Pearl Lagoon January 8-10, 2013

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It’s been 21 hours and we have finally arrived in the Pearl Lagoon.  As we hit the Carribean Coast we instantly noticed a change.  It is mostly black Nicaraguans now sporting a lot of rasta colors and dredlocks and very thick carribean accents.  There are 3 types of people in the Pearl Lagoon, Creole who speak a mixture of spanish and english combined. Garifuni who I haven’t learned about yet. And Miskitu who speak a completely different language altogether.

We are confused when we get here as there are people in the streets dressed up like it’s halloween but all with similar creepy costumes.  We find the Queen Lobster where we planned to stay as we felt we deserve to spoil ourselves.  It’s $30 per night but we have a bungalow on a dock, right on the water.  They only have 2 available as they are primarily a restaurant and bar.

They tell us they won’t have a bungalow ready for us until 1pm as there were people leaving that day.  I guess we got lucky.  We still have 2 hours to kill and Queen Lobster doesn’t  have wifi so we walk over to Taylors Cyber.  We grab a couple computers for half an hour each costing us 20 cords before going for lunch.  We go back to the Queen Lobster for lunch, grab a table and ask for menus.  They don’t have cold Tona yet so I just order a coke.  They have a special up on the board that says prawn tacos 60c and chicken tacos 50c so we decide to order that.  The owner looks at us confused and says he doesn’t think we have those anymore, the board is old and he should erase that.  Normally someone would erase it right away when they’re standing beside it… he didn’t.  It is very laid back here.

The menu is in Spanish.  Some people say “Hola”, Some say “Hi” to us and we have no idea what language to speak.  I just really want to shower and change my clothes. I can’t possibly still smell good.  Finally we have our room, we shower, change and hangout on the hammocks right on the water for an hour before taking a nap.  I’d been up for about 33 hours at this point.

We wake up at 4pm and go for a walk around town to look at restaurants.  It’s all touristy places that we don’t really want. We try to find that sweet coconut bread at a bakery and bought what we thought was some. It was good but it wasn’t the same deliciousness that we had in Jiquilillo. We run into a guy who is Miskitu but speaks english very well.  He says he runs tours and will show us his town, go fishing, eat carribean food and anything else we want.  An English guy walks by and says to us the tour is amazing and that he just got back. We ask how much and the guy says he doesn’t ask for money and that it’s up to us.  We tell him we will see him tomorrow at 9am. We go back to the room to relax as all the fishermen are coming in yelling “Fresh Shrimp!” It is very fresh.  A guy was buying 10lbs on our dock and some of the shrimp were still jumping.  My mouth starts to water.

We venture out at 6pm to find food.  We’re given a recommendation from someone and directions.  We make our first turn and a guy asks us our names and introduces himself as Randy.  He has a cane but says he’ll show us a great restaurant so we follow him.  He asks us if we want somewhere to sit and eat or to drink and dance.  We want to sit for sure.  He takes us down a dark street and things are starting to get sketchy.  I continue to walk with him and am greatful I’m not carrying a lot of money because we’re probably going to get robbed.  Randy tells us that he has the cane because 3 years ago he was working on a farm in Managua where some guys held him up at gun point.  When they searched him and found nothing the guy hit him and Randy instinctively swung back. The other guy pulled the trigger.  He still has one or two more surgeries but it sounds like he will be able to walk without the cane when it’s all done.

We don’t get robbed. We end up at a dark restaurant that has a couple tables and loud country music.  We are greeted by a big black guy named Warner who owns the place.  Casa de Warner.  He says he hopes we don’t mind country as it is country music night tonight.  We grab some beers and order dinner.  Well we didn’t really order dinner as Warner only had chicken, plantines and salad.  So we had that.  It was delicious though.

We asked for our bill and are pretty sure we were overcharged since there wasn’t an actual bill and they just come over to the table and told us how much it was.  Randy walked us back over to our street, we gave him 50c for helping us and went back to Queen Lobster where we stayed awake for as long as we could but we we’re both out by 9:30pm.

In the middle of the night we are woken up by the sound of heavy rain and wind.  Sounds like there’s quite the storm outside.

In the morning we wake up before our alarm but there is no running water or electricity until 8am.  We realize we don’t have time to grab breakfast so hopefully our guide will feed us.  He isn’t outside our hotel when we get there so we go for a walk down the street. We get to the Wharf and he’s there buying fresh shrimp.  We walk with him for 20 minutes to his Mom’s house in a little town just north of where we were staying called Awas.  He speaks Miskitu but was taught English in school.  Most of what was said made sense and we were able to decypher the rest.  His plan for the day was to show us where he lives, eat some “typical food” and enjoy the beach where we can “relax ourselves”.  He pointed out land that belonged to him where he is going to build houses for his family and he told us a little bit about the history of the Miskitu people.  They are the original people and language of Carribean Nicaragua and during the battle between England and Christopher Columbus, they allied with England.  We hung out on his porch for most of the morning where he started out by showing us fresh shredded coconut. Then he went out to the tree, cut down 2 more coconuts, cut a hole in them and told us to enjoy the milk.  It was so fresh and delicious. If you like coconut milk out of a can (which I don’t) then you will love this.  Once we drank all the milk, he cut the coconuts in half, gave Kristi a spoon and me a piece of the coconut shaped like a dixie cup spoon and said it was the traditional spoon they use to eat the cocounut.  5 feet away from his porch were the 2 cows he owns that were given to him by the government.  He gave us fresh ripe plantines and we hand fed the cows the peels. One cow took what was left of my coconut too.  We met his Mom, a couple neices, a couple nephews, and his sons.  He has a very large family.

The older niece asked us if we wanted to play basketball.  Having nothing else to do, we agreed and walked down the street to the court.  My first shot was a beautiful air ball that bounced over the fence into the gross swampy ditch. I got the ball out and went back to shooting more conservitively.  Another young boy joined us and wanted to play 2 on 2.  I joined teams with the other boy and Kristi with the niece.  We played half court but the game had no structure.  The boy got tired and left and we went back to shooting for the next 30 minutes or so.  A couple of other kids joined in over the time.  At one point the girl went up to Kristi and told her she needed to tan more.  I thought this was hilarious since I’m the pale one.  I haven’t been able to tan since we got here and it kind of sucks.

We walked back to his Mom’s house and lunch was ready.  The older niece brought us water… straight from the well… mmm! Tastes like pond water.  Oh well, it’s hot and I’m parched.  Lunch is fresh, homemade rondon which is a soup/stew dish made from coconut milk.  In it is shredded coconut, plantine, some dough-like thing, fresh fish and shrimp.  Then they serve it with a side of rice.  It is a heavy dish and comes out as a greyish color that does not look appetizing but tastes great.  I ate all of mine even though I was full halfway through.  Kristi ate as much as she could as well.  We relaxed for about half an hour before going for a walk to the beach.  We saw two different beaches and he told us how they are all fishermen there and they eat everything from shrimp and lobster to turtles and manatee which is a red meat like cow and supposedly delicious.  Kristi cringed.  We walked back to his Mom’s house and had fresh coconut bread.  This is what we’ve been waiting for.  It was so good.  They were even kind enough to give us some to take back with us for dinner later.

Our guide walked us back to Queen Lobster at about 3:30pm.  He doesn’t give a price but he does ask us for a contribution towards building his house.  We gave him 500 cords to cover the cost of food and a bit of a thank you for the knowledge and friendly company that was provided.  It wasn’t a lot of money but we weren’t really sure how to do it because he doesn’t have an asking price or a guideline.

A little bit more about the area.  The Pearl Lagoon land is technically owned by the Miskitu people but they are kind and generous.  When the Creole people came, the Miskitu offered them land to build on.  When they build a house, you can build a basic house for $250.  But to build something a little bit more reliable you need a better roof  made from zinc and it works out to be about $1000.  Or he said the rich people build roofs with the palm leaves.  Overall it’s more expensive because they need to replace the roofs every 3 years where the zinc roof lasts for 10 years or longer.  When they do their cooking, everything is done on a fire.  They even had a makeshift oven with a fire in it for her to bake the coconut bread.  Nothing really seems to be easy and it takes a long time.  I guess that’s why everyone is so laid back here.  You can’t really be in a rush when nothing can be done immediately and it doesn’t make sense to worry about it.  Our guide showed me a chart with all the fish that they catch and eat in the lagoon area and a book full of the animals that live on the Carribean coast.  They have big Jaguars in the forrest right beside their town but they aren’t ever bothered by them. They also have poisonous snakes, alligators and caimen living  in the Lagoon.  I am facsinated but nervous at the same time.  I didn’t realize how much could kill me here.  Government help is starting to happen in the area.  These people don’t have money for education or to build houses but the government is giving each family 2 cows, slowly but surely one family at a time.  Their goal is to breed the cows.  They were also funded to have 3 new houses built as there were a few really damaged houses that needed to be fixed.  The funding is still limited but at least  they don’t have to rely entirely on the cocaine traffic to build the communities.  The kids all seem to run free and be happy kids and there doesn’t seem to be any incidents.  That’s something you don’t see at home anymore.  Kids at home just play video games and only communicate via smart phone.  It’s kind of cool to watch a kid run down the street pushing a bike tire or the 7 different kids that came over to shoot hoops for 5 minutes before running off to do something else.  They are not well educated out here in geography or grammar but they know their fishing and they know how to use their natural resources to survive, stay healthy and enjoy life.  They are also very welcoming. How many people do you know that would see a couple strangers, invite them back to their home to eat and spend time with their family?  This was definitely cooler than any tour to the Pearl Cays or anything else we could have done here.  We enjoyed authentic Carribean cuisine made on a fire and enjoyed life with a local and his family.

Our final day was very relaxed and unexciting.  We met a german couple the night before and they lent us their Footprint book on Nicaragua to help us map out our travels to San Carlos, the Capital of Rio San Juan. They were also the first couple we’ve talked to that have traveled up the river and they warned us that it is very expensive.  So we believe our trip will be limited to San Carlos and El Castillo because theyboats get very expensive if we go any further. We spent a couple hours at the internet cafe, ate a late lunch and played crib.  We packed our bags and got ready for an early sleep.  I went to pay the bill and ordered a side of tostones (deep fried plantines that taste similar to french fries).  The waitress brought out 2 sides.  She apoligized for her mistake, I said it was fine and offered the 2nd side to two guys sitting beside me at the bar.  One guy was very shocked and appreciative that I would do that and asked me, “Do you not like beer?” (I wasn’t planning on drinking) I told him I love beer so he ordered me one and we started talking.  He is a 27-year-old engineer from Bluefields.  He used to play professional football in Nicaragua until he completed his school and he’s now working in Pearl Lagoon and teaching kids the basics to push them on similiar paths for their future.  His cousin is only 20 but he manages the gas station in Pearl Lagoon.  Both were great guys and though I wanted to go to bed early, I had to stay up, have a couple beers and talk with them.

They said they are waiting for their big payday like everyone on the Carribbean coast.  They are waiting for 25kg of cocaine to wash up on shore while they are there.  The Colombian cartel will pay them $6k per kg that gets washed up (they told me $8k and I read in footprint that it’s $4k so I’m going to average it out at $6k)

What happens is the cartel gets chased by the coast guard and dumps their product off the boat.  Usually one sack contains 25kg of cocaine.  Local fishermen find the cocaine and sell it back to the cartel well below US market price but for Central America, it’s a fortune.  They make a quick deal and go on their way.  It’s like winning the lottery without buying a ticket.  After my 2nd beer they tried to order a 3rd.  I politely declined and told them I need to be up early and if I drink any more we will be partying all night and not sleeping at all.  We exchanged information and will add each other on facebook to keep in touch.  I really like how many new friends I am making from all over the world.

Pearl Lagoon wasn’t really what I expected.  They didn’t have the sandy beaches and the fresh lobster (it was frozen) that I was looking forward to. The lagoon is only about 16 feet deep in the deepest area but because it rains every 6 hours, the water is a murky green and not clear like we had hoped.  We’ve lost power every day and when the power goes out, you lose water pressure too but this place is so laid back and friendly.  Nobody here is in a rush and everyone utilizes the resources of their land to life healthy and happy.  This doesn’t feel like I am in Nicaragua and though I told Kristi today that I miss Leon, there is a certain charm to Pearl Lagoon that I really like.  As I lay in my hammock on the edge of the water all of the fishermen going by take the time to say hello and ask how my day is.  At night they come in selling fresh shrimp and in the mornings they are at the wharf selling the fresh fish that they just caught.  The people are very warm and welcoming and I feel very safe wandering the streets.  Plus the coconut bread and shrimp dishes are amazing! Though I wouldn’t live here, it is an amazing place to have a relaxing vacation where you can kick back and let all of your worries fade away.

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