When life offers us a different pathway, there is no possible way to predict what, or who we’ll find down that road. When the resulting chain reaction of new experiences results in a personal relationship, a wonderful one, the new path lights up one’s life and will likely put a smile on your face.
In 2002 when we considered taking jobs at Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island Nicaragua, we had no idea it would be one of those pathways.
OK, so what’s our job?
Prior to our arrival, long distance negotiations with the Floridian owners of the place took place over the phone and via email. We would be working in the vegetable garden, doing some laundry, carpentry/building maintenance and running the lodge’s restaurant for the evening meal. Heather would be the hostess/waitress and I was to be the cook in the kitchen.
We had all the necessary skills and we were really, really excited to take the jobs. We had never been to Nicaragua and it felt like we were diving into a whole new adventure. It was.
In the kitchen the daily menu was typically one dish – no a la carte. The only exception was vegetarian. We had to be prepared for that eventuality. And, the protein for the typical non-veg dinner was either fish, chicken or lobster. Usually heavy on the fish.
The fish would come into the kitchen after the resort’s fisherman Anjelito had completed his catch of the day.
He would fillet the fish outside and bring me a huge gleaming filet of barracuda or red snapper. Handing me the fish the first day, I remarked to him, “But Anjelito, this fish is warm. It needs to be kept cold.” He replied, “Meester Chris, it is because it has come out of the warm ocean!” …Duh.
My job was to cut it into 6 oz. portions and put it on ice which was readily available on the island from the lobster packing plant – one of the main exports from Little Corn. We would take those filets, splash them with garlic/butter sauce and grill them over a real hardwood charcoal fire.
Tuesdays was fish and chips day – filets were rolled in corn meal and immersed in oil so hot it was almost on fire! The chips were a cousin of plantain cut into circles, deep fried and dusted with seasoned salt. Touristas loved it! Other days we would make our own corn tortillas and create barracuda fajitas! Yum!
Over the 4 months we worked and hung out with Anjelito he became a true friend. We started calling him “Anjel”.
He had skills for sure. Yes, he could fish but he had also graduated from a technical school and was an expert at small engine repair. That’s handy in Nicaragua.
He had a cheeky side and was always making fun. And… there was of course a language barrier. Somehow, one day the English language term “pussy cat” came up. Anjel couldn’t understand why one couldn’t say “pussy dog” because as far as he knew ‘pussy’ meant ‘baby’! His way of learning English was to read the dictionary.
He liked to play cards – but he liked to deal from the bottom of the deck when you weren’t looking and would argue (in a happy way) if you challenged him on the rules of the game. In an endearing way, at times we called him “Brat!”
The first goodbye to Little Corn.
When we got close to leaving in April 2003, it became clear we would miss him. He held a special place in our hearts. As we got ready to board the panga for the last time, he showed up with Alec and Marabelle, two other good folks we worked with at Casa Iguana. It was a tearful goodbye. We loved Anjel.
From left to right… Chris, Megan, Anjel, Marabelle, Heather and Alec.
Back home in Canada, it took some months of adjustment to make us comfortable in the groove again. We eventually achieved a happy place surrounded by family and friends in our lovely community of Quesnel. But we always remembered Anjel.
One of our good friends Dave, was really interested in our visit to Little Corn. He had always wanted to live on the “Continental Shelf” of Central America and Little Corn is bang on. He was so inspired and, long story short… he went to Nicaragua and bought a piece of property on the island with a mind to building a permanent home there. In his ‘60’s at that time, he was looking for a place to live the life he’d always wanted… self-sufficient, in a tropical place and no winter to worry about.
In 2007, I went back to the island to help Dave work on his house. I could only afford a few weeks but a little help is better than none. I was also super excited to see the island again. As I approached the shore the adrenaline started to pump. Wow! I was really back there! I jumped off the panga and walked towards the sidewalk that skirts the beach. There, in the crowd, was a familiar face… Anjel. He had no idea I was coming and I didn’t expect to see him right off the bat! It was his day off and he was just hangin’ out. So, we spent the day together, recalling some of the fun things we did together.
He still worked at Casa Iguana but was not the fisherman anymore. He was in charge of Maintenance at the resort. It was now under new ownership and was undergoing some progressive changes. I also found out he was married, and had two kids. He and his family lived on Corn Island. He “commuted” to Little Corn.
So, I helped Dave with his house and in between, I spentsome time back at Casa Iguana. The new owners allowed me to use their woodworking tools for a community project. I had visited the school and noted that all the books were stored on the floor. Bookshelves! I CAN do this! The wood for the shelves was donated by Brigit (who still runs a restaurant on the little island.) Beautiful pieces of 1” thick mahogany… covered in concrete. The wood had been used as forms for a foundation. No worries – it took me two full days to claw and scrape the muck off. Fasteners? Casa Iguana donated a box of 2 ½ galvanized nails. Great. We’ll make it work.
And… I got to see Anjel and his brother Dixon who we had never met. I was really lucky – it was going to be Dixon’s 16th birthday and Casa Iguana was throwing a party for him. Cool! I happily attended the get-together and met many other islanders I didn’t know. A really great time that made leaving… hard again.
I said my goodbyes to Dave and Anjel hoping the next time Icame to the island, Heather would be with me.
One of the new managers at Casa Iguana was a young lady named Kelly. Full of life, keen to help the community, she was instrumental in bringing my school bookshelf project to fruition. After I left the little island, she stayed in touch with Heather and I for a while and then as is usually the case, contact tapers off. Until one day…
Our phone rang, we answered and it was a very distraught Kelly on the line. She had very bad news. She was crying as she said, “I’m so sorry to tell you Anjelito has been killed. He was riding a horse near Bluefields and he was hit by a car.” We assumed and hoped, he died instantly… … … Absolutely shocking news. Something that would resonate in our family’s soul forever… … Rest in Peace Anjel.
In the past couple of months as we made our way around western Nicaragua, we would sometimes fast forward to our time on the Corn Islands at the end of this adventure. Could we track down Dixon? What happened to Anjel’s family? It would be wonderful to meet them.
Once we arrived on Corn Island, we weren’t afraid to ask. “We used to work with a young man named Anjelito on Little Corn Island. We know he lived on Corn Island. He died in 2008, Did you know him? Do you know his brother Dixon?” We first asked our Airbnb host Errol. He had spent many years away from the area so he apologized.
Our next inquiry was with a shop keeper just down the road from our cottage. Bingo! The lovely lady had heard of Dixon and KNEW someone who could give us more information. She asked us to come back in a day or so. We did just that. When we returned, her eyes lit up and she said, “I have something for you!” She made one more phonecall to confirm. Another number was dialed and before I knew it, I was speaking to Dixon’s step father Christian.
On Corn Island, many people are speaking English but as we found out, Anjelito’s family were not “islanders” but rather they were Spanish-speaking from Bluefields. Christian spoke Spanish. We did our best and in the end we learned that Christian knew Anjel well. That made me choke up… I couldn’t speak. He was a direct family connection to my friend. He also said that Dixon no longer lived on Corn Island but he too, was back in Bluefields. It became clear that our quest was winding down. Closure so to speak.
That brings us to tomorrow. We’ll take the early panga and make our way to Ensueno’s run by an old friend Ramone. We’ll update when wifi permits.
Oh, and Dave? We’re going to surprise him. Dave is NOT into the New Age of Communication and he kind of lost track of us.
We’re also going to look up the people we worked with at Casa Iguana. Marabelle runs her pizza place now so she won’t be hard to find. Who knows, maybe another one of life’s pathways will appear?