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  • Day142

    Léon, Nicaragua

    March 8, 2017 in Nicaragua ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    Churches, churches and air conditioning!!!!

    Léon was far from the top of my list of places to visit in Nicaragua. However, there was an abundance of goodword and a fairly strong vote from the team, so we booked in two nights at the hostel Tortuga Booluda. Another fleeting visit sandwiched between more of Nicaragua's delightful buses. This included our second breakdown within a week and we barely batted an eyelid - our complaints nipped at the bud for the one and only reason that we're paying less for these buses than the pocket money I used to earn for mowing 18 hectares of lawn.

    Léon has historical significance to Nicaraguans for it's role in the civil war but for tourists it's the churches, culture and colonial architecture which are the main attractions. It's a little disappointing that the town doesn't place more emphasis on it's history. Only a short read (thanks Lonely Planet) into the tumultuous and frankly disturbing last century left me baffled with what these people have faced. Selfish dictatorship, wreckless external military interference, corrupt politics and ethnically diverse colonialism have left Nicaragua pretty close to rock bottom. They faced famine, strangulation by trade embargos, war, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, mass murder, serial assassinations, government sanctioned torture - oh, and I almost forgot - bombings by their own government! All of those in no mean number: 50,000 were killed in the revolution (many innocent bombing casualties) and 6,000 in the 1972 earthquake. That's a pretty decent chunk of the six million people that call this country home.

    So now when I tell you their GDP isn't too far off that of your average upper class American, you'll probably believe me. As a matter of fact, I'm impressed they even have one; until late in the 20th century 50% of the population were illiterate and unemployment was around 20%. It goes without saying the people are poor - $1US = 30 Cordoba and that will get you a beer in a bar. THIS is a country where your money goes a long way and you're more than happy to spend it. Or give it away. Depending on how fresh these facts are in your literate brain.

    It's understandable that religion (catholicism) has engrained itself in Nicaraguan culture, and it is impossible to overlook the enormity of this in the centre of Léon. Churches exist in numbers so great it is difficult to walk a block without seeing one. Many are immaculately restored, boldly and beautifully framed in a deep blue sky, others less so but more practical in nature, and if you wander the right way, you'll see those that lay in ruin - obliterated by shellings and left in that state as a visual reminder of their gruesome history. The Catedral de Leon is the biggest in central america, blindingly bright and white in the centre of town. It's impressive. And for $3US you can access the roof, get close up with the domes and bell towers and take in Léon from a height, backdropped by numerous (some still active) volcanoes. Which is just what we did.

    We spent many hours wandering the streets in the 35° heat, taking this all in and as a result spent many hours retiring at the hostel in recovery. For the first time since the US, our room had air conditioning and it was glorious! We had that thing pumping to the max all day everyday - probably contributing to local powercuts - but keeping our room tolerably cool for once! I tell you, I wouldn't need to think twice about replacing my luggage with an AC unit, if practicality would have it so.

    We declined on tours in Léon partly due to expense and partly because we had already done or were about to do similar activities. Well, that and did I mention we had AC to capitalise on!

    One afternoon Cat and I ventured to the museum of legends and traditions. I can honestly tell you this was the most ridiculous experience on this trip. We were offered a free english speaking guide upon entry and snapped him up, for opportunities like that are rare in this place! Without hesistation, he began a well rehearsed monologue, his voice a mildy comprehensible dull combination of Siri, a robot and a rambling spaniard. He made my speech seem positively normal and drained the mental concentration of both Cat and I within minutes. That was before we discovered what we had signed up for.

    The tour was in an ex-prison, still fitted with iron gates and tatty barbed wire. Inside the cells were life-sized figures, representing historical leaders, skeleton horses, crazy witches and disproportionately large headed Nicaraguans, complete with streamers as hair. All of which were created in that awkwardly creepy zone between real life and cartoon. To add to our brewing condition, old mate had a crazy eye and his wife was sifting behind us, thin as a rake and oddly remissive of the 'legends' about which he spoke. At one point it got so creepy I was confident we were about to get locked in a cell. Only having seen two other people on the premises made my confidence in this fate more concrete. But I'm writing this now so you know we're both safe, phew!

    We learnt of tales that, on the tale spectrum, lie between outrageous and utterly insane. Perhaps the most notable was of a hideous woman who had no success in finding a man to wed. She did, however, have fantastic breasts and used these to lure in men - all the while keeping her face hidden. Once the men were preoccupied with her breast (s?) she either (a) strangled them to death or (b) poisoned them with her breast milk - we were unable to decipher which it was. The moral? One can only guess that men should stop being so shallow. I won't put you through anymore, but I'll have you know the lady who curated the museum deserved to be an exhibition herself. Oh, that and I felt an unusually large sense of relief to walk out the front gates...

    We ate on the street that night in Léon. Delicious hamburgers the size of your face. Every western meal we eat is appreciated, briefly before kicking yourself for what your paid and how your going to feel about it later. What's hot right now? Plaintain crisps are on point - they're less sweet than a banana and come sliced long ways, like filling crisps. Passionfruit juice is everywhere and cheap as chips - odd because the price of a passion fruit doesn't correlate. The local drop Toña is going down a treat in this temperature and a a shade over a dollar a pop they're pretty hard to resist. Don't mention the vegetables mum, there's plenty of avacado on the menu!

    We took a rain check on the volcano boarding that is offered by every vendor in Léon. A combination of expense, bus rides and climbing another volcano in this heat was enough to put us off. I'm sure we'll find better use for the money!

    That's all for Léon. A very relaxing stop indeed. Onwards to Granada now and that means more buses - woohoo!
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