The rooster who flew to Bluefields.
There were many unusual things about the plane we took to Bluefields, Nicaragua. First of all, during the check-in process the employees weighed not only our checked luggage, but also the total weight we would be carrying on the plane, including our bodies. After the luggage had been checked in, my husband and I were each asked to step on the scale ourselves, carrying all of our carry on items.
It’s customary in Nicaragua to make comments about people’s weight, but luckily at this moment the airline employees just wrote down our totals. I say luckily, because the weight limits on La Costeña are low, and we were quite worried that our baggage would be overweight.
The plane was a 14-seater Cessna, and there were 14 people on board. There was no assigned seating, and our boarding pass was nothing more than a laminated piece of cardboard that had obviously been reused many times. We were leaving from Managua, La Costeña’s hub, and the boarding passes were color coordinated. Ours were yellow, for Bluefields.
The two pilots sat just two rows in front of my husband and me, giving the feeling of flying directly in the cock-pit. My husband had talked about how these planes had a tendency to crash, but I looked at La Costeña’s record: Their last crash was in 1999. Yet the feeling of flying was much more direct than on a big jetliner. When we went through clouds, I thought, “how can the pilots see where they are going?” When I travel by regular plane, I just relax and don’t doubt that things are taken care of.
Obviously, we arrived safely in Bluefields, a city of less than 50,000 on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. My husband had wanted to visit the east coast anyway, and I was working on a story about an indigenous community that lives near Bluefields. It’s safe to say there’s not much in the way of tourist attractions in Bluefields.
When we got off the plane, the checked luggage was piled at the side of the plane, waiting to be checked over by the drug-sniffing dog before we could grab them. One of the bags was a squarish, leather bag with holes cut out of it and a rooster painted on it. The bag started crowing. A rooster had traveled with us from Managua in the checked luggage compartment.
For the four days we were in Bluefields, I spent almost every minute reporting for the story I was working on, and Frank painted. Our hostel was cheap and comfortable, we found a good restaurant and even a decent coffee shop to hang out at in the evenings. On Saturday morning, we bought a nacatamal from a teenager who made a batch every weekend and saved the proceeds for college. Bluefields is small, and most places we went were within walking distance of our hotel.
The people did look different, a blend of indigenous people and those of African heritage. The language was different, too – I had read that Bluefields was an English-speaking city, but that doesn’t tell the whole truth. We didn’t encounter anyone who didn’t speak Spanish, and some of the Spanish-speakers didn’t speak English. People of African heritage, though, almost universally spoke English among themselves. On our last day in town, we went to Lala’s, a restaurant on the waterfront that had been recommended as the best place to try rondon, the local specialty. As we ordered, in Spanish, one of the guys at the bar turned to us and said, “When you are in a black establishment in Bluefields, you can speak English.”
Rondon. Not delicious.
The rondon of the day was made with turtle meat. It was our last chance to try it, so I ignored my ethics about eating endangered animals and ordered one serving. I don’t know if it’s that I don’t like rondon or that I don’t like turtle meat, but the dish tasted putrid to me. I took it to go and gave the rest to a homeless person.
There’s no question that turtle meat is common in Bluefields. When we walked around in the mornings, there were people selling freshly-caught fish on the sidewalks – as well as buckets full of turtle meat, with the turtle shell propped against the bucket.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT BLUEFIELDS
There are two ways to get to Bluefields from Managua: Either by bus to El Rama, followed by a two-hour boat ride (this option is likely to take all day) or by plane on La Costeña. I went the latter route. It cost a little more but was much faster and much more comfortable.
We stayed at Hostal Doña Vero, and I would highly recommend this hotel. It cost $17 per night for a double room with a private bathroom, had reliable wireless internet and a pool. I can’t see any good reason to pay more for a room. Bluefields is small, so if you want to go to hostal Doña Vero, just tell the taxi driver when you arrive, and he will take you directly there.
There are several good places to eat. Pelican Bay is the right on the water, offers both typical Nicaraguan and Caribbean food, and has a great view. It’s a bit more expensive than other places, but has generous servings and an unbeatable atmosphere.
Lala’s is the place to try rondon, and I heard it’s best to come on a Saturday or Sunday at lunchtime. There’s usually no rondon in the evening, so don’t wait until dinnertime to order it.
Galeria Aberdeen, also called Cafetin los Pipitos, is a fabulous, new cafe with wireless internet, real coffee and great smoothies and drinks. It has art on all the walls and is run by an art-loving local couple who spent 20 years in Switzerland before coming back to Bluefields and renovating the family’s restaurant into a fabulous cafe.
Restaurante El Buen Sazon is where we ate most of our meals. Breakfasts are 70 cordobas, lunches around 90 to 100 cordobas, and the food is delicious. The walls are practically dripping with Bible quotes and they have a big sign indicating that they don’t serve alcohol, but the food is great and the women who run it are friendly. It’s also quite obviously homemade – which means it can take a little while for the food to get to your table.