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Leon – city of lions

March 31, 2012

My friend, Judy, and I took a bus trip to Leon, Nicaragua this week. Leon and Granada have long been rival colonial cities and people feel strongly that one or the other is more interesting. We vote for Granada because of the weather and the restaurants. It was 98F the day we visited Leon and we nearly melted.

We took a bus from Granada to Managua the capital city, and then changed to a micro bus (15 pax) from there to Leon. The entire trip took about three hours and cost a grand total of $3. Once we got to Leon we took a taxi for $1 apiece to the center to find a hotel. This was an adventure as we always have a place booked, but it worked out great and we found the Dona Blanca Hotel with air conditioning, two beds, hot water and breakfast for $52/night for both of us. It was in a good central location and had a very pretty garden.

Leon was originally built in 1524 in a location about 20 miles east of where it is today. That site was abandoned and the current city was rebuilt in the early 1600s. The old city was buried by ash and rock from a volcanic eruption of Volcano Momotombo which is a beautiful cone-shaped mountain today. The entire Central American mountain range is still volcanic and active as well as subject to earthquakes.

Many of the buildings in Leon are from the 1700s and of the colonial style. We visited the main cathedral, several churches and the Museum of Legends and Traditions which is located in an old jail. It was single-handedly established by a remarkable woman Dona Carmen who at first kept the exhibits in her home. Many of the legends involve strife between men and women, and the Spanish versus the indigenous people. There were many replicas of the figures involved in these legends.

We also visited the childhood home of the famous Nicaraguan poet Rubin Dario. Poetry is an important part of Nicaraguan life. We ate the famous Nacatamal which is a kind of tamale wrapped in banana leaves. This was consumed along with a Tona (beer) which I later found out is the wrong thing to drink with it as it will upset your stomach (didn’t happen). You are supposed to drink coffee or coke.

There were some beautiful buildings, gorgeous wood ceilings and gardens in Leon. It seemed to me that the buildings were in more disrepair than Granada. Leon is home to the most famous university in Central American (UNUN) and students come from all over to attend. There is intense competition to get in. A young woman came over to sit with us in the park in order to practice her English. She was a university graduate in accounting but had only been able to find a part-time (Saturday) teaching job. She thought that improving her English would help her in her job search.

Random observations on the trip:

A cemetery with a bright purple wall and blue or green crosses marking the graves.

Beautiful manicured land with gorgeous homes, thoroughbred horses in the field, were right next to apparently abandoned building projects or shack type homes.

Six cattle in a plowed field – eating? dirt?

Huge rocks/boulders in fields miles from the nearest volcano. Reminds you of the power of these volcanoes when they erupt.

98F is too hot to travel, especially packed onto a bus where many passengers are standing right next to you. It is dangerous as their bags accidentally swing into your head when the bus swerves on the highway. You are soaking wet when you finally exit.

Nicas are remarkably patient. They wait calmly for service, food (lunch of 2 burritos took one hour)??, ATMs and bank lines. They help each other on and off the buses, all pleasantly.

Everyone except tourists wore long pants (mostly jeans) in Leon, and many had on long or three quarters shirts. We could not figure it out as it was so hot, unless it was to keep the sun off their skin.

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