Puerto Cabezas

Morning dawned and I was keen to check out this cool little Caribbean town, as well as work out how I was going to continue down the coastline. After breakfasting in the casa’s beautiful garden cafe, I headed towards the coast to start my wander. The road which eventually led to the coast wound around a low cliff line where several little casas had superb uninterrupted views of the Caribbean Sea. In the distance, one could see a group of hombres hauling on a rope to pull a small fishing vessel back to the beach. A señora passed me with a large container on her head and smiles were exchanged.

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I found a large restaurant on the edge of the cliff line which had steps going down to the beach and availed myself of the opportunity. Once down, I could see large flocks of pelicans, cormorants and vultures flooding the area. It didn’t take long to realise why – a fishing boat had pulled up on the beach and was offloading its catch. The birds were obviously looking for an easy feed. I continued on past little rocky headlands and a tiny stream which wound its way from the fringe of the lush vegetation to join the tide. A group of young boys were playing soccer with a battered ball and driftwood wedged into the damp sand to delineate goal posts. A couple of señoras were collecting shiny pebbles and placing them in a large container.

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I reached the Puerto’s pier which has a rather chequered history. It was originally built early last century by US giant United Fruit in order to ship out all the fruit, fish and timber it had stripped out of the region. It was then used to launch the failed 1961 US supported Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by exiled Cubans. A couple of decades later and the pier came in handy again to smuggle in arms for both sides of the Revolution. It is reported that the shady ladies of the night were responsible for ensuring the FSLN received their armaments. I’m sure the Good Lord overlooked the soiled señoritas’ loose morals for their brave contributions to the winning side.

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On the other side of the pier, I noticed a tiny bar nestled on the edge of the beach. This looked like a fine place to stop for a cerveza and stop and smell the sea for a short while. Suitably refreshed, I thought it time to head out to Lamlaya where it said in the guidebook I would be able to catch a panga (collectivo boat) to get as far down the coast as Haulover. There was no mention of anything any further but I was hoping to be able to hop down the coast via a series of pangas servicing the communities down there. As it was a fair way out of town, I decided to catch a colectivo there.

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The taxi pulled up at a tiny port which contained two fishing boats. One boat had several hombres out front on its bow who were calling out to me in a rather raucous manner. I decided to head to the other boat and asked the more demure crew about pangas down the coast. When they learned that I wanted to get down to Bluefields, they told me there was a boat that left Puerto Cabezas every afternoon for Bluefields. I thanked them, waved adiós to the raucous crew then starting walking back down the main road until such time as another taxi passed which was going back to Puerto Cabezas.

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It was at this point that I realised that I had left my hat in the taxi I caught out here. With the sun beating down relentlessly, I continued walking hoping that it wasn’t long before a taxi would pick me up. Eventually a clapped out car picked me up and I immediately wished it hadn’t. Fuel fumes wafted through the interior and stung my eyes. There was nothing I could do but ride it out and hope it didn’t take too long to get back. I got dropped off in the middle of town and decided to stick to the main road to the pier in the vain hope that perhaps the taxi I had left my hat in might drive past and see me. After all it wasn’t a big town. Lo and behold, I had only been walking about 10 mins when my previous taxi driver roared to a halt next to me; my hat on his dash and a huge grin on his face. Happy days!

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Back down at the pier I enquired about the alleged boat to Bluefields. The hombre at the pier told me there wasn’t a boat anymore, only cargo ships. I asked if the cargo ships took paying passengers. Of course! But the last one left yesterday and the next isn’t due until the end of the month. My dreams of zipping down the coast by boat were slowly slipping away. Are there any pangas going to communities down the coast? No. What about that one? It’s gong down the river. One hombre took pity on me and rang an amigo who might be able to help me.

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Nelson was a retired container ship captain who had spent years at sea all around the world. He now lives in a modest wooden bungalow on the beach and owns four pangas which he rents out. We sat on a couple of hammocks under his house and discussed the possibility of chartering a panga to go down to Bluefields. I knew it was way out of my budget, but he had been summoned so thought I should at least enquire. ‘Business’ is not a speedy issue and a significant amount of fat needed to be chewed before getting a definitive answer. As I expected, it was way beyond what I was prepared to pay due to the distance and fuel costs, so politely declined and thanked him for his time.

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I since found out that though the government has been promising regular panga services to these remote coastal communities, they are slow to be implemented. I was surprised as even La Mosquitia in Honduras has regular (albeit daily) services and that is in the must remote part of Central America! Still, at least I had thoroughly exhausted all possible options to venture on by boat, so turned my attention to flying. Yes, there are flights from Puerto Cabezas to Bluefields. The next one is on Wednesday. In five days time! As the day was late and I couldn’t do anything more, I decided to wait until morning when I could go down to the airport and better investigate options.

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I wandered down to the restaurant on the sea cliff to enjoy a couple of sunset cervezas and dinner. At least if I was stuck here for a few days, it was a lovely spot to be stuck in. A sumptuous meal of lobster cocktail certainly sealed that deal. On the way home, the street lights went out so I pulled out my phone to use the torch so as to avoid the many obstacles in and on the road. A couple of boys were walking just behind me and caught up to take advantage of my beam. We walked companionably to the end of the road where they thanked me and turned off. I continued on and the lights reemerged just as I got back to my hotel.

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