More heat and yet more colonial splendour

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, December 22, 2006

Up and out wandering around the market and past the hundreds of clothes and shoe shops.  Is very cheap here but hope that Nicaragua is equally cheap.  I manage to buy a postcard for my niece and nephew which I do in every country we visit.  We then go to the post office to send it before buying fruit for breakfast and heading on our way.
Taxi to bus station, shuttle to Guasule the border town sipping orange juice through straws from clear plastic bags.  Arrive 45 mins later.  Get out to be pestered by money changers with wads of cash and bicycles with passenger seats.  They tell us it is 3km to the other side of the border.  I almost lose my temper with them all hassling us and we walk to the first border about 200m and pay $7 to move from Honduras to Nicaragua.  Change some money into Cordobas which is about 35 to the pound.  Then walk across a Japanese sponsored bridge into Nicaragua with bicycles going past with locals carrying nothing as we trudge with our over-full rucksacks.  We arrive at the other side and have to walk a bit further - prob about 1.5kms in total.  It is incredibly hot and we are both dripping wet.  Am still glad we didnt get a bike though. 
We get to the dusty bus station where the direct bus to Leon is waiting due to leave at midday - half an hour away.  There is a direct minibus to Chinadega where we could change and we toy with getting this as it may be quicker without hundreds of stops on the way.  We are about to get off the bus when the driver gets the engine going to keep us from leaving.  The locals are getting on piling on bags and bags of crisps which fill the entire length of the bus overhead racks.  Clearly there is a shortage somewhere.    We pay 35 Cordobas and eventually leave at 12.10 for Leon.  The bus is bumpy and we pass several volcanoes but I just want to sleep as the humidity makes you feel so lethargic.  The bumps and music blaring prevent this.
We arrive at Leonīs bus terminal at about 15.00 slightly earlier than we envisaged and walk past the market there to get a taxi to town to find somewhere to stay.  Book in at Hotel America 2 blocks from main square for $15 a night not v cheap but ok.  We go for a wander to the Cathedral past the market square and along the cathedral the pavement is lined with every type, colour and shape of crappy plastic toy you could ever imagine.  You can tell we are coming up to Christmas. The Cathedral is huge, the largest in Central America and not restored outside which makes it look more rugged and pretty bare inside.  We go to the lovely air conditioned cashpoint and get some Cordobas, they  kindly give us 500 notes which I doubt any shop will accept so we queue to change them for smaller notes in the bank.. It takes ages but I enjoy the air conditioning and strange western style surroundings and beautifully decorated Christmas tree inside.
Back in the heat we have lunch/dinner on the main square in El Sesteo which is not cheap but is a great setting and we reckon we deserver it.  We then walk to another lovely yellow pink and white ornate church with the afternoon light casting over it.  Then off to the fantastically exciting supermarket where we stock ready for our trip.  We get 2 bottles of Flor de Cana 7 year old rum (the good stuff) for 5 pound fifty.  Then off to internet to hope we have heard we have a place to stay for Christmas!
Have breakfast at our hostel before having a very cultural day.  First to La Merced church mustard yellow in colour and a great contrast to the clear blue sky.  Then drop off our laundry (not so cultured), shops to stock up for our holidays (stupid I know but it feels like it), sun tan lotion, doxycyclone (anti malaria) etc, through the market and the food stalls, sacks full of beans and spices, hundreds of shoes and t-shirts and wooden religious ornaments, toiletries, fruit, veg, hammocks, grilled cheese.

I try to take in all the sounds and smells thinking that in less than a month this will all be memories.
We head off to more churches, too numerous to list and then to some ruins called 21.  So-called as it was built in 1921 and was a prison and asylum and became the location of much torture and death since then.  The bare concrete walls have paintings of the various forms of torture carried out from filing teeth with a huge metal file to electrocute men covered in white and salt.  The guide takes us around showing us the tiny cells that housed 15 people and where one of them had carved our Christ is our Saviour.  Hope is all they had.
The museum is a bit odd as it is strangely constructed figures of Nicaraguan history and legend housed in this shocking building.  It never fails to astound me that such awful things happened not that long ago here and elsewhere.  I remember some of the dreadful things that happened in Nicaragua from watching Blue Peter in my youth and their appeals for help.
After that we head through more streets and past churches to the museum and then onto Casa Ruben Dario, old colonial home of the famous Nicaraguan poet (although I had never heard of him).  Is free to go which is a bonus so we went in and explored the whitewashed rooms with huge, heavy, dark furniture inside and lovely green courtyard.  Looked up some of his poetry on tinternet so vaguely knew something about him.

Ox that I saw in my childhood, as you steamed
in the burning gold on the Nicaraguan sun,
there on the rich plantation filled with tropical
harmonies; woodland dove, of the woods that sang
with the sound of the wind, of axes, of birds and wild bulls:
I salute you both, because you are both my life.

You, heavy ox, evoke the gentle dawn
that signaled it was time to milk the cow,
when my existence was all white and rose;
and you, sweet mountain dove, cooing and calling,
you signify all that my own springtime, now
so far away, possessed of the Divine Springtime
Am sure it sounds different in Spanish.
Anyway then off for some lunch at a veggie restaurant (Daves suggestion again - shocking and yes I know he is too thin these days but he wont listen).  We then start our internet spree phoning home to wish family a Merry Christmas as we are off on our hols to the Carribbean tomorrow.  Am very excited to be going on holiday which I know is ridiculous sounding but I am anyway!
Last night we decided to go to what we thought was the Christmas children carol service in the Cathedral.  We went down to the main square which was chock a block with market stalls and people.  On one side of the square was an audience watching a group of traditional dancers in bright elaborate costumes with loud music.  In the centre of the square were several children with load drums accompanying other children with huge women puppets and manīs heads at tradition here.  Inside the cathedral the minister was competing with the outside noise and we squeezed into a pew for hopefully some carols to get us in the mood.  Lots of kids inside and no hymn books. After 5 minutes of talking everyone started to file out behind large figures of Mary and Joseph which were carried out into the square as everyone sang songs we didnt know.  We went outside to video the spectacle and the cacophony of sounds.  Not quite what we had in mind but great nonetheless.

This morning have been doing last minute shopping and called my gran to wish her a Merry Christmas too. Skype is great so cheap and as clear as the phone.  Funny how Christmas makes you homesick.  Only saving grace is that the weather sounds dreadful at the moment.  Daveīs parents have gone to Spain to see his sister and for some sun (we reckon its more the latter than the former though).  Sadly it is snowing there.  We tried not to laugh, really.  Was hard not to.  But do feel bad really.
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