Offpeakers

Maximize living, minimize annoyances

Category: House/Pet sitting

BCI beach at Long Bay

Introduction to Corn Island, Nicaragua

Opportunity Knocked

When we were kids, Terry and I both dreamed of living on a tropical island. The kind of place you see on TV with clean beaches, warm blue water, tropical fish and plenty of coconuts (can we include Ginger and Maryann?).  While you are at it, get rid of the tourist infrastructure, the people trying to sell you souvenirs and beaches choked with chaise lounges and incontinent kids. That dream came true when we found an opportunity to house sit on Corn Island.

A photo of a beach with a quote from H C Anderson

The background picture is the beach in front of the house we house sat.

Where is Corn Island?

Map of Corn Island

Corn Island is circled in Orange. Map c/o wikipedia

Corn Island is located 43 miles off of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  The island is about 5 square miles (10 square kilometers) with a high point of 371 feet (Mount Pleasant Hill).

Picture of Long Bay in Big Corn Island

View of Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua from Pleasant Hill.

This tropical isle is home to around 5,000 people, most of which are of a English speaking Creole background that could have you think you are in Jamaica with their distinctive accents and lively music (unless their second favorite music playing – classic old country.  What a surprise to see young people enjoying Conway Twitty’s greatest hits!)  The main driver to the economy is commercial lobster fishing.  This replaced the coconut farms that were destroyed 25 years ago in a major hurricane.

Lobsters and a queen triggerfish

Immature spiny lobster (or Langusta) and sadly a Queen Triggerfish caught by one of the locals.  Spiny lobster have no claws but a tasty tail.  There are size limitations for legal catch but these are seldom respected in our experience.

Island Life

Life is a bit isolated on Corn Island.  There is a twice a week ferry arriving from a remote Nicaraguan coastal community, Bluefields.  Most tourists arrive on a La Costeña flight.  People excitedly emerge from the little planes.

Guy and the planes

He thought we were riding the plane on his left…wrong! It was the tiny 8 seater on his right! Yikes!!!

This may be due to the intoxicating view of the Caribbean you enjoy in your approach or you know you pushed your luck in a rough sounding little single engine craft that is as easy to board and exit as a tight pair of jeans.  The airfield bisects the small island. Conveniently, in between the three daily flights you are allowed to short cut across the airfield to reach destinations on the other side of the island, saving over a mile in the process.

Crossing airfield

We crossed the airport runway to get to the other side of the island.

Island Transportation

Getting around the island is convenient.  There is a paved loop approximately 6 miles long that generally follows the beach.  Taxis, in the form of small economy cars, circle regularly.  Customers have a flat rate of 20 cordobas (66 cents US) for your destination.  The car will be shared with any other passengers the driver encounters.  An even more economical approach is to take the bus.  The bus circles in a clockwise direction, taking people for the rock bottom fare of 10 cordobas (33 cents).

Bus and taxis

Several modes of island transportation is pictured, 2 taxis, a motorcycle, a bicycle and the torquoise bus aptly labeled ‘My Bus” in the front.

The bus is a fun way to meet people as well as get the insider information on needed supplies or destination.  Dexter the bus driver knows the island like few others and will point out (and drop you off in front of) a barber, good hardware store, or yell out to fishermen unloading their canoe when you want VERY fresh fish.  Walking or riding a bike are also efficient ways to get around if you get started early or later in the day as the sun is intense.  There is always something to see with great views over the water, diverse fruit trees, and people that became friends.

Low hanging fruits

John showing off some of the island’s “low hanging fruits”! Not a metaphor but the real thing 🙂

Our Temporary Home

Home during our over 9-week stay is on the appropriately titled “Long Bay”. Beautiful sand and little development makes this half mile long beach facing the rising sun a lovely location to start the day.

Housesit front porch

Enjoying the front porch while listening to the waves.

This beach features bigger waves super for boogie boarding or a cool dip on an always hot day, but protected beaches with exceptional snorkeling and swimming are only a short distance away.  We are in a  comfortable home with not one but two cute lively beach dogs that enjoy treats even more than they want attention.

Girl and dog

Terry with one of our temporary pets Sweeney during one of our afternoon beach walks.

Sweeney and Brownie are great company with one small exception.  They feel the beach in front of the house is theirs, and any man, child, dog, horse or cow that attempts to walk past is chased and intimidated.

Chasing Cows

Here are Sweeney and Brownie in action against the cows!

Island life is relaxed and is unique from other places we have visited. Groceries are different. While there are many tiny stores here and a few markets/commisarios that would be similar to what we know, the choices are limited and it is common to run out of staple items in between boat arrivals.

Island stores

One of the local pulperia or variety store besides a clothing store.

Produce is mainly limited to old potatoes, cabbage that has had better days, onions, tomatoes, and squash.  Bananas surprisingly are one of the items not always available.  Sliced bread is at the store, but the island is blessed with home based bakeries that produce excellent coconut bread (pan de coco).  But without an official distribution cycle, you have to know where to knock to see if today is a baking day and what is still in stock.

Islanders are  passionate about baseball, and as small as the island is, it features one of the finest stadiums in Central America.  Home games are lively and are the center of island activity.  A great place to enjoy the loud fans, tasty treats, and cold Toña beer.  Terry watched over three innings before she gave up on baseball and headed home.  That is longer than she gave the New York Yankees.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

Our real passion is the water and its coral reefs.  Corn Island is a dream come true if your dreams involves warm water, private beaches with white sands, viewing abandoned ship wreck, tons of colorful fish, warm clear water and easily obtainable reefs. We will talk about that in our next post.

Have you been to to the Corn Islands?  Do you agree with our description? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Offpeakers American Road-trip Travel Tips

Travel and adventure do not need to involve international border crossings or high expenditures. The Offpeakers just completed a 2-month combined house-sitting/road-trip where we visited 11 states, 20 US cities. We drove through 5 other states but were not included in the count since we didn’t make a significant stop. Believe it or not our budget averaged under $70 per day! That’s for 2 people. In the following slide-show we will share how we did it.

Orlando Outside The Theme Parks

A mouse gets top billing here in Orlando, but we propose a more appropriate creature, the alligator! The beautiful ponds that dot our temporary community here are home to a healthy population of alligators.

Here's looking at you kid!

Here’s looking at you kid!

This is the first place we have seen these reptiles. The American Alligator inhabits freshwater wetlands from Texas to North Carolina. Large males can reach 11-15 feet in length and weigh over 950 pounds. As fearsome as they may seem to us northerners, on average only 6 people a year have unpleasant encounters.

Alligator near

Our first alligator sighting! So exciting!

So far we have only seen little ones of 3-4 feet, but that is enough to let our adrenaline and imagination soar! Our first gator must be accustomed to being fed by humans. The creature was swimming near the far side of the pond when he saw us at the water’s edge.

The gator came so close for a great photo-op.

The gator came so close for a great photo-op.

The alligator swam right up to us, giving us a wonderful view in the clear water. The next day I nearly stepped on his cousin when I moved off a bike path to take a picture of a heron. After the photo I glanced down to see a gator sunning himself in the tall grass, three feet away. I am not sure if Terry’s first reaction would be to help me or try and get a great photo for the blog!

We spotted an Osprey with his catch!

We spotted an Osprey with his catch!

The ponds and wildlife conservation area also give us the opportunity to see beautiful birds. So far we have identified Sandhill Crane, Anhinga, Osprey, Hawk, Egret, Great Blue, White & Tri-color Heron, Vulture, Ibis, Woodstork  as well as dozens of small Brown Anole lizards, and even a family of Raccoon.

DSC01970

In front of the Audubon Center.

The birds in the neighborhood are so interesting that we decided to take the advice of friends and visit the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. This facility focuses on the rescue, medical treatment, rehabilitation and release of Florida’s raptors.

The wingspan of the raptors next to T.

The wingspan of the raptors next to T.

The center takes in around 700 birds a year. Many are saved and returned to the wild. Unfortunately not all birds that survive the wounds can be released.

Hawk with a broken wing

Hawk with a broken wing

These captive raptors make for interesting viewing both here at the center and are also made available to accredited zoos. The center does an outstanding job of explaining the process. The diagnosis, care, and rehabilitation in increasingly large flight pens takes time and skill. Some species ravenously eat in captivity, others require to be force fed.

The majestic American Bald Eagle

The majestic American Bald Eagle

We were surprised by the number of bald eagles in the facility, seeing at least 6. Florida is second only to Alaska in its eagle population. There were owls of many varieties. A favorite is an almost mature Great Horned Owl, Sheldon.

He's got eyes on the back of his head...well he can rotate his head all the way to the back!

He’s got eyes on the back of his head…well he can rotate his head all the way to the back!

This guy misses no details. Sheldon tracks every movement and activity, being cute as can be yet has a “don’t mess with me” aspect to his personality. Other birds included the Mexican Eagle (Caracara), Osprey, Marlin, Vultures, and hawks. These birds can live long lives in captivity, with one eagle being over thirty years of age. While touring, we see a red tail hawk brought that had flown into a large window.

Kola and Kopper with their foster mama.

Kola and Kopper with their foster mama visiting the vet.

Our favorite local animals remain Kola and Kopper. Kopper continues to heal and is putting more weight on her injured leg. Nothing diminishes her sweet spirit. Or her glee at having a good (or not so good) reason to bark. The UPS man must think we have a pack of pit bulls in the house.

Being Offpeakers, we like to take advantage of the nice facilities offered to the community. The club house has a heated pool, which makes a difference even in this warm climate.

The Offpeakers enjoying the empty heated pool.

The Offpeakers enjoying the empty heated pool.

The club house also has a game room set up for free play! We have taken customized hot rods up through a variety of courses in some very competitive racing on the “Fast and Furious” machines, worked our way through the Terminator game blasting away at the evil machines, and tried to be the ultimate pinball wizard.

Offpeakers take advantage of free place arcade. No kids were left crying, we were there Monday morning.

Offpeakers take advantage of free play arcade game. No kids were left crying, we were there after our Monday morning walk.

Most importantly, we would like to announce that John is the Central Florida Air Hockey champion, having taken on and won all challengers. Now the fact that most of these challengers are 8 years old in no way should diminish the title.

The Champ

The Air Hockey Champ!

There is no age discrimination in air hockey baby! (editor note – titles are diminished if challengers can barely see over their side of the table!) There is more at the club house. They offer free coffee service AND popcorn of indeterminate age. All this and a clean bathroom that has the sports page? Who the heck needs Disney World?!

House Sitting Orlando

Florida’s panhandle has been a welcoming, interesting stay. Our host friends have returned home from their vacation. What a fast two weeks. It is on to our next stop, a house and pet sit in Orlando.Orlando 06

The excitement we feel to go to the land of Mickey Mouse is tempered by the fact we are leaving Panama City. The Offpeakers are bringing along many happy memories and friendships.

The Subaru is loaded up and we head out after a fun breakfast featuring what may be the largest glass of orange juice yet encountered (think Big Gulp). Florida is a surprisingly big state.

Rainy Orlando

It was a rainy drive to Orlando

The 365 mile drive south east to central Florida is in intermittent heavy rain and patches of heavy traffic. The Subaru reveals its first mechanical issue in the 4,000 miles we have covered to date on our OAR (Offpeakers American Road-trip).  The drain for the A/C evaporator is apparently blocked, causing water to drip on the passenger side floor if we want cool air.  As it is heating up daily into the 90s (F) here in the Sunshine State, we do want cool air. Another issue with this blocked drain is heavy water flow during the rain squalls. Terry keeps busy emptying a large cup with captured water. The six hour journey is broken by a picnic lunch at a well appointed rest area. Ours may be the only lunch of leftover Indian food, but nobody has it better. We visit with a bus load of Chicago teens stopping on their way to Disney World. Maybe we don’t have their fashion sense or share their music choices, but we do share their enthusiasm to get to Orlando.

Orlando 01

Our pets for 3 weeks, Kopper & Kola

Orlando 02

Kopper always happy and sweet.

Our three week stay was arranged through TrustedHousesitters.com (our previous post, Adventures House sitting, summarizes the process). Our host’s large beautiful home is a short distance from the Magic Kingdom.  The neatest feature of this great location are the two dogs, Kopper and Kola. These lucky dogs were rescued at an early age from the animal shelter and are loud lovers of life. Kopper is in a cast due to a front leg injury, but that does not diminish her loving nature. Kola needed a little more time, but soon was offering up her belly for rubs. Our home here is in a large development with bike trails, wildlife tracts, and recreation opportunities.

orlando 05

The house has an inviting pool housed in a screened patio, so we should not be bothered with bugs. The home backs up to a wildlife refuge. Our hosts are a nice young couple that impress us with a sticker on their car. DSC01905We have seen “13.1” and “26.2” stickers that represent the miles run in the amazingly difficult half and full marathons. Their “39.3” stickers represents completing a marathon and a half on the same day. Our new friends take that even further and in one weekend run the Goofy Challenge here on the Disney property. In this two day (fun?) event, these super athletes run (and complete) separate 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon races! They are cool and modest about their accomplishment. Our hosts are traveling to Southeast Asia on an exciting family journey. While we are here, we want to experience everyday life, try to develop the local friendships we so enjoyed in Panama City, see manatees, see alligators, and further develop our website/blog. We will eventually publish our travel journal that we wrote while in Central & South America as well as our current adventures.

Our arrangements here have the two of us back sharing a bed. I am happy to share my life with Terry and have her close. I am however prepared to defend my little portion of sleeping space from her mattress greedy ways. I can empathize with the local militia when they heard Attila the Hun was coming to town.

Dirty Dozen

JT Wedding

The Offpeakers 12 years ago

Dawn breaks and I happily stretch in bed. I know Lizzie, the yellow lab will soon nudge us to say “it is six o’clock and you should let me out.” Everyday is interesting when you live with Terry, but today is noteworthy. It’s our anniversary! This is twelve years, hopefully only teasingly referred to as the Dirty Dozen, since we boarded a helicopter in Niagara Falls as single people and departed as married folk.

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Adventures House sitting

We love our house sitting role in Panama City, Florida for many reasons.  Our hosts are amazing warm, interesting people. FloridaThey spent their career in the military supporting our nation at assignments around the world.  Both have fascinating stories of how they made home in so many diverse locations. 

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