26th-29th November 2015
It took another long day of travel to get from El Tunco to Leon, and this was further delayed by the fact that the shuttle we’d booked ourselves on was almost two hours late. We were on and off the bus all day, stopping for a weird cafeteria breakfast (with white Christmas in Spanish playing in the background), and four borders each with their own waits and complications (out of El Salvador, into and out of Honduras, into Nicaragua). Getting between borders is always tricky because there is so little official information available on what fees they should be charging you, and it’s very easy to get ripped off. Still, we made it into Nicaragua just as it got dark, and Leon soon after where we found our blissfully empty dorm room in our hostel and got some much needed sleep.
The more we travel, the more we are just exhausted all the time. Everything takes longer than you’d expect, and everything requires thinking and decisions, from big (what towns do we go to and how) to small (where can we get breakfast when we have no idea where in town we actually are). We therefore need a lot of rest and spent he morning lying in/calling home/trying to recover from the previous day’s trip.
Walking around Leon, it once again had a different feel to anywhere we’d been before. It was loud and busy, a proper city, and also felt very safe. It has a very Spanish feel, and at some points you feel like you could actually just be in Europe. One of the striking features is the huge white cathedral in the town square. This is currently being renovated, but was still very impressive even with all its scaffolding. We took a look inside and then paid a few dollars for the main attraction – the view from the roof. I regretted not having sunglasses up there as it was so bright, but the view was very good, all the way across the city and towards the volcanos in the distance.
Leon the city itself has been a real highlight for me, the whole feel of it was exciting and busy, and much more vibrant and interesting than the polished but more tourist focused Antigua. There is a university and lots of students are around, giving the place a very young feel and meaning there was lots going on for very decent prices (Nicaragua in general is very cheap). It is a city known for poetry, especially for the poet Ruben Dario who is celebrated in parks and a museum, and there is an artsy vibe in many parts of the city carrying on those traditions. There is a lack of American chains (although I did find a sneaky hidden burger king, and there’s a supermarket owned by walmart), which also makes the city more unique as almost all of the businesses are local.
Leon also was interesting due to its recent history. It played a big part in the revolution against the dictatorship of the 60s and 70s, as the FSLN (Sandista National Liberation Front) was made up largely of students. A memorial to the ‘heroes and martyrs’ of the FSLN has been set up in the centre of town, and has pictures of all the members who died in the revolution and following war. It was quite moving, as there were so many and everyone was so young, as well as the fact that it was such recent history.
The main square has a lot going on, some of which seemed pretty confusing. There was a large model of a strangely shaped woman and some little handmade tableaux, as well as live music. They didn’t seem to mind two bands playing at once, and at one point we were sitting in the middle of the park with a student rap group playing behind us, and an older looking band on the bandstand playing my heart will go on on an electric keyboard. Very odd combo.
There seems a lot of cool stuff to do in the evenings as well. We ate at a nice little Cuban restaurant which we’d seen on trip advisor (difficult to find as Nicaraguans don’t seem to do street names/addresses, so everything is just described in terms of how many blocks it is from somewhere else), and wandered down a road full of busy bars and clubs. Walking past all the cool looking clubs, we heard a bar with wailing coming out of it which turned out to be people singing ‘Wrecking Ball’ on karaoke, we decided this was our scene and went in for a drink. The karaoke continued for a little while, then was replaced with some latin music and everyone got up and danced. It was a fun evening, including some very strange djing choices (the macarena and by the rivers of babylon slightly stood out from the mix).
The rest of the time we spent doing a bit of wandering or just resting. The resting was getting more and more necessary – Rav was beginning to feel ill and both of us were just exhausted. We did however, move on after only a couple of days to Granada. I’m not going to blog properly for either Granada or Ometepe where we went afterwards, as the past week has really been mainly exhaustion and illness, plus I barely have any photos fro that stretch of time. I might put in something more general as a filler blog for that time. Otherwise I’ll restart again once we’re able to do interesting stuff again!