Lovely León

Posted from León, León Department, Nicaragua.

Santa Maria Cathedral

The beautiful Santa Maria Cathedral in León.

After arriving rather late in León after 17 or 18 hours on the road, we were write-offs for the first night. There was some kind of a party going on in the bar at our hostel, but I think I was passed out by 10 p.m.

The next day, however, I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready for an adventure. My sleepy travel companion was out cold, so I had a shower and went in search of breakfast on the streets of the old Nicaraguan city. León is busy and cheap. I was actually surprised how cheap it was. Clothing was dollars – new clothing. I can often gauge how cheap a city is by the price of its flip flops. In León they were about $10.

Just a regular day hanging out by the cathedral.

The city

While on my walk I stumbled upon a park in front of the Santa Maria Cathedral (Catedral de Santa María de Regla de León) where the fastest free wifi can be found. If it sucks at your hostel, go here. Across from the park is the Revolution Museum.

After my rather cheap breakfast of a chocolate croissant and an instant coffee, I went here because someone suggested it. I wasn’t disappointed – not exactly. It isn’t really a museum. It’s a bunch of old and tattered photos leaned up against the walls, and a guide who (for about $3) tells you about the history of Nicaragua, and what happened leading up to the revolution, during it, and after. My guide spoke five English words, but he compensated by handing me a laminated booklet in english that explained the key points, and by speaking really loud as though it would help me understand him. It was really well written too.

Bullet holes in the Revolution Museum wall. The building was a National Guard post during the revolution.

He showed me some bullet holes, and took me through the building for some scenic shots. We even went on the roof. I followed his footsteps rather carefully. In one photo of a guy holding a gun in the street, he pointed to himself. That was him. So my tour guide was a part of the revolution. But then, I suppose everyone old enough to have lived in the 60s and 70s would’ve been on one side or the other.

My tour guide was happy to show me the view from up on the roof. There were a few holes to be wary of.

The building we were in was the main gathering point after the revolution ended. It’s historic. Dilapidated. And there is a lot of bird poop inside.

I never did visit the cathedral, though there are tours that take you up to the roof. It’s highly recommended, but there are only a few times during the day that tours operated. After having been on the roof of the Revolution Museum, I opted to go to the beach instead.

Nicaragua traffic

Traffic can be a bit much sometimes. Notice how the roadway is constructed of interlocked stones.

The beach

After my tour a group of us headed to the beach at Las Penitas where BigFoot has another hostel. The hostel was working on a promotional video and somehow some of us ended up being in it, though I’ve never seen it. The beach was amazing and a welcome sight after so many long journeys and being inland for so long. We enjoyed a swim, some beach beers and a stellar sunset. The current, however, is strong here, which made it understandable why there weren’t a bunch of resorts catering to families along the shoreline.

I just love this picture. These ladies were enjoying the sunset like the rest of us. There is a cross on a rock just below them.

Volcanos

cerro negro

Cerro Negro volcano is the youngest cinder cone volcano in Central America. It is still active.

The next day we signed up for volcano boarding. The $35 excursion includes the travel, board rental, a jumpsuit to wear, goggles, a T-shirt, a bottle of water, a beer, and a mojito when we return to the hostel. Cerro Negro is a cone volcano that is a bit of an anomaly. The trek to the top takes less than an hour – and then we are explained how this works. The fastest person recorded to date was clocked at 95 km/h. None of us thought we would go that fast, but we got a bit worried that it was the standard.

cerro negro

You go first. No. You go first.

volcano boarding

Looking down it seems quite steep and a bit trepidatious.

The slope is rather steep, but the ash and rock creates a lot of friction. During the decent rocks fly up at you at impressive speeds and then you see why they give you goggles and recommend wearing something to cover your face. When I got to the bottom, my top speed was a meagre 37 km/h, and I was covered in volcanic debris. It was in my hair, clinging to my arm hair, and deep in my shoes. Later I’d mysteriously find it down my shirt and in my pants. But it was worth it. The person with the top speed in our group hit 72 km/h.

volcano boarding

By the time you reach the bottom, your adrenaline has made you forget that you just slid down an active volcano.

Raggae

That night the hostel was hosting their very first Reggae Beach Party at the Las Penitas hostel. I opted to go – why not? The entry was $3 and the party was rocking. We danced and danced. And then me and another girl, both quite tipsy, decided we wanted to leave at around 1 a.m. The band had finished and were on their way into town, so we hopped into their car and they dropped us off at our hostels. How did that end up happening?

Las Penitas

The band was great. This was the only fuzzy picture I could find from that night.

The following morning we were booked to leave in a shuttle to San Juan Del Sur ($20,) a beach town on the Pacific Coast renowned for Sunday Funday – a big travelling pool party, and for being close to some surf breaks.

The gist

León is a wonderful city filled with friendly locals and delicious restaurants. It’s inexpensive but has a few higher end hotels and restaurants for those that prefer not to rough it. If you’re passing through Nicaragua, don’t miss this piece of history.

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