are on a deserted island playing a character in the hit series Lost. I feel safer here than anywhere I’ve been, which allows for a little running away of the imagination while trying to find your casita tucked away in the garden of trees in the pitch black of night.

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TRAVELIRVANA’S TOP 7 MUST SEE AND DO IN THE BAHAMAS

God said the color “blue” is just not quite good enough for us here on earth and so on the 8th day he created The Bahamas. Here the color spectrum includes blues never seen by me before and I’ve been to the Maldives, Zanzibar and Belize so that is saying a lot! Here you get to swim in the divine – the water of the Gods themselves. It is so clear near the beaches you can see iridescent fish with the naked eye.  Admittedly, the Maldives is either equal to The Bahamas or a very close second.

WHERE TO STAY IN NASSAU?

There are many ways to enjoy the hundreds of islands in The Bahamas but you will pay for this privilege unless you stay away from Tourist Highway also known by me as America’s Playpen i.e. the resorts. My choice, and I would make it over and over again, is BahaSea. It’s peaceful and relaxing here. Read a book in the hammock or lay out on the balcony, go for a delightful swim just down what seems like your very own steps to another world and while there, witness Nelly, her daughter and Akeem ready to step up and help you in anyway they can.

Shop for groceries down the street and cook your own culinary feasts in the kitchens provided for your use at BahaSea or stop at Marcos Pizza and enjoy probably one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had (the secret is in the crust this time not the sauce although that was delightful too); however, be wary of the cost of certain groceries i.e. a bag of pistachios costs $24 USD in Nassau. Although groceries can be expensive here too, they are certainly cheaper than any food you would buy at the resorts by a VERY long shot.

Venture by public bus safely to downtown Nassau or anywhere on New Providence Island for a mere $1.25 each way because the taxis are not affordable here. This way you can perhaps afford to catch a quick day trip to Exuma Cay and swim with the pigs or, if your budget won’t allow it, Akeem at BahaSea will let you swim with his two piggies.  Also, bless yourself with a trip to Eleuthera and Harbour Island to swim with celebrities if you prefer them to pigs or try dolphins or sharks – it’s all here in The Bahamas  – a bucket list trip for anyone I assure you.

BELOW IS A QUICK LIST OF MY TOP 7 SEVEN THINGS FOR A FIRST TIMER IN THE BAHAMAS:

1. Swimming with the pigs in Exuma.

2. Glass bridge in Eleuthera.

Photo from www.bahamas.com

3.  Pink sand in Harbour Island.

Photo from the Travel Channel

4. Dolphins at Atlantis.

5. Day at the beach in Bahamar.

6. Conch salad, Sky Juice and junkanoo dancing at Arawak Cay a/k/a Fish Fry.

7. The Queens Staircase in Nassau.

If you have any questions or can add something about The Bahamas, I would love to hear from you so submit same via the form below. Then go unlock the Travelirvana in you.

SWIMMING WITH PIGS IN EXUMA CAY, THE BAHAMAS

THIS LITTLE PIGGY MAY HAVE GONE TO THE MARKET BUT YOU’LL BE THE ONE SQUEALING ALL THE WAY HOME AFTER SWIMMING WITH THE PIGS IN EXUMA CAY, THE BAHAMAS WITH EXUMA WATER SPORTS.

A short trip to Exuma Cay from Nassau will bring you snout to snout with enormous swimming pigs and no matter how you get there – by plane by powerboat by Bahama car ferry by catching a ride with Superman or by swimming if you have too – you get there! Exuma was the highlight of my trip to The Bahamas and while terribly expensive -like EVERYTHING in The Bahamas – it is worth every minute of your time and every penny in your pocket.

Not only will you swim with gargantuan pigs, you can feed and swim with sting rays and hang out on the beach and share grapes with ginormous iguanas.

But that is not all I assure you.  You will see new colors of the ocean you didn’t think could possibly exist and white sand beaches created for the Gods and that is coming from someone who has been to the Maldives, Thailand, Belize and Zanzibar. I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore after 83 countries and given the unimaginable scenery I’ve been privileged to lay eyes on but boy was I wrong. The white sands and turquoise, sea green, cerulean, clear and blue waters that wrap even Nassau itself cannot compare to those of Exuma. You will be stunned.  Here you can swim in water so clear that iridescent fish are visible to the naked eye so you can only imagine the rewards of snorkeling here.

To top it off you will get the luxury of making the short climb to the top of Bonefish Bay and see rock structures and arches carved out by God’s second greatest carpenter after Jesus himself, and that is the ocean. While you are straddling this hill you will see the deep navy blue of the Atlantic to one side and the Windex colored (both blue and green) of the Caribbean to the other.

If you want to see that distinction even clearer, take another day trip to the unique pink sands of The Bahamas to the Glass Bottom Bridge on Eleuthera and be stunned yet again. In Eleuthera, the two are separated by a strip of rock just 30 feet wide.

Photo from www.bahamas.com

And, if you are curious like me, you will also want to know how Eleuthera got its pink beaches. Well, according to several sources including, BudgetTravel, the light pink sand “gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach.” While they are not the bubble gum pink that some Instagramers would have you believe, they are pink nonetheless which is in and of itself rather awesome and an important thing to see when in the area.

Photo from www.bahamas.com

Before you leave Exuma, stop at Big D’s for a conch salad (pronounced “conk”) or conch burger to die for that blows Nassau’s conch out of the proverbial water and be dazed by swaying palm trees with a delicious Bahama Mama or it’s non-alcoholic sister – fruit punch – in hand.

So you will want to know how you get to this paradise of all paradises and see this’ be all end all’ of ‘be all end alls’ of beauty and experience this adventure that will leave you with a smile stretching from ear to ear right? Most definitely read this then as the information out there is presently a bit scarce. I highly recommend you get online and look up Exuma Water Sports and book a half day tour with them. Whether you get Peter Pan, Justin Timberlake or MJ as your chauffeur, captain or first mate, you can’t go wrong. In fact, Peter, Justin and MJ (all of whom were nicknamed above by me) are just to name a few of the wonderful tour guides at Exuma Water Sports. Also, you will need to get online at Bahamasair (or perhaps Sky Bahamas) and buy a round trip ticket to Exuma. I warn you in advance that these are the islands so be flexible as planes run on island time.  In fact, Bahamasair has some ‘not so good’ publicity i.e. an unintended slogan – “If you have time to spare, fly Bahamasair”.  While funny no doubt, some of you might not find it to be so hilarious while you are waiting at the airport but be patient as it is so worth it. For me, each flight was only about an hour behind and it did not affect my tour.  The cost for the flight round trip was $150 and the cost for the half day tour was $150 for a total of $300. Your beer, water, sodas, snacks, snorkeling gear, transport to and from the airport and one of the best days you’ll ever have in your life are included in that price.

What do you need to take with you? A towel, camera, sunscreen and a hat and simply wear your swimsuit and shorts and t-shirt, or sundress/cover up and flip flops in route. The wind from the speedboat ride will blow you dry for your return flight.

So $300 may seem like a lot but let me tell you your other options:

You can make my mistakes i.e. 1) not book in advance and find all tours are sold out; 2)  trust HiddenBeaches when they say you can go but not respond to your emails to confirm departure time and date leaving you without options because everyone is sold out; 3) take a 2 hour powerboat (each way) with Powerboat Adventures (for $219 for full day tour) or one of the other operators (for anywhere from $319 to $399) on what can sometimes be tumultuous waters leaving your trip either canceled due to weather or leaving you sore and nauseous and beat down exhausted; and/or, 4) really screw up and think “hey there’s bound to be a local Exuma tour operator able to take me last minute upon arrival at the airport or a ferry boat who goes from Barraterre to Major Cay a/k/a Pig Island so I’ll catch an early morning flight, catch a taxi ($60/each way to the dock – no way) or rent a car from Thompson’s Car Center (a lot better but still $75/day) and see what happens ”.  DON’T DO THIS! I was only saved by the pity Peter of Exuma Water Sports took on me as his tour passengers boarded one by one on his magical carpet to unimaginable beauty and playful adventures a/k/a his shuttle seeing me standing all alone in front of the tiny little airport in Georgetown as my own much sadder version of Charlotte’s Web danced in my head. (THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU PETER AND REBECCA FROM EXUMA WATER SPORTS!! I am jumping for joy in gratitude for you!)

Finally, be aware of the following cautionary tales for this adventure because I personally hit the trifecta today in the mistake department.

1) I was head butted in the stomach by Squealy the Pig and stepped on by Blackie. Perhaps my orange swimsuit wasn’t the best choice given their drug of choice is carrots and I looked like one today! So while funny, perhaps, you shouldn’t wear orange on this tour.  Maybe they can see color.  Also, remember to feed the pigs the whole carrot and if you are going to hold onto some in your hands to disperse at your leisure, be aware they know you have them and they are wild animals so be careful and hide them.

2) Lay your hand completely flat when you are feeding the sting rays their hot dog.  Let the stingray swim over your hand and sort of roll it off your hand into its mouth. My stingray got a little frisky with me and tried to suck on two of my fingers. It didn’t hurt but surprised and scared me; however, it was completely my fault.  No matter what, keep your hand absolutely flat.

3) An iguana actually drew blood! It bit my finger and bit it hard. Why? I think he thought it was a purple grape. If your toe nails or fingernails are pink or purple or a shade somewhere in between, watch out! And, again, remember, they know you have food.  Don’t kneel down on the sand with food in your hand which is within reaching distance. Otherwise, next time, you could be the one responsible for changing the blue colors of the Caribbean to red.

Now that you are fully armed with the necessary information, trust me and go on the half day tour (1/2 is good enough) with Exuma Water Sports and swim with them piggies and enjoy the rest of my recommendations in Exuma. And, if you adhere to the above instructions I provided, you can return home exhilarated like me but with all your fingers and your toes.

If you have any questions or can add something about Exuma or The Bahamas, I would love to hear from you so fill out the form below. Then go unlock the Travelirvana in you.

 

 

 

 

Caye Caulker, Belize: Day 2

“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me.”  according to Christopher Cross and if your destination is utter bliss, he would be correct. If you are going to Caye Caulker they say take a look at the famous Blue Hole from the air and/or try to scuba down the wall into the pitch blackness and if you can afford the $275 plane or helicopter ride or love scuba diving in different places then most definitely you should do it.

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Photograph from Wikepedia.com

I, on the other hand, found that sailing was the best way to really enjoy the créme de la créme of waters in Caye Caulker and particularly if you are aboard the most beautiful sailboat I saw docked here – the Gypsy Queen. Trust me when I say that if you want the picture perfect day then pay the $140USD to Carlos Tours for snorkeling and sailing aboard the Gypsy Queen as you won’t be disappointed. Carlos’s son is not only a funny captain who will make you laugh, he is knowledgeable about the underwater life in Caye Caulker and will take you to the coral reef, take you to see turtles, eels, an abundance of colorful and HUGE fish and to Shark Alley so you can swim with the nurse sharks AND pet them! In fact, here is where Squirt’s dad, Duuuude, in Finding Nemo lives this time of year before heading back to Australia 😉

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Now leave it to an American to not listen to instructions (ones I THOUGHT would be unnecessary but I thought wrong) to not stick your hand out in front of the nurse shark during feeding. We had one aboard our sailboat who luckily left with her hand intact although barely as she boarded the boat bleeding profusely all over me. Yes! She stuck her hand out there and one of the sharks thought it was lunch! ALWAYS pet the sharks from behind their head whether they are right side up or want their tummy tickled not at their nose where…that’s right…their teeth reside….common sense right!!!

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Despite the fact that the theme went from Sailing by Christopher Cross to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, it is tough to beat a day sailing the Belizian waters so make sure you visit Carlos and get a spot on the Gypsy Queen when you get to Caye Caulker.

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And while a long hot day of swimming/snorkeling in the sun can exhaust you, get dolled up and go hang out with those incredible people you met and make even more memories!

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That’s all for now from the incredible “Key” Caulker.

 

Roatan, Honduras: Day 4

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Last night over dollar tacos and, if you can stomach it, $2 orange Fanta at Sundowner, my faith was restored in people! My first night in El Salvador my Go Pro was stolen for the second time by, I believe, the cab driver, Pedro, who I wrongly thought was a good man. This was my second Go Pro to be stolen in a matter of months and this time Pedro got my irreplaceable Cuba footage so I was heart broken. However, last night, I stupidly left my Nikon camera on the bar at Sundowner and not only found it there but it was being watched over by two incredible new Honduran friends – Chato aka Roberto and Neto  aka Carlos Ernesto. I’m not sure what was better getting my camera back or meeting these incredible locals.

(No worries Papa – it is still the camera but a close second were my new friends!)

We mixed laughter and stories in with a fire dance and a true blue Honduran thunderstorm that turned the streets of West End into a shallow river. But, most importantly, I was invited to join them today bright and early to go on the boat to monitor and learn a bit about scuba (baby steps) and to snorkel the second largest barrier reef in the world and I’m here to tell you there is a very good reason why Roatan is considered one of the best scuba spots on earth. Where we were, there was a drift current that made me feel like I was actually one with the ocean and the shallow reef allowed me to see every color and type of fish you can imagine and UP CLOSE! Between the current and the shallow reef, I was actually worried I might damage the reef with my fins or the coral might injure me so I was very cautious while floating in none other than Heaven. There was also this incredible few minutes when God’s morning sun rays permeated the water and I felt like I was swimming in the center of a kaleidoscope. The divers even saw a 7 foot eel. And guess what? Dolphins are everywhere and particularly Anthony’s Point so make sure to head out there. Seagrape will take you and seem to have some of the most knowledgeable captains and divers I met (most especially Roberto who knows the name of every under water creature there is so be sure and ask for him when you get there). Moreover, Seagrape seems to have some serious luck finding the marine life! Unfortunately, as I said my Go Pro was stolen so Roberto loaned me his and I’m waiting on the footage but will upload upon receipt so you can see with your own eyes what I’m talking about.

IMG_5335Afterwards on the boat trip back to the dock, I asked Scott, one of the other snorkelers who went with me and Neto, why he wasn’t diving. I’m so glad I did. He said he used to but he had a leak in his BCD vest at 30 feet deep once and was unable to obtain positive buoyancy and had to drop his weights and do an exhausting swim ascent. He said it scared him and since then he found that he can see just as much snorkeling and can do it in a much more relaxed setting and not worry so much about his dive computer, the amount of air he has left in his tank to get back to the boat, not getting lost in the deep blue and all the other potential dangers below. I told him my story and thanked him for sharing his as it made me feel better that a strong, capable man was scared once too and yet found peace and beauty in his acceptance of his desire to snorkel rather than scuba. When we parted, he also thanked me for sharing my story with him as he said it made him feel better that a brave girl like me had fears too.

The day didn’t end there. I went to lunch with Neto and hiked into the jungle to Chato’s house to try Neto’s coffee which is grown on the land his family has owned for generations in the southern part of Honduras in Marcala close to Esperanza where Sinda is living. It was the first coffee I have ever drunk without milk, cream or sugar. The flavor and aroma far exceeded anything I tasted in Columbia and if you are tea drinker like my friend, Rooms aka Amira, you will love his coffee too.  Then he played his electric guitar for me and since we had no electricity due to last night’s storms, Neto placed the headstock and the neck of the guitar on the wooden balcony and had me place my ear on the wooden beam to listen. I didn’t even know you could do that! The acoustics through the wood were sensational. He also showed me some artwork painted by our very own Chato and we sat and discussed the spirits that haunt the house I’m staying in. Oh yes Honduras is full of spirits. I experienced them more here than in any other country so far except perhaps India and Indonesia. I heard them in the walls knocking around to the beat of what sounded like a muffled Mayan chant of some sort and the second night I was there, they were scurrying about in the living room. Their favorite thing seemed to be moving my things around just to let me know they were there. When this happens (don’t laugh) but I was told to politely introduce myself and tell them to leave me alone and invite them to seek rest. I did this and they actually went away. Despite the bit of alarm they caused, I was a bit disappointed that they were gone in all actuality as it was quite something to be exposed to this and they were certainly much more interesting than your typical nuisance.

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On another note, some weeks ago, Chato found an old Mayan corn God shaped out of a rock in the jungle which Neto showed me and then gently admonished me for photographing. When I complained I wasn’t feeling well later, he said it was because I had taken the photo and shouldn’t have. Since I did, I’m sharing it with you. Interestingly, the pupil of the eyes, particularly the right eye, is only seen through the photograph. You cannot see it with the naked eye so feel free to zoom in on that photo and take a peek into the eery eyes of history.

That’s all for now from a bit of the underwater world and perhaps a bit of the underworld too all the way from Roatan Honduras.

 

Little Corn, Nicaragua: Day 7

“It’s another day for you and me in paradise” by Phil Collins is the theme for the day, for the week and perhaps longer as I just might have to buy/build a place here. Little Corn is without a doubt the perfect balance of all things you want in an island getaway. Idyllic is the best word to describe it. The hardened sand trails through the jungle filled with palm trees, flowers I haven’t seen before and other foliage lead to the oceanic splendor of Caribbean green and blues. There are times when walking alone during the day that you feel like you are on a deserted island playing a character in the hit series Lost. At night, it is more like a Friday the 13th film walking in the dark jungle guided only by the plentiful stars and perhaps the flashlight or smart phone I would encourage you to carry. No worries though as you are completely safe here. In fact, I feel safer here than anywhere I’ve been which allows for a little running away of the imagination while trying to find your casita tucked away in the garden of trees in the pitch black of night.

Marlin, a local here, took us out on our excursion today at 11:00 (I love Nica time as it is called…you can take your time and enjoy your morning, go for a run or do paddle board yoga or meditation without having to rush to the next activity…no rushing is the definition of Nica time). We loaded the boat full of beer (and my Red Bull), sunscreen as well as snorkeling and fishing gear and not much else and off we went to explore the calm coastal waters (at least they were calm today). We got to see stingrays, incredible coral reefs filled with every color of fish from red, purple, black and yellow and my favorite the Parrot fish which is a translucent cerrelian color with rainbow fins. (We found out later how tasty this fish is as birthday girl Ricki from the Netherlands caught one for us). We also snorkeled around a shipwreck and while sharks have been sited we did not see one today. We did however swim with thousands of tiny clear jelly fish but don’t get anxious as rarely did they sting us and when it did it wasn’t all that painful nor did it last more than 2-5 minutes. In other words, no one had to pee on me today so that was a plus!

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The fishing we did was from a spool of thick fishing line and you merely hook some fresh fish to it and drop the 6″ wrought iron bar (for lack of a better word) into the ocean and let the spool unwind until it hits bottom. Within 3 minutes our group caught our first fish (thanks Sedgwick from the Netherlands) and we as a group caught several more within 15 minutes. We also trolleyed with the heavy duty deep sea fishing rod and while we caught what we thought was a big barracuda, we lost it when trying to reel it in. All the while, our ears were filled with island music compliments of Marlin. It was surreal cruising around the island listening to reggae – sometimes each of us in our own world basking in the glorious sun and sometimes engaging in ridiculous banter interrupted only by our laughter like when we (Americans, Nicaraguans, Swedes, Swiss and Dutch) spent a good twenty minutes trying to remember Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s name. How did we get on that topic you ask? Well August is the spitting image of the handsome Jude Law in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripely.

Lunch time was rather a cool experience. We built a fire on the beach, fried our fish out there, knocked coconuts down from the trees for our beverage, had cucumber and tomato salad and my new favorite fruit bread which is best described as the better tasting version of french fries. Everything we consumed was right from the island with the exception of the local beer Tona and I have no idea where that is brewed. We even ate off of leaves and used our fingers. It was an authentic island barbecue. And after some ocean swimming, handstand contests and sunbathing on the beach we headed back out on the boat for some more snorkeling and a sunset booze cruise.  When the sun hit the horizon it looked like an enormous ball of lava spilling from the sky into the ocean. Utterly blissful day and it wasn’t over yet.corn-island-7

After an outdoor shower in the jungle (my favorite kind of shower) we took the short five to eight minute walk into “town” and splurged at Desideri enjoying carpaccio among other splendid island dishes. And yes lobster fresh from the sea is very popular and affordable here. Following that we took in a live percussionist show at Tranquillo with locals and foreigners alike. We even agreed to sign up for tomorrow night’s karaoke show. Por que no!

After reading some on the terrace of our casita listening to the tide grace the shore, we resigned for the evening under our mosquito net covered beds and let the jungle birds and other jungle creatures serenade us to sleep awakened briefly in the middle of the night by a storm  which only added to the mysterious enchantment of our perfect island day.

That’s all for now and for tomorrow as tomorrow you will be blessed with a story or two from our guest blogger – Amira Hilmy.  Lots of love from Nica’s paradise.