Near-Death Experiences in Leon
Trip Start May 12, 2009
24Trip End Sep 29, 2009
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Last night I was zipping through the streets of Leon on a moto, with adrenaline flowing and my eyes scanning the road ahead. The man driving the motorcycle seemed to know what he was doing, but I was just a bit uncertain. He would kick it up a gear and squeeze the motor for all the acceleration it could give, then I would glance up and see a red light. "¡Rojo!", that is not supposed to be what you see as you accelerate! A second after seeing the red light, he´s braking, and we slide to a stop just behind the bumper of a taxi cab. The guys on the motorcycle next to us look over and gave the thumbs up sign.
We certainly could not accept being stuck behind any slow taxi cabs, so he would move up on the right side of a taxi (right side... that would be known as the no-passing side in the States!) and try to edge in for a space to pass. But when there was a car parked on the right side of the road, our path became constricted. He responded just like any good Egyptian taxi driver would have- by accelerating to make it happen! We flew by the parked car and the moving taxi with just an inch or two to spare between my knee cap and the car.
Later, my leg actually did brush a moving taxi as we zipped around it! Aaahhh!
It was insane!
It was thrilling.
It was Leon.
I met David Emmanuel Molina, at the Internet cafe that afternoon while doing photo uploads. He chatted with me as we solved the problems that came up. A key would get stuck on the keyboard and windows started popping up on my screen. He would tell me that yes, the return key does get stuck on that keyboard. Prop it up with a pebble. When the cd drive would not open, he informed me that all I had to do was pry it open with a screwdriver- no problem. When the screen washed over in a shade of pink he reminded me that was normal operating behavior, caused by a change in the voltage/ strength of the electricity delivered to the Internet cafe by city grid. It would correct itself when the voltage came back up.
He asked how I liked Leon. I replied honestly that I had just spent 2 weeks in Granada, and loved it there. I confessed that I was not liking Leon as much as I thought I would, but allowed that I still had not seen much of it. I think he took this as a challenge.
We chatted in Spanish, broken Spanish, coming and going. After awhile he let me know that he also knew English, and posed the question: which would I rather? When I said Spanish, I think this pleased him. He said that he is a lawyer, and his law office lies directly behind the "ciber" (internet cafe). Furthermore, he was going to be performing a wedding that evening, would I like to come?
When traveling, I love to see weddings and funerals, newborn babies and the dying. These are the life passages that we all experience, and every culture observes them differently... celebrates our humanity differently.
The wedding was to be a civil ceremony. He showed me the legal documents he drew up that afternoon. The woman, a social worker with the mentally retarded, age 53, of Oxnard, California, was to wed a carpenter, age 32, of Leon. The packet of legal papers included photocopies of her passport and social security card (they looked as authentic as mine...), a I-234B paper from the INS, some from the IRS showing her income and assets, an affidavit attesting to the fact that she promises to financially support her new husband in the US, and some papers from the Leonese government about the identity of the groom. I thought it was interesting that his identity card contained much less information than the US drivers licence. The US ID card includes height, weight, corrective lens restrictions, motorcycle endorsements, hair color, eye color, and address. The Nicaraguan ID card contains a photo, city of residence, district of residence, and a few other details about approximate physical location in the city (since they do not use street addresses here. Most streets are not named.) It did show a very detailed fingerprint though. I also thought it was interesting that the packet did not include a photocopy of his passport.
David confided that he was not so sure that she was single. This was not his problem though, and he was happy to receive the US$200 for preparing the documents and performing the ceremony. For the wedding, there would be two witnesses present confirming that the groom was single. For herself, however, the bride was presenting only a passport and income tax return stating that she was filing single (soltero).
The simple ceremony was performed in a courtyard in the middle of the office building. The couple seemed affectionate enough... the bride wore a casual sundress... the groom seemed very serious. The accompanying family members seemed slightly bored to be there, though perhaps honored. A woman hovered here and there taking flash photos, which I took as a cue that the couple would not mind photographs. I took pictures as well. I was thinking that it would be possible for me to burn the photos to cd immediately following the ceremony in the ciber and present them to the couple. I would be flattered to have been the wedding photographer! Any bride always wants pictures of her wedding!
When I broached the idea to a member of the wedding party, she seemed disinterested in copies of my photos. After that, I seriously doubted this marriage was legit.
After the signing of papers, stamping of stamps, and shaking of hands, the wedding party exited through the ciber and moved out onto the street. David and I sat on plastic chairs people-watching on the street outside the ciber when he mentioned he had a moto. I said that I love motorcycle riding in the States, and would love to do it here in Nicaragua, too. "¿Cuando?" "Ahora." "¿Ahorita?" "Si." "¿Claro?" "¿Por que no?"
I did a mental inventory of what I had in my daypack at the moment. I remembered I did have a photocopy of medical policy in my bag, that´s good. I remember being a late 80´s model car in Jordan spinning out on the streets with bald tires. At that moment, I had decided that it is important to actually carry your medical policy with you, instead of stashing it in my luggage.
Almost no one rides with a helmet here, although I´m kind of fond of them. We picked up some serious speed sometimes flying down straight-aways in Leon. Eventually I began to relax. I noticed he was indeed paying attention to the firmas altos (stop signs), pausing to check for traffic and yield if required. The busses made me particularly nervous. Bus vs. moto = bus wins.
He took me into the neighborhood of Suchiata (Suchiota?), which he said was the truest, strongest, and best of Leon. We left the Zazzora (Zamzora?) neighborhood where my hostel is. In Suchiata, he said, many people speak Nauhatl. Some do not speak any Spanish. The people are of Choloteca and Nundau (spelled absolutely phonetically!) descent. There is not much intermarriage, and you can easily see their history in the features of their faces.
In Suchiata, the women did not smile much. I wonder why.
There was church after church, every one in the Spanish architectural style. Some more neoclassical than others, a few baroque. When David said there were sesenta churches in Leon, I could help but echo, "¿sesenta?" Sixty churches in the small and modest confines of Leon. Leon is no metropolis. There is a cathedral every block or so! These are not little house churches or anything, I am talking about cathedrals. He may have included the Protestant and Evangelical churches in the count, which are usually built in a style similar to the United States: pragmatic, with a boxy structure and high ceilings to help manage the body heat generated by mobs of people. We passed Protestant church that seemed to have some special light machine. The windows were glowing blue-red-white-green-blue-yellow. It sounded like there was some fiesta there on a Saturday night.
Some of the churches are a warm yellow, others are muted pink. These are repetitions of paints I saw in Granada. Others are deep blue, including one that I saw in the style of Jewish mosques in Brazil.
In Panama, I was blown away by the variety and complexity of the microorganisms in the sea, the land, the air. The plants, the tunicates, the plankton, the mangroves, the chitras (pesky sand flies), colored poison dart frogs, small mammals, rodents, possums, raccoons, rabbits, clownfish, octupus. It left me wishing I paid more attention in biology class, that I did that extra supplementary reading.
Here in Granada and Leon, I am wishing I did more of the reading on architecture. It is not enough to just know the difference between rococo and baroque. So much thought was put into giving certain cathedrals an airy, spaceless, and weightless feel. Others are grounded, solemn, earthy, reminiscent of cemeteries. Some are dramatic, frantic, moving, emotional, ecstatic.
Now, I´m wrapping up this post in an internet cafe just off my main street. In a little bit, a guy I just met today, Cesar, will return to fetch me for lunch with his family. A proper Sunday lunch, I´m told, full of mama´s frijoles especial, papas fritas Honduras (a different way to make french fries), cuajara (the best Nicaraguan cheese), and chicha (a dreadfully sweet fruit based sugar drink).