In the last few days of Randi’s visit to Nicaragua we decided to stay one night at Laguna de Apoyo. Laguna de Apoyo is a pristine crater lake conveniently located between the tourism hot-spots of Granada and Masaya in Southern Nicaragua. The lake’s dark sand beaches are dotted with hostels and hotels cashing in on the as-of-yet untouched tropical beauty of the place.
Randi and I stayed at an unbelievably beautiful hostel on the northwestern shore of the lake. We arrived early in the morning and spent the day splashing around in the perfectly warm water, sunbathing on the beach, and sipping tropical cocktails.
My First and Only Experience with Crime in Central America
Unfortunately our relaxation was destined to be cut short. Sometime in the mid-afternoon I left Randi sunbathing on the beach to return to our dorm room. As I entered I immediately noticed that something felt strange about the room, but I couldn’t quite place what it was.
As I bent to open my locker horror slowly dawned on me. The sides of the locker surrounding my lock were scratched and hacked at as if somebody had taken a screwdriver to them. The metal loops holding my lock on were twisted and mangled. My lock hung limply from them, brutally twisted until it was almost open.
My heart rate took off as I tried to open my lock. It had been bent so forcefully that I could not turn the wheels to set my correct combination. I began to panic. If the thief had managed to break my lock this far, surely he had wrenched it open the rest of the way.
With a jolt of strength attributable solely to adrenaline, I twisted the lock apart and hastily opened my locker.
My heart skipped a beat. Everything seemed to be in the same place I had left it. My passport, my laptop, my credit cards and cash — it seemed too good to be true. Could the thief have possibly put in 90% of the work to break my lock and never actually gotten in?
Breathing a little easier, I surveyed the rest of the room. No other lockers had been touched, but backpacks and bags from other beds were strewn across the floor. The dorm was a mess of clothes and other “invaluable” belongings. The thief must have searched through the bags before deciding to take a crack at my locker.
Though I was less than impressed with the hostel’s security in the first place, I was very impressed with how they handled the incident. The staff jumped into immediate action when I reported the potential theft. They gave me a new lock so I could move my valuables into an untouched locker. They spoke with everybody in the dorm and asked us to ensure that we weren’t missing any belongings. They consulted security cameras and found footage of a strange adult couple entering the room and leaving hurriedly a few minutes later. When they had descriptions of the couple, they reported the incident to the local police and warned the other establishments in the area. And then, happily, they comped our beds for the night.
For my own sanity, I used the hostel’s phone to call my banks and freeze my credit cards for the time being. I was worried that the thieves had copied down the information and then returned them to the locker.
Spoiler: after a few weeks I unfroze my accounts and I have had no problems since. It seems that the thieves truly stopped within seconds of breaking into my locker.
The whole incident put a major damper on our afternoon. Thankfully, after much discussion and a few drinks Randi and I were able to put it behind us and enjoy the rest of our time at Laguna de Apoyo. We sat at the lakeside bar late into the night, sipping cocktails, chatting, and watching the stars over the lake.
After all, theft is a risk you undertake by staying in hostels. However, this incident was a harsh reminder that it is vitally important to protect yourself as much as possible. You live and you learn…and I have lived to learn not to use four wheel combination locks for travel.
The next morning we took a quick dip in the lake before catching a cab to the charming nearby town of Catarina. Catarina is perched on the rim of the Laguna de Apoyo and is best known for its mirador, or viewpoint, overlooking the lake. This was our first stop in the town.
However, the view was not the main purpose of our trip. We had been told that Catarina was also one of the best places in the region to find local artisinal goods. Randi was on the hunt for some quality souvenirs, so we set about scouring the town for diamonds in the tacky-tourist-junk rough. We left laden with new purchases and made our way back to Granada for Randi’s last night in the country.
Despite the hiccup with the near-theft, the twenty four hours we spent in and around Laguna de Apoyo were truly magical. They served as a solid reminder to take the time out of my busy schedule of sightseeing to relax and enjoy my surroundings. And, of course, to always purchase travel insurance.