I’ve decided on my number one piece of travel advice, at least for today: If in doubt, always follow a local.
I guess number two would be: try not to freak them out.
But this tac-tic saved from a good roasting as I travelled between two Caribbean islands last week.
The only way to get to Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, is to first get to Big Corn Island and then to take a small boat called a panga to Little Corn. This may be one of the hardest parts of Nicaragua to reach, but it still draws enough tourists to make your heart sink if, like me, you always want to be the only tourist in the village. So as the panga pulled up and all 48 passengers rushed to board, I applied my rule and picked out a local lady with her daughter who had clearly just been shopping on Big Corn. While everyone else piled into the main body of the boat, she tucked herself and her daughter on a little bench behind the driver, and I was right behind her, trying to look innocent. This was the first of the two boats that leave daily for the islita, as it is called by the Spanish-speaking locals, but it doesn’t leave until 10am, so already the sun was high in the sky and burning down on the 43 mostly pink bodies in front of the driver (a man selling sunglasses and a carpenter had also made room for themselves on our bench). 10am came and went, no driver. Life jackets were handed to most passengers, which some on the back seat used as a cushion to sit on; I abandoned my rule at that point, reasoning that it’s not so special that I should have to follow it to my death.
I must admit that I didn’t keep a check on exactly how long we waited, I was too busy gloating over the fact that while my fellow non-Nicaraguans wilted, I was bobbing along under the shade of a canopy that had clearly been put in place to protect the driver on his many journeys to and fro between the islands. It turned out that the hold-up was due to the manager of the port claiming that the boat was over-full, while the owner of the panga insisted that his papers authorised him to carry up to 50 passengers and he only had 48, so there was even room for two more!
Mutiny almost broke out when they took their argument to the shade of a nearby tree, leaving the passengers to roast. My fellow back-seaters urged the tourist to boycott the boat in protest at being treated worse than animals, but of course they were not about to lead the way themselves, for fear of losing their first class seats. And anyway, the boat was full of tourists, most of them American, most of them still smiling and enjoying the cultural quirk of the boat not leaving on time.
One way or another, the problem was resolved and we sped off towards Little Corn, making up some of the lost time on the way and arriving well within the 55 minutes scheduled for the crossing. I stepped proudly onto the decking of the pier, sure that not only was I the only tourist to have arrived on Big Corn by boat rather than flying in from Managua, I was now also the only one not sporting a burnt face and wet clothes. I, more than anyone, deserved the nearest hammock.