Stephanie Solverson on her way to Little Corn Island in Nicaragua
By Caribbean News Now contributor
LITTLE CORN ISLAND, Nicaragua -- Canadians coming to Nicaragua… pretty common really, especially in the colder winter months when the lure of a Central American-Caribbean vacation is only a few mouse clicks away… usually a connecting flight in the US for same day arrival into Managua.
But for Canadian Stephanie Solverson, she chose another way. Solverson came to Nicaragua in early 2010 to work as dive instructor for Dolphin Dive on Little Corn Island, but returned home to Canada in July of this year to visit friends and family and consider her next step in life. But she couldn’t shake Nicaragua and Little Corn Island from her mind, so she has decided to come back. And two of the people she met during her time on Little Corn have shaped her return journey. First was Anna, an English woman who was cycling from Alaska to South America, second was Zac Folk, founder of Common Threadz, a non-profit organization that is building a community learning centre on Little Corn Island.
So, at fairly short notice Solverson got herself a bike, a map, and a big plan to cycle 4,200 miles from Alberta, Canada to Bluefields, Nicaragua before taking the boat back to her beloved Little Corn.
But Solverson is not what you’d call a conventional person, and as such has a habit of attracting amusing anecdotes, something that this journey is sure to provide plenty of. Day one of the journey had to be put back due to a big grassfire and billowing smoke on her intended route, but after consulting with the Canadian police she got the all clear to go. But at 5am on a cold 12th September morning, Solverson left her home in Canada and started out on this epic journey, with family there to record her departure over the horizon and wish her luck.
Panniers loaded on both the front and back wheels, plus a backpack, she did not exactly look like an Olympic cyclist; aerodynamics were sacrificed in favour of essentials for two to three months on the road. She has over 100 pounds of luggage on her bike, including full camping/cooking kit, food, clothing and first aid kit. Despite that she averaged around 60 miles per day in her first week of travel, although the weight took some getting used to, especially in the more undulating regions of the northern United States.
By 15th September she had crossed the border from Canada into Montana in the US, and remains hopeful of arriving in Little Corn before Christmas. Even as she entered the US she was given some sage advice by a US Border Control official she encountered, who advised her to avoid travelling through Mexico on her road trip from Canada to Nicaragua. Any suggestions as to how this can be achieved would be gratefully received!
Her planned route takes her through seven US states and a total of seven countries. Those in Little Corn are hoping to work with the local school to integrate Solverson’s journey into a weekly lesson for the children using her route as an educational tool to educate about geography, culture and events. They are also planning to have regular call in updates with the Corn Island radio station to raise local awareness of the community learning centre project and help create a sense of local ownership.
The Corn Islands – Big Corn (usually shortened to Corn Island) and Little Corn – are two islands about 43 miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and the country’s population of around 8,000 Garifunas mainly live on Corn Island.
Some 5,000 Garifuna were originally deported by the British from St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1796 to Roatán, Honduras, but only about 2,500 of them survived the voyage. From there they migrated along the Caribbean coast of Central America, including the Corn Islands in Nicaragua.
Curiously, the official name of the municipality – a former British protectorate – is Corn Island (the English name is officially used in Spanish-speaking Nicaragua).
In 2005, Nicaragua’s then President Enrique Bolanos hosted the First International Summit of Garifunas in Central America on Corn Island to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
So why is Solverson doing it? Common Threadz has worked on the concept of a community learning centre as resource for communities in rural areas with problems such as illiteracy, limited educational support, limited job opportunities, poor health services and unclean water.
The first Common Threadz Community Learning Centre is being built in Little Corn Island. The centre aims to be a facility to teach everyone from schoolchildren to adults practical skills that can help them to find work within their local environments and will include facilities such as a library, computer lab, a women and girls empowerment section with related services and vocational training to meet the needs of the community.
You can follow and support Solverson’s journey through her blog
. Or find out more about the community learning centre project here
Adam Clarke contributed to this article