León warrants an extra day

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
Trip End May 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostel El Alberque

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chinandega to León 43 km



On our way from Chinandega, we stopped at the "On the Run" convenience store and gas station for a bite of yogurt and some road snacks. It was another morning of fairly easy terrain and a nice shoulder to ride. Again we had plenty of spectacular volcano views on our left. 


At 9 am we arrived in León at a church plaza on the north side of the colonial city. There are many old churches in León and it took us a few minutes to figure out this was our landmark, Iglesia de San Juan. We had arrived. Sure enough, two blocks further, we found El Alberge hostel and rolled our bikes past the front desk and into an out of the way and secure place near the kitchen. Hostel El Alberque is a cozy backpacker place with plenty of little spots to relax in comfort. Our private room with shared bath suited us perfectly. Besides we had WiFi. What more could we ask for? 

In the kitchen, we found a French family we had met in Monterrico, Guatemala, cooking lunch. They are nearing the end their 11 month Central American tour. The Dad would love to continue and expressed that he envied us. His wife has her job waiting for her back home and she loves her job and the people she works with, so no more traveling for awhile. They home school their two teenage sons when on the road. And what a fantastic education it is for them to learn about different cultures and countries first hand.
For us, it was still early enough for a late breakfast but we decided to find a Lonely Planet recommended lunch place, Puerto Cafe Benjamin Linder. We could not find it. Then out of a travel agency door popped out a guy we had met in Potosi (small world). Yeah, the place we were looking for had shut down and is no longer in business. He recommended a great little place around the corner with typical cuisine. (On 2nd Ave NO, half block south of 2A Calle NE) The restaurant had a barbecue smoking on the street with several cuts of beef, pork, chicken and sausage on the grill. It smelled wonderful!  We had our plates loaded at the barbecue, ordered sodas, went inside to the cash register and paid about five bucks total. Then we enjoyed a fresh hot meal on the breezy courtyard of the restaurant.  Next door was a helpful tourist information office. They had to hunt, but they were able to scare up decent maps of Nicaragura and Managua for us.

We explored the colonial town a bit and found our way to the main plaza in front of the main Cathedral of the Assumption, built from 1706 to 1740. Perhaps it is because we had seen nicer colonial churches in Mexico, but we were rather ho-hum about the historic building. It just seemed like old building and not particularly interesting. Inside, the cathedral is plain. They have a tour that would take us to the roof for what we expected would be a great bird's eye view of the city. But we needed proper attire and decided to skip it. The bell tower facade of the cathedral has interesting sculptures that you would never see in a newer building. But other than that, it was not memorable.

León warrants an extra day: The free breakfast at our hostel was make your own pancakes. There was a big crowd and limited space so we decided to go out. We found a place with great bottomless cups of coffee and stayed a long time at "El Desayunazo". (Savor the coffee, skip the hash browns) A particularly effective beggar lady came in with an empty asthma inhaler. She seemed short of breath and said she needed a new inhaler and they cost a lot of money. We dug into our pocket for a few dollars for her. She got something from the other patrons before being moved on by the owner. We asked if it was a ruse or if she was really sick. He had no idea and neither did we. Later we enjoyed some cool refreshment at a cathedral view café in the main plaza. We returned to our hostel to find Megan and Jules had arrived.. They had ridden from Rancho Esparanza in Juquililo in the one day. We had taken two. We were happy to see them and have another reunion.

León is a jumping off point for tours to volcanoes (hike up and surf on the ash down), trips to the surfing beaches, and adventures in the mountains of northern Nicaragura. Biking is enough of an adventure for us and we just roamed the town and planned our exit for the next day.

But first, we had to stop by for what the owner of a hostal/pizza Lebanese restaurant called the best Lebanese food in Nicaragua. Beside pizza, the menu had hummus, baba-ganoush, taboulleh salad and fatoosh! No baba -ganoush today. Dave settled for chicken swarma with hummus and Michelle a good size portion of taboulleh...delish. Hummus was tasty but the real treat was the delicately marinated and perfectly cooked tender chicken. The owner was not kidding. It was good. 
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