Our Central America tour (10): Leon

On Monday morning at 8.30 am, we left Granada and three of the five who had joined us a few days earlier (so now we are 15). It was a short drive north west to the outskirts of the city of Managua.

Historically Managua remained a village until 1852 when it was chosen as the new capital of the country, following a civil war between liberal Leon and conservative Granada instigated by the American brigand William Walker. Geographically it is located between the other two. It was devastated by earthquakes in 1931, again in 1936, and most recently In 1972 and today it is a sprawling, shambolic and chaotic but modern city of over two million people.

Leaving Managua, we rejoined the Pan American Highway and continued to skirt the southern shore of the large Lago Managua and eventually stopped for a wonderful scenic view of two volcanoes at the north east of the lake: Momotomba and (smaller) Momotombito.

We reached Leo at noon which was a little early, so Eduardo took the opportunity to take us round the main covered market. Unlike yesterday’s market, this one is for the locals: fresh fish, meat, vegetables and fruit, in displays as colourful as they were mountainous, plus all the other products necessary for normal domestic life, all in a bustling and noisy environment. However, we could have done without the live iguanas with their feet tied.

Once we were united with our local guide Miguel, we drove out of the city to visit a small village called San Jacinto where we were able to observe bubbling and spluttering and splashing hot springs, the result of the nearby Volcan Telica. The ground was as hot as the air so we had to keep moving before we fried. Several of us were accompanied by local children – Roger’s guide was a seven year old girl called Solangel and Vee had a boy with the typically Nicaraguan name of Kenneth tagging along – who attempted to tell us what to observe. It would be lovely to think this was all about friendship towards older people but, before we re-boarded the bus, the ubiquitous $1 had to be sacrificed.

We returned to Leon. The city was originally founded In 1524 by Francisco Hernandez but, after a series of natural disasters, moved in 1610 to its present location. It served as the nation’s capital for most of the colonial period of almost 200 years. Politically it has traditionally been the most liberal city in the country and today remains a Sandinista stronghold. It has a population of almost 200,000 and it is the intellectual heart of the country.

Back in the city, we started with lunch at an attractive restaurant called “Al Carbon”. It was an especially good meal: a small salad, a meat soup, pork with sweet & sour sauce, and cheesecake. A full stomach and humid heat made a walking tour of the city with Miguel a doubtful attraction, but we did not walk far and the two places we visited were interesting in very different ways.

First we went to see the cathedral in La Plaza de la Liberacion which is officially known as the Basilica de la Asuncion and is the largest in Central America. This is the fifth version of this establishment since the creation of the city and the current building was constructed between 1747-1860 in the baroque style by indigenous labourers. It is In the process of a major programme of renovation with the inside and the roof completed. Some of us went up to the roof for views of the city and the row of volcanoes beyond it. The climb up was not particularly easy and the walk across the top of a small curved dome would be a challenge for anyone with vertigo.

The other place we visited was a unique venue called the Museum of Myths and Legends. This was founded by a woman called Señora Carmen Toruna to remind a information technology obsessed citizenry of the traditional stories of Nicaraguan folklore. It is housed on the location of a former political prison and at the entrance is the tank that helped to liberate the Sandinista prisoners, in the courtyard is a figure of a rebel throwing a homemade bomb, and on whitewashed walls there are black drawings of prisoners being subjected to various gruesome tortures. The rest of the museum consists of papier mâché models of historic and legendary figures, including some obviously intended to scare naughty children Into behaving better. Museum collections hardly come more eclectic than this.

Our afternoon in Leon was probably the hottest time of our three-week tour: about 35C. The two hour walking tour finished at 5.15 pm at our accommodation for the night: Las Mercedes Hotel. We had left our hotel in Granada almost nine hours ago, so it was another full but fascinating day. Early in the evening, we said farewell our guide Eduardo and driver Felix for the Costa Rica-Nicaragua portion of our trip.

As yesterday evening, since we had had such a large lunch, we only needed a light dinner. So the famous four – Roger & Vee and Brian & Cally – ate almost next door at “El Sesteo”. Roger was keen to have his dessert but the waiter claimed that none of the desserts were available. When pressed, the cafe decided that it would be possible to serve a banana split but all the ice cream would have to be the same flavour and he could have any flavour he wanted as long as it was chocolate. He could live with that.

Tomorrow … El Salvador


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>