Nicaragua Day 3: Having the Entire Crater to Myself (well, almost)

Swam naked in a 200m deep, 200 centuries old lake today.

After a mind-boggling morning of Spanish regular and irregular verb conjugations, I needed some adventure and adrenaline. Thought about cycling out to the Peninsula de Asese, which according to trusty old Lonely Planet, is "one of the cleanest swimming spots around". Unfortunately, the bike rental shop told me that it wasn't safe, and robbers lay waiting along secluded stretches of the road waiting to prey on unsuspecting, loaded tourists.

So I decided to cycle to the Laguna de Apoyo instead. Was taking a risk by doing so, because I didn't ask anyone if it was accessible on bike and safe to go to. I'm glad I went though, because it was one of those experiences that remind me why I travel. I'm not one to sugercoat my travel memories and erase unhappy encounters, but really, almost everything was so perfect that I'm thankful I decided to go.

Started off a dirt path from the cemetery southwest of the city center, and soon was cycling through some seriously impoverished and rundown slums. Now I understand why its said that about 75% of Nicaraguans live on below US$2 a day. The dirt road degraded into an extremely uneven, bumpy surface covered with dust, and I was worried I might not make it to the lake in good time. But even though I was surrounded by poverty, the Nicas (Nicaraguans) were all extremely friendly. They smiled and waved 'hola' at me, the odd Asian guy who seemed to hail from another planet. I kept going, and part of the way a German woman in her 40s caught up to me and we rode together all the way to the lake. She's pretty interesting, because she studied language and business economics in college, and now works in London. We motivated each other and the trip suddenly became much easier.

After some time, we arrived, soaked with sweat, at the top of the crater where we parked our bikes and hiked down 15 minutes to the lagoon. The views were splendid, as you can tell from the picture. The lagoon was HUGE and except for a house perched faraway atop the slope, there was nothing that reminded me of civilization. Lush forests blanketed the hillsides, eventually giving way to the clearest, cleanest, calmest body of water I've ever seen.

German woman swam off to join her friends in a corner of the lagoon (her friends took a different route here), and I had pretty much everywhere else to myself. It wasn't at all possible to swim across/around the lagoon, so I just stayed by the side in the water near the mangrove trees, and enjoyed the cool water and hot sunshine. And because I've always wanted to do this ever since I saw Ian Wright do it on the Travel Channel, I took off all my clothes and jumped in completely naked (the Germans were far enough that they were just little specks in my vision). It was extremely refreshing, and if the first two days didn't do enough to ease me into the travelling, relaxed mood, I've now achieved that state, a state pretty close to nirvana.

Time passed too quickly and soon it was time to head back. German woman and I (alright, I admit I forgot her name :P) took another route back. This was still a dirt path but much wider and smoother, and we breezed downhill through beautiful scenery in a great bike ride. It was that magical moment in the late afternoon when the sun casts long shadows and a golden hue on the landscape. Along the way we even passed a herd of approximately 10 cows. They were moving along the road in an orderly, disciplined fashion! Probably trained to go back every evening to the farm they came from. 

Rode through a busy, bustling streetside market on my way back to return the bike. And as always, it was bursting with energy, color and smiles, just like the people of this amazing country.