Getting a boat from Corn Island (or lessons in dealing with Nica authority)

We had gotten the 6:30am boat from Little Corn to the big island to catch the 9am departure of the Rio Escondido directly to Bluefields. Tuesday and Wednesday had been national holidays so we had taken advantage of the long weekend to get away for a bit. Unfortunately for us, the Rio Escondido was on holiday as well and hadn’t shown up on Wednesday for its Thursday departure. The was no boat leaving for Bluefields. Not for the next four days.
Lesson 1: Do not underestimate the power of a national holiday.
We sat down for a minute to figure out plan b. How much would we spend in food and accommodation in the next four days…? And… how much did a plane ticket cost? We made a bee-line for the airport to find out. Once there, a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation told us that yes, it was worth it to fly back.
“I am sorry, but the flight is full,” the lady at the counter said in queen’s English.
“But there is some space on the afternoon flight if you would like!”
“Yes!,” we shouted in unison.
“Great,” the lady said. Then she looked up at us and smiled. “Passports?” Ah…passports. My friend left his in Bluefields and brought a black and white copy. I left mine in Bluefields and brought a red gringo tan and a list of excuses. With my things packed in a plastic Gueguense rice bag I may have seemed like a seasoned traveler to the other passengers, but to the La Costena airline staff I was just another tourist who should have known better.
The lady at the counter let out a long sigh and cut me off as I tried to explain how we wanted to take the ferry but couldn’t, it was only a domestic flight, they didn’t ask for passports on the boat ride over, blah blah blah. They took me to a private office on the far side of the building. They asked questions about where I live in Bluefields, who I work for, when I crossed into the country, what is my passport number, what is my quest, what is the velocity of an unladen swallow…things that they had to take my word for.
The immigration official made some phone calls and had me go sit down and wait. 15 minutes later she walked me and my friend back to the office. “You will both have to pay C$25,” she said as she scribbled something down on paper. “Take this receipt and show the immigration official in the Bluefields airport when you arrive.” I certainly was in no place to argue…I was about to score a flight not just without my passport but without any identification whatsoever. We paid, thanked the official and crossed to the waiting area.
Lesson 2: A copy of your passport isn’t always your passport to someone wearing stripes on their shoulders.
The flight into Bluefields from Corn Island is short but quite spectacular. You really appreciate the 15 minute return after having spent hours on a cargo boat to get away. We landed and found the immigration official who said in Spanish, “Ah, you must be the gringos without your passports.” We showed him our receipts. “Tomorrow,” he informed us, “you must take your passports to the immigration office and show the boss your stamps.” We said we would, and of course, we did.

The next day at 9am sharp we were at the migracion, passports in hand. We were led into the boss’s office which was freezing cold. You know you are the boss when you have an air conditioner installed in your office. He recognized me from renewals past and was very cordial as he started flipping through our passports.

In Spanish he asked/said, “You decided to leave your passports behind because you were afraid of getting robbed?”
“Well n-”
“Yeah, I understand. Lots of people do that. The problem is if you don’t carry a copy of the face page and the stamp page of your passport, immigration has no way of knowing if you are here legally, you understand.”
“Look, next time carry a copy of both and you won’t have any problem. And the C$25 fine is just a little reminder, you understand.”
“Yes, we underst-”
“Okay well you guys have a good day and don’t forget what I tell you, you understand?”
And with that we shuffled out of the jefe’s refrigerated office and into the tropical Nicaraguan heat.

Lesson 3: Everything is structured hierarchically. If you need to get something done, talk to the boss.

I think my first trip to Corn Island could have gone smoother, and no doubt will in the future. All ya gotta do is follow the rules!

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