Lions and the Pacific Ocean

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Sunday, November 4, 2007

From Utila we had two long travel days in a row.

The first night we spent in Comayagua, the old capital of Honduras. We only had time for a look at the square and a great BBQ dinner out, served with delicious sauces of parsley and mild green chili with beans and tortillas.

Once again, we were concerned by the lady at the internet shop who barred her doors at sunset and insisted four of us wait for each other and  walk back to our hotel together.

The next day was a marathon with a chicken bus, two micro-vans and a normal bus for over12 hours of traveling.

The ordinary bus looked promising to deliver a comfortable ride. All the seats were filled after we got on, but they were comfortable. But the bus driver ignored the maximum capacity sign and people, with all their produce, kept pouring in.  Soon the aisle was like those in a  chicken bus.

Lots of the passengers had arrangements of flowers, quite possibly as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations, and they kept trying to stuff them into the overhead  racks. I had a pollen and petal shower at one point when one old lady struggled to put her bunch above me.

Later I thought I was being strangled as two arms came from behind to encircle my neck, but it was the same old lady trying to get money out to pay, her wilted and knotted hands fumbling with her small intricately woven money purse right in front of my nose.

Soon (but not soon enough) we were at the Nicaraguan border, fighting off hordes of money exchangers.
Honduras had looked pretty poor, but it was like taking a slide down the poverty stakes crossing into Nicaragua.  Animals were more skinny: dogs, horses and cows, though they do have cows with naturally baggy skin here. The only animals that remained plump were the pigs that wander free on the side of the road. They are being fattened for Christmas we were told. Children chased the van down  the street begging for a Cordoba ( less than NZ 10c).

Nicaragua is the land of potholes. Even on major highways the drivers attack the road like slalom skiers.

The scenery is pretty though, green pastures  with cone shaped volcanoes sticking up all over and the large lakes of Managua and Nicaragua.

We struck the most massive thunder and lightning storm when we were in the van. At first we couldn't hear thunder; later it was a few seconds after and then  we had a flash and a thunderclap instantaneously, so loud it made  the van hum. It really rained too, huge brown streams washing over the road.


The first place we stopped in Nicaragua was the town of Leon. The town was in party mode celebrating the Day of the Dead. Even bigger in Mexico, it's the day or so after Halloween and they commemorate past relatives, giving offerings of the food and drink their relatives liked.

We went to a big restaurant called Via Via which was packed with people with a large band.

Mark and I had a traditional chicken stew that looked like pumpkin soup with hunks of onion and chicken in it. For money, could not tell you what ingredients or flavours it had in it or what made it orange (pureed orange peppers is one guess) but it was really satisfying.

One downer of the evening was the girl who collapsed when we were there. She had taken three sleeping pills, and then went out dancing. Not enough for a true suicide attempt, but it practically guaranteed she would get some attention by collapsing in the middle of the celebrations. We had a doctor and two nurses in our GAP group and I was impressed with how rapidly they went to her aid. Before I even knew anything was up the three women  rushed over, leaving their meals that had just been served with  no hesitation.

I had wanted to go volcano boarding but the tour was full.  The others loved it though. They climbed up a black volcano of sharp  scree and then came tearing down on boards you sit on, dressed in bright orange overalls and lab safety glasses to protect their skin and eyes. One and a half hours up and 22 secs to 14 minutes down depending on your need for speed, and fear of skin grazes.

Instead we wandered around Leon, looking at churches and monuments. The statues around  the city are mostly lions and they are very well done.

My favourite lion is in the main cathedral, which is the largest in Central America. It is a huge  mournful lion of marble that guards  over Ruben Dario's grave, Nicaragua's most famous poet who was from the town.  There is so much emotion captured in the lion's face that it almost looks human.

Cheese misadventure
On our way back from a church meant to have a huge sun inside (we never got to see it as the big doors was closed) we came across a packed cheese shop. Abiding by the rule of eat where the locals eat, we decided to buy some.

The supermarket had only stocked processed slices or ghastly orange American-style cheese, where as the cheese shop had lots of different varieties and the sweet girl at the shop gave us samples of each type. Some look like feta and others like huge blocks of barbecued, lumpy tofu. They all tasted mild, with varying degrees of dryness but quite edible.

We bought some of the firmer stuff and some fresh bread roles and went back to our hotel to eat in the pretty courtyard. I had one sandwich and was making the second when I noticed small white things squirming on my bread --  maggots.  We packed up th cheese to feed to the many skinny dogs around and vowed to stick to supermarket cheese in all it's over-processed glory. (I should add that we bought some cheese at the market in Oaxaca, Mexico successfully. In that region they make  a mild creamy cheese that looks like fresh wide  strings of mozzarella wound  into little lumps that you unwind and pull bits off to eat.)

After lunch we decided to check out the Pacific ocean. The beach is 26 kilometres from Leon.  The taxi driver dropped us at a vacant lot with access through to the beach. In the middle of the small stone fence at the back of the property, with the sand and sea glistening behind it, were a rooster and hen, pecking the dry grass. My mind raced with possible 'why did the chicken go to the beach jokes' as I tried in vain to get a photo of this bizarre juxtaposition. But the chickens were sent scurrying by children trying to sell sea shells for US$1 apiece.

There are two beaches either side of the road from Leon and we were at Las Peņitas.  There is a lagoon at one side and access to the other beach at the other end.

We enjoyed a swim or two.  The water was salty and warm but pretty stirred up, and then I wandered down the beach. Compared to the Caribbean, the Pacific has darker sand and bigger waves. It seemed bizarre to me as in New Zealand it is the Tasman sea that has darker sand and bigger waves and the Pacific has the white sand and calmer water in most places. Also strange was that now the Pacific was on the West coast, not East as back home.

We stayed for the sunset, enjoying a few of the local Toņa beers and got the last chicken bus back to Leon. Like many chicken buses, the stereo  was blarin' reggae and the bus smelt of old  sea shells.

Back in Leon it was absolutely pouring for the second night in a row. We piled into taxis at the bus station. The driver was adamant that two could fit in the front seat of the car, so I had to salsa with the gear stick.  He operated his taxi like a shuttle service, taking multiple parties at once and charging per person.

Over all I found Leon quite challenging. The poverty was evident everywhere (we had a girl asking us for money to buy milk for her young baby, telling us that the dad had gone off with a new girl. She looked no more than 16).

Also I found the town oppressive. I am not sure why and didn't realise I felt that until we began driving to the beach. I felt so relieved when we got out of town to find beautiful fields and fruit trees.

Leon has always been very political and intellectual so maybe that created a grittiness that lives on. 

One plus for Leon is it  does not feel like a tourist town and we saw lots of local people out at restaurants when we were there. It was good to see regular people out enjoying themselves.

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