Saturday, November 17, 2012
Our final stop in Nicaragua was the northern colonial town of Leon, our hour or so south of the El Salvadorian border. We’d had nearly two weeks in Nicaragua and while we would have loved more…..the sailing season is starting to beckon. The amiable Gerry, host of Casa del Agua in Granada, gave us a lift to Managua from where we caught a shuttle bus to shabby but lovely Leon, pleasantly free of tourists.
What sets Leon apart from other colonial central American cities is it hasn’t (yet) undergone the intense renovation places such as Granada or Antigua (Guatemala) have. It’s still raw and rough around the edges which gives it an added appeal. A real gritty working town.
As much as we’ve loved Granada, Cartegena, Antigua etc, they are rather airbrushed. With Leon, what you see is what you get….beautifully shabby buildings and glorious churches.
We had one night in an average hostal with a pool which was magic in the stifling heat. Next day we stumbled across a gorgeous hotel that cost the same so we moved. It was probably the best hotel we’d stayed in –crisp and clean linen, a newly tiled bathroom with plumbing that really worked (ie no drain smells), sat tv (for those times when it’s too hot to be out) and a gorgeous shady courtyard to relax in-bliss.
Our mornings were filled with exploring this lovely town, the churches, galleries, museums and markets. It just got too hot to do much in the afternoons and one day we even decided to go to the movies…..the appeal of an air conditioned theatre was irresistible. We saw the latest James Bond movie Skyfall and have to say – Best. Bond. Ever!
We found some pretty cool bars and restaurants in Leon and couldn’t believe how cheap eating out was. For less than $10 we could have a really great traditional meal (buritto filled with beans and vegetables) with a beer and mojito thrown in. David had fillet steak one night….it was cooked to perfection and tender and cost $4.
We loved the graffiti on some of the buildings….most of it politically motivated. Nicaraguans are passionate about politics and art. Leon has a fantastic art gallery featuring plenty of original Latin American art as well as signed prints from European masters including Picasso and Matisse. Set in an elegant colonial building with courtyards, the gallery also had a contemporary section with some quirky works including a set of chicken bus doors and a tuk tuk!
Being animal lovers, the worst aspect of Leon (like the rest of Nicaragua) was seeing the sad fate of animals especially the skeletal working horses that pull carts in unbelievably hot temperatures. It was hard to ignore….but eventually you have to accept they are working animals and as such come pretty low down the food chain.
From Leon we had two options for our trip up to El Salvador through Honduras. The first was to take a series of crowded and hot chicken buses, rickshaws and taxis.
The second option was to take a 10-hour luxury Tica Bus (all meals included) from Leon direct to San Salvador letting the steward deal with our two border clearances. It was a no brainer.
The border crossings were fairly uneventful – the routine man with a machine gun wandering through the bus, luggage taken out to be checked and then all back on board to the next checkpoint. Ten hours later we were in the seedy city of San Salvador. It’s not a good place to arrive late at night so luckily we had a hotel booked and taxi organised. We’d only planned to pass through but kept meeting people who told us it was an amazing country…..so we changed our plans. Read about it next blog.