I’m doing okay until the brightness strikes. A wash of light means that we’ve cleared the tree line. We are higher than the tallest coconut trees on Little Corn Island.
Take your time, take your time.
My breathing gets loud, my pauses long. At last, my sticky hand finds the platform. It’s round and towering, like a crow’s nest.
Inhaling, I taste salt — the ocean is that close. Land hogs so little of this panorama, the island’s outline hugging us tightly. Little Corn is a single comma on an otherwise blue sheet.
Many other things keep this Corn feeling little, and the lighthouse is a prime place to take stock: no hotel pools, no tennis courts, nothing taller than two stories. A boutique hotel called Yemaya is under construction, I’m told, but the plans sound small-scale, unlikely to upset the island’s treetop-to-rooftop ratio.
My gaze drifts offshore, to the marbled waters that distinguish Corn Island beaches in photographs. It’s a curious patchwork of navy and aqua, like two different oceans, about to mix hues. But the contrast only intensifies as the sun does; by midday it’s a stunning patchwork, some mirage of the sea, or in my case, a summons to slip underwater.
Getting it right
Walk down the beach; look for a boat; find the guy who takes out snorkelers; bring $20.
The snorkeling guy isn’t around, but I do find men drinking 11 a.m. beer in the shade. One of them is Harris, from the other side of the island, which felt like a great coincidence, until I remembered that the “other side of the island” was what we’d call, anywhere else, “next door.” Little Corn is little more than one square mile.
I beam at my old friend (Harris!) and he responds in kind, offering to take me snorkeling. What makes hospitality in the Corns so disarming is how uncalled for, in context, it feels. In a place this idyllic, no one has to be nice. And Harris certainly doesn’t need (nor will he accept) my $20 bill. He owns both a hotel and the lobster trawler on the horizon. Is it possible? Could Harris just care that I snorkel?
The men in the shade set down their beers, rise to their feet, and push Harris and me off the beach in a motorboat called the Sea Prince.
The water glints with so much light that I have to visor my eyes with one hand, and it’s clear enough to count the mustard-colored patches of corals, to see every ripple in the white sand below. Hours from now, I will feel like a cooked lobster — the skin on my back the most alarming shade of pink in the palette — but right now, barefoot and bikinied and leaning forward on the tipped-up bow of a speeding boat, I feel like the Sea Queen.