Any solo traveller will tell you that one of the best things about travelling on your own is meeting and befriending other travellers (many of whom are also going it solo) and ending up doing a lot of fun, amazing things together. Or something like that.
I had been introduced to Bernard from the Netherlands a few days earlier at the hostel in Granada by an Irishman named Derek, and as we were both staying another night in the city, he invited me to do that typical Dutch activity of bike riding. There’s a place called Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake outside of Granada that reputedly has Nicaragua’s cleanest water for swimming. “Sure,” I thought, “Sounds like fun plus it’d be good exercise”. Turns out, I got too much of a bargain…
We rented bikes from the hostel and after a short ride around the city getting acquainted with our rides, we made our first stop at a supermarket for a humble breakfast of bananas (an unbeatable value at 1 cordoba or $0.04 apiece), drinkable yogurt, and coconut cookies. The sun already began to bake us outside the store where we indulged in our meal. We then stopped at the old railway station and took a few pictures before edging our way to the outskirts of the city where we rode along the side of the highway. And here, it began to get really hot. Just in case you didn’t know, asphalt + sun + temperature of 30 degrees Celsius + humidity + bike riding = a desperately terrifying amount of sweat. To the point where your light blue shirt turns navy. To the point where you can fool someone into thinking that your sweat made this lagoon we were making our way to. We asked for directions from locals on the side of the road or those cycling just like us, and each time we got different responses to how close we were. As we were intent on just getting there, we kept going. Luckily, there was a roadside tienda selling ice cold gaseosas and we enjoyed a sugary orange soft drink with the company of the friendly shop vendor who pulled out chairs for us and kept us company in the shade of her family’s modest home, telling us how beautiful the lagoon is, and lamenting how her boyfriend who studies English wasn’t here to practice his language skills with us! This place was an oasis, a world away from the highway just steps away!
From here, we were a couple Ks away from the road which joins the lagoon with the highway. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was mostly uphill. But we kept pressing on, sometimes without enough energy to cycle, instead getting on our feet and pushing our bikes uphill. We passed a massive commercial chicken farm, enjoyed another break with ice cream, popsicles, and Pepsi, were objects of curiosity and fascination by passing schoolgirls… Ever closer, the last stretch was the easiest part and a welcome reprieve from our bike riding so far – a winding downhill ride in the shade where we could catch beautiful glimpses of the lagoon, and later into the entrance to the lagoon itself. We chose the closest access to the water by a lakeside restaurant, ordered some beer and some light snacks much to the dismay of the waitress who couldn’t sell something more pricey, and passed out a little bit from the fatigue of two and a half (or perhaps closer to three?) hours of bike riding to get to this point. It was a lazy afternoon of lounging by the lagoon, swimming in its almost too warm waters, admiring the hardly touched countryside, and having conversations with a new friend.
Alas, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had to leave to make the arduous trip back to Granada. We walked with the bikes uphill for forty-five minutes, unable to find a suitable vehicle to hitch a ride. At the top of the hill, though, it was a fast and exhilarating ride down, and once at the side of the highway again, we waited not half a minute until a chicken bus pulled over and we eagerly got in, bikes and all, marvelling at the perfect timing of it all. Back in Granada and off the bus, it immediately started to rain heavily (it is still rainy season here, after all, and a strong downpour in the afternoon is obligatory). But what’s a little rain after all that exercise? It was even more refreshing than swimming in the lake, and possibly the funnest part of the day to bike through the streets of Granada, competing with cars, buses, taxis, and horses for control of the streets, navigating our way back to the hostel to end this great journey!
So, all in all, I’ll remember this day for many reasons and had an excellent time. Riding a bike in the city, down the highway, and especially through the rural countryside of Nicaragua was special, an opportunity to see life up close and personal for a bit, without the filter of shaded windows. But the physical exertion in this climate can’t be underestimated! So, the next time a crazy Dutch guy (or anyone from any nationality, really) invites me to go cycling in a tropical country, someone remind me of today so I’ll think twice about it!