Managua to Leon

Trip Start Jul 22, 2013
Trip End Aug 10, 2013

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Leon,
Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It was 4.00 a.m. when Caitlin woke me up wandering to the bathroom for an early morning comfort break so, it was a mere four hours and a half of shut eye for me while Alyson maintained her state of oblivion and slept for almost 12 hours in total! Nevertheless, I didn't feel too tired.

A nice enough buffet breakfast with a good selection of cereals, fruit, breads and various hot stuff meant that we were ready for the day when our guide, Edgar for the next few days arrived to greet us in the foyer of El Camino Real. With our luggage in the back of the minibus, we were driven north out of the city and into the countryside towards Leon Viejo and finally Leon. Edgar is very knowledgeable and articulate and gave us a detailed introduction to the history, politics and geography of Nicaragua. We are now educated.

A few highlights as we headed northwards past verdant fields where peanut, corn and banana plantations were in abundance included seeing a free and frightened horse running wildly up and down and across the main highway, young opportunists wielding captured iguanas for sale as pets at the road side, a quick stop off to buy liquids at a rural supermarket and our first chance to spot the Momotombo volcano dormant at the moment. Fascinating stuff although Caitlin might not agree!

I didn't have high expectations of our visit to Leon Viejo but an informed and communicative guide can make a big difference to the quality of the experience. And Edgar has those qualities.

Leon Viejo is an UNESCO heritage site. Superficially, it is merely a pile of relatively recently recovered walls of various buildings in a city that was threatened by earthquakes and the eruptions of the local volcano. Something of a Nicaraguan Pompeii minus the fleeing bodies. Interesting enough in itself to see where and how the Spanish colonists lived but the tales Edgar told in between his many pauses to peruse the local bird life with his well used binoculars revealed that this place held much darker secrets.

This city was established in 1524 by the Spaniards who were into gold bling in more than a big way at this time. They were enticed to Leon and Niaragua by the treasures they believed were here. in Leon, the Spanish conqueror who established the city, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, was murdered by another Mafia minded Spaniard, Pedrarias Davila and his beheaded body has been found next to the body of his murderer.

Davila was not a man to be crossed. When some native Indians stood up against him, he ordered his men to capture a band of them and then proceeded to tether and set wild dogs who had been starved for the purpose of attacking and feeding on them.

Probably not the worst of the atrocities which the Spanish colonists inflicted on the indiginous population. It is estimated that of the million or so native Nicaraguans who lived in the country, 90 per cent were killed by the Spaniards or deported to work as slave labour in the pursuit of gold in Peru. The Spaniards weren't the most gracious travellers. Do as they say and believe in their version of Christanity....or die!

Before I forget, two things to mention. The roads and butterflies.

The roads are in very good condition and generally the traffic is light outside of Managua thus far. So different from the madness we witnessed in Vietnam and India. Scarcely any scootery type motorbikes though plenty of red tuktuks and occasional horse drawn vehicles.

Butterflies are everywhere in the countryside. Of every colour and variegation. A by product of the country's commitment to organic farming? Anyway, during a five minute walk you will pass hundreds if not thousand of these airbound creatures.

On to Leon, the replacement city! A strong colonial feel to the place with primary coloured building lined up in a grid system. We are dropped off at a wonderful hotel, "El Convento" which as the name suggests was formerly a convent. Beautiful inner gardens, religious icons from the previous regime and quirky ornamentations everywhere. Truly, a delightful place to stay...but unfortunately merely for one night on this occasion.

Edgar returned mid afternoon for a walking tour of Leon. The highlight? Climbing to the top of the Basilica and walking precariously across the rooftop to get a motmot's view of the terracottered tiled city. A motmot is of corse the national bird of Nicaragua.

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed several locations of conflict including the street where a young student assasinated the first Samosa president / dictator a member of the ultra right wing family who were buttressed up in power by the North American super power for forty two years until 1979. That's when the left wing Sandinista's deposed them to the United States' displeasure of course.

We planned a possible visit to the cinema in the early evening but Caitlin and Alyson were close to snore-mode and need a little coaxing to leave their slumber and food was a more attractive proposition than the viewing option. So, we ended up in the restaurant next to the Basilica - El Sesteo. my fish was lovely but the spaghetti dishes which Alyson and Caitlin went for seemed less impressive. Atmospheric location and good prices. Highly recommendee by me.

And that's it more or less for our first full day in Nicaragua.
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