I awoke to birds trilling and a gentle wafting breeze. Neither of which was conducive to getting me out of bed, but I dug deep determined to get on with the day. Fresh fruit and great coffee was a big help. I asked at reception if I could stay another two nights and after checking my name was immediately given the OK. I wonder if they only initially let you stay one night so if you turn out to be of less desirable character they can move you on. If that was the case, just as well I had a quiet night!
I decided to do the walking tour in the guidebook and headed off to the Parque Central. Here was what was missing in Managua; a large grimy cathedral overlooking a leafy plaza bustling with vendors of all kinds, hombres reclining lazily on park benches, and more pigeons than you can shake a baguette at. Oh…..and the local Blood Bank set up in the rotunda taking blood donations. The signage said it was completely safe and sterile but I wonder with the amount of dust, debris and droppings in the vicinity.
I got myself a traditional Leon raspado (basically shaved ice with raspberry sauce and condensed milk on top) and bunkered down to enjoy this recommended confection. All of a sudden there was an ear piecing siren of air raid capacity. I looked around at the locals who seemed quite non-plussed so assumed there was nothing to be overly concerned about. After the wailing died down to more audible levels, I asked the hombre on the bench next to me what it was. He explained it was announcing the midday. A quick glance at my watch confirmed this. If this how they communicate time, I would hate to see how they would deal with any sort of disaster warning! It wasn’t as if the cathedral’s bells were defunct. One could hear the last of the tolling when the ruckus died down.
Next port of call was the Museo de Revolution. Every major Central American city worth its sal has one of these grimy, poignant homages to the passionate soldiers (of both gender) who fought with the unbridled passion of youth for perceived justice and freedom. In reality, the end result is usually unthinkable carnage (on both sides) and very little to show for in terms of real gains. An affable hombre by the name of Benito was to be my guide and once attuned to his thick Nicaraguan accent, I found I was able to generally follow what he was saying. The guides at the museum came equipped with a short length of polypipe which they used to enthusiastically tap on images of El Senor Sandista, the nation’s revolutionary hero. This was rendering the good senor’s image to a succession of white blobs after successive tappings had penetrated the surfaces of the photos. Sheets of thick plastic had been used to clad the worst of these to prevent further damage.
After being lead from one captioned black and white cardboard photo display to another, Benito eventually took me on to the roof of the building the Museo was displayed in for some spectacular views of the city and beyond. As I gingerly trod on the reinforced sections of the rusty iron cladding, Benito assured me it was completely safe and to prove the point, starting jumping up and down on a particularly dodgy looking bit. It was worth the angst though, as one could see Nicaragua’s famous Volcano Momotombo puffing away in the distance beyond the streetscape.
I asked Benito if he fought in the revolution and he grimly nodded. He was 20 years of age at the time and many of the murdered revolutionaries he had shown me photos of had been his friends. I was a young teenager when the revolution took place and vaguely recall hearing about it from the sanctuary of my home town. How very different our lives have been. Fate is a curious dice. Benito believes Nicaragua was far better off before the revolution compared to now. An interesting confession from a card-carrying FSLM member. I didn’t press the point but wondered whether he regretted the whole episode considering the cost.
I continued on my stroll past various buildings of historic interest (including a church that had been almost completely obliterated during the Revolution and was still awaiting restoration) until I got to a particularly strange little museum. Part depiction of some of the human rights abuses locals suffered by the National Guard, part life-size paper mache figures portraying local myths and legends. The whole effect was quite creepy and I felt if I had been brought up on this ghoulish diet, I think I would have been condemned to a lifetime of eternal nightmares!
At dusk the Parque Central was ramping up in activity. Street food vendors were doing a brisk trade as locals gathered to take in the festivities. Aside from the usual Nicaraguan Santa and children’s activities, there were many of the local La Gigantona troops making their rounds throughout the city. A giant paper mâché woman, fancily dressed and with long hair and wide blank eyes, is brought to life by a young boy hidden under her voluminous skirt. When the chico’s merry band of drummers up the beat, La Gigantona is made to dance in a weird arm flailing manner. It’s quite mesmerising and just a bit disturbing to watch.
I got myself a feed of street food and watched the merriment from the steps of the cathedral. A lovely end to my first day in beautiful Leon.