Crossing the Sweet Sea


While indigenous tribes once called it “Colcibolca,” and Spanish conquerers called it, “The Sweet Sea,” on the afternoon of my first crossing, Lake Nicaragua’s freshwater turned a bitter cheek.

The sturdier ferry wouldn’t cross for two hours, so I climbed aboard a local boat, down a rusted ladder and crammed into the lower level with some 50 others. Water spewed out of a pipe on the floor and the hot sun snuck in despite being shielded by a low hanging roof. A sailor released dense fabric curtains from their binds making the cabin even hotter and we chugged out slowly from harbour. From mainland to island, one Nicaragua to the other, there was no turning back now.

Five minutes in, the boat pitched some 75 degrees. The port side almost dipped into the water. People tipped over each other like bowling ball pins as we rolled into the gutter of the waves. Motion sickness took over; a whack-a-mole of retching popped up from all corners at random.

As the hull straddled steep crests like a slack line, I remembered my guidebook’s warning: a vision of swimming with bull sharks started churning in my brain. I held onto the promise that they hadn’t been spotted for years. It wasn’t until I saw one mother pull a life vest from the ceiling and place it over her toddler’s head that I leaned over to the man next to me and exercised my caveman Spanish.

“Is good? Everything is good?”

“Yes, it’s good. Don’t worry. It’s normal here.”

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