Once upon a time in a suburban neighbourhood far far away, I was a BMX bandit.
And as my father will attest, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears (with an emphasis on the tears) to teach me to ride a bike. I remember being miserable, convinced it would just never happen for me.
I’d be that kid who couldn’t ride a bike.
And then of course one day I looked behind me to realise that my father was no longer holding the back of the bike and probably promptly crashed into a fence.
Thereafter, my sister and I often took to the streets, hooning up and down on our BMXs, creating our own wind on brutal Sydney summer days.
But sometime in the intervening years, my athletic prowess diminished (directly proportionate to the amount of time I spent indoors learning to use our brand-new Compaq Presario complete with Windows 95) and one day the impossible happened.
I forgot how to ride a bike.
Of course, during my travels over the last few years there have been a few times when I’ve been forced to try and remember how to balance, pedal, brake and use the gears.
In Nepal, when the strain of bike riding after a severe bout of food poisoning saw my friend Alicia almost pass out at an elephant sanctuary.
In Burma, where I crashed off the road every time a truck passed.
Practice makes perfect…right?
Every time I end up frustrated, my legs cut up or dirty from poor-quality bike chains. But I keep doing it. Because in my head? Bike riding through Asia or Europe or somewhere would be so freaking cool. Inspired by a friend who has cycled across the Himalaya, I have big plans to one day take a cycling trip somewhere.
But first? I need to practice. And where better than on an island in Nicaragua under the shadow of not one but two volcanoes?
Riding to Ojo de Agua, Ometepe Island
In the middle of Lake Nicaragua, about a four hour ferry from Granada, is Ometepe Island.
Formed by two volcanoes, one active and one not (Concepcion and Maderas), they’re joined by a narrow strip of land that features about 60kms of road that twist round the hour-glass shaped island. Perfect for cycling, and so one morning I decided to rent a bike from my guesthouse and cycle the eight or so kilometres to the pools at Ojo de Agua.
Manmade using natural materials and a natural water source, they were touted as the perfect alternative for someone who wasn’t feeling like a 10-hour slog up the muddy sides of a volcano or paying $40 to visit a waterfall.
And hey, eight kilometres on a bike? I can do that in the gym in no time.
The initial couple of kilometres were miserable. My bike was much too large for me, so when I tried to stop my feet couldn’t reach the ground. I crashed twice. The brakes were shot and on the downhill I crashed again. The gears had a mind of their own.
But as soon as I hit paved road, I realised how much I was enjoying myself. Sure, there were a few uphills that I
dragged the bike up totally rode up and the sun was intense, but I definitely wasn’t as miserable as I’d expected to be.
Even so, by the time I arrived at the pools and paid my $2 entry fee, I couldn’t throw down my bike and jump in the water fast enough.
After two hours swimming and sunbathing, it was time to head back. But there was a crack of thunder (not the volcano erupting. Not that I had to ask someone…) and storm clouds in the distance.
When a local offerred to taxi my friend, our bikes and I back to our guesthouse in his van it didn’t take much dropping of prices on his part for us to say yes.
I don’t think of it as cheating. More like interval training.
Next time, I’ll double those eight kilometres. I promise. Surely in no time I’ll be ready to tackle some of those Central Asian high passes.
And besides, it was raining!
Most guesthouses on Ometepe will hire bikes for about $5 a day.
Ojo de Agua is a left-hand turn off the road just past the village of Santo Domingo and about a ten minute walk up a muddy path. You’ll be stopped to pay an entrance fee of $2.
There are toilets, changing rooms and a restaurant at the pools. Go early in the morning to have the place to yourself.