But as I scamper down the beach and grab a loaf of coconut bread from the little pink house that everyone agrees is the place for the baked variety of “coco food,” I feel secretly as if I got it right. Perhaps the perfect time to leave is just before the sunburn shows, before the waves dull into white noise, before I run into Harris a third time. Maybe it’s best to get on your way, right when you’re tempted to call a place perfect?
A round of lobster
I’m encased in red heat by the time I reach Big Corn. New freckles are menacingly dark. Quick movements hurt. I give up all ambitions of meeting the island beauty queen and finding the descendants of pirates, and let the end of my journey be about one thing: lobster.
There’s a dish called rondon that brings the flesh of fresh lobster together with the milk of local coconuts, simmers the pairing in garlic and herbs, adding a full medley of Central American starches and sometimes, another whole fish. It sounds to me like a dinner that I’ll one day tell my grandchildren about.
I pick a hotel on the basis of the owner’s culinary reputation, overlooking its position beside a fish-processing plant. The plant’s constant thrumming reminds me that I’m now on the “working island,” as people call Big Corn when differentiating between the two isles. I’m willing to forgo both scenery and serenity for a taste of the best lobster stew.
Rondon cooks so slowly that I have to put in my order at breakfast. Still, when I slide onto the barstool of the hotel restaurant after noon, I’m told to wait. I remember the warning I read on a local tourism Web site: “Order before you’re hungry.” Someone really should clarify: Order a full day before you’re hungry.
Two bar stools down sits Cliff, a lumberjack of an American, here to study the practices of lobster divers on Big Corn.
Who better to prime me for my feast? We talk about the life span of the lobster: the 20 years that it might spend clicking across the ocean floor before venturing into a Corn Islander’s trap. Nicaragua’s third-largest export is lobster, and the bulk of it, according to Cliff, comes from the shallow continental shelf spreading around the Corns.
The kitchen door swings open, and my rondon floats toward me. I see no pink legs, no pincers, no shell whatsoever in my coconut broth. That’s my first praise for how Corn Islanders cook lobster. They understand that the cracking and peeling, all the labor of flavoring, should be done behind the scenes. Nobody wears a bib here, or finishes with a moist towelette. I just slice each lobster morsel into four more, to savor as slowly as possible this expertly slow-cooked stew.
I patter back to my hotel room, lobster-hued, lobster-full. Without bothering to hit the lights, I fall right into the local pose, napping with my bare feet dangling off the bed, finally under some kind of spell.
Kinder is the author of “Delaying the Real World” and teaches travel and essay writing at Yale.