A lazy morning working out where to go to next decided me upon the bustling colonial town of Leon, which I could use as a base for a few days while exploring other nearby places. I bid adios to Michele who was heading south to Granada and sought directions to the local bus terminal. As usual, I had to convince the good folk at the hostel that I did not wish to take the tourist shuttle, but preferred to travel via local transport. That being firmly established, I was bustled into a crusty old collectivo of sorts and zoomed off to the local bus terminal.
Here was the pulsing heart of Central America I had been missing to date; a ragtag fleet of antiquated old US school buses gaudily painted up with messages of eternal salvation from the Good Lord amidst manky markets and the frenetic shouts of bus touts. Catching a bus here is by no means a leisurely affair. The collectivo driver heads straight into the teeming mass shouting out my desired destination. A bus tout shouts back and my pack and I are bundled without further ado into the closest bus’s brazen belly. Just to make sure you are quicker than a brown fox, the bus driver stop starts to give you the not so subtle hint that you really need to hurry up or your pack is heading to Leon without you.
My first foray into the Nicaraguan countryside was far from disappointing. As the bus traveled along volcanic valley floors, crops of maize and sugar were interspersed with cattle grazing on lush pastures, and volcanoes rising hazily in the distance from every angle. The vista, the breeze coming from the open bus window and the local Nicaraguan soundtrack blaring through the bus speakers distracted me to the extent that I missed getting off at the siding from where I needed to catch another bus off the main road and into Leon itself. One of the bus conductors casually sat on the seat next to me and checked where I was heading. Leon. But, we’ve passed it and are now heading to the next city, Chinandega. Oh, bugger! Not to worry, the bus staff eventually managed to hail down a bus heading to Leon from the other direction and bustled me onto it.
I got chatting to the lady next to me and realised what the problem was. I had been on a Managua – Chinandega express (a very liberal use of the word…) which did not go into the Leon bus terminal. Mariel was heading into Leon herself so I got off at the right spot this time and caught the next bus with her into the city. I showed Mariel where I needed to go in the guidebook and she walked me to my hostel which was lovely of her. As we passed centuries old churches along bustling paved roads, I was glad I had made the decision to come here and looked forward to exploring this vibrant and interesting city.
Via Via was a lovely hostel close to the Plaza Central and fronted by a lively bar/restaurant. High ceiling rooms were arranged around a pretty patio complete with hammocks for whiling away a lazy day. I paid for one night but was told I would need to check in the morning if there was a dorm bed free beyond that. I struck up conversation with some other travelers and had a fairly quiet evening in my new digs.