It was another warm sunny day, and we were down for breakfast at the Lobster Inn on Little Corn Island. Everyone was friendly and chatting, including the staff and locals.
One of the staff, the owner’s niece, tells us that there was a big fire on Big Corn Island last night. Two people died and it looked like the people may have been tied-up.
The next thing we know local police and several army men carrying machine guns are standing at the doorway of the restaurant. Two of the men are wearing black balaclavas. Everyone in the restaurant looks shocked as this intimidating group stand in the doorway…
Two officers want to see the restaurant’s records and licence.
Two other officers go upstairs.
Since we are the only ones staying at the hotel at the moment, we wonder if they will go through our room and belongings.
Will they take our money, and our passports?! Then what will we do?!
We have visions of living out the rest of our lives on Little Corn Island, scrapping for food and living in a makeshift hut at the edge of the jungle on a deserted beach… just like the “squatters” who claimed little plots of land, and have lived here for years. Apparently, no one will remove them because they would just move to another spot on the island, and they have nowhere else to go.
Then a man comes over and sits down and talks to us. He is the unofficial leader of the island. He tells us that the officers are looking for “illegals” from Peru, or Colombian drug smugglers, who pass through the Corn Islands to get to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and the US, and that the officers wear masks so that no one recognizes them.
He went on to tell us a lot about the drug trafficking, smuggling and politics. He said it was the Sandinista who took the people’s land from them, and that he lost two sons in the war. One was trying to escape with others in a panga boat, but there were too many people in the boat and it capsized in rough seas.
The other son was only 15 years old and they said he was old enough to shoot a gun. Later, someone sent them a message that he had been wounded in the leg, so they sent help to get him out of the bush, but the army didn’t want to let him go. When they did finally release him, he also drowned at sea.
He has four other children, he explained. One is working in the US, and two others are from another woman, but when he got married, his wife said, “No more of that!”
This man was extremely hospitable, and had come over because he said that he was concerned that we would be frightened by the police and army with machine guns.
On the island, he says, there were no dangerous animals or insects, just monkeys, iguanas to about 3 feet long, a non-poisonous snake, mosquitoes, and little ants that have a big bite! He added that there is a hospital on the island, but no Doctor.
He described Big Corn Island as not a good place, but that Little Corn was very safe, especially since they have had police for the last two years. Before that people used to steal purses, cameras, money from tourists, but now it is very strict and offenders would go to jail for 5 years for theft or other crimes, so it is very safe.
We had noticed the very young officers walking around the outer path on Little Corn Island, carrying machine guns.
Another staff member told us the police were looking for missing jewels and money; another said drugs. We wondered if they were looking for the men who started the fire on Big Corn Island.
The police left, and we slipped up to our room to see if anything was missing. It didn’t look like anyone was even in the room. That was a relief.
The excitement was over, everybody was chatting casually, and it was back to enjoying the peaceful natural beauty of the island.
Later, as we were investigating some properties for sale on Little Corn Island, we ran into a local man, who now lives in Miami, and who pretty much owned a large part of the island, at least 100 acres of it, on the pure and immaculate northwest side of the island – “our” beaches, we thought. He explained that he would lease the land for 50 or 100 years stints, but he would never sell it. He was visiting and had brought some supplies for the school.
As we were talking, a wild-looking man approached down the path. He introduced Bad to the Bone, local Entrepreneur. Bad To The Bone energetically explained that he was cutting a swath through the jungle to an abandoned Spanish cannon and that when he was done, he would charge admission for tourists to come and see it.
Another man came down the path. This was Tall Boy, one of the leaders on the island, who was currently dealing with the burning garbage issue. He had built a pagoda out of glass coke and beer bottles and cemented them together, and invited us to come and see it. T said Tall Boy’s daughter was also very tall, not to mention extremely attractive.
We were interested in the property right next to Cornelia’s house and the Lobster Inn, but she advised that the property was in dispute. The father had given the house to his two daughters, however one wanted to sell and the other did not. There was also no official title to the property yet, which would require a lawyer to set up properly. There were three small cabanas are on the property, one with electricity, but some were likely occupied by “squatters”. The Nicas are so gracious they do not evict squatters from their land, many of whom are there after fleeing during the war, 20 odd years ago.
It was about one acre on prime beachfront, and a great location for a business. Tempted as we were for $5000, we decided against a purchase.
For a tiny island, it seemed that there was more than just post-card perfect beaches. Like this goat hiding in the jungle bushes, there was a lot more to know and understand, and mysteries that had yet to be unraveled.