Corrinto – Jiquilillo

My dodgy Guatemalan drugs must have done something overnight as my knee was feeling much better come morning. I left my pack at the hostel and had a wander around town.

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Corinto goes down in history’s pages as the place where ex US President Ronald Reagan got busted big time for beyond dodgy interference in another country’s governance. Evidently the CIA (under Reagan’s directive) decided to mine Corinto’s harbour in 1984 as part of a scheme to aid US supported Contra rebels. The International Court of Justice called bullshit on the whole episode and ordered the US government to pay retribution to the Nicaraguan government for its interference. In true Reaganista arrogance, the court’s findings were rejected and no payments were ever made. Congress, however, decided enough was enough and refused to pass further military aid to the Contras. Not to be outdone, the Reagan administration then decided to illegally sell weapons to Iran and surreptitiously use the profits to aid the Contras. Thus started the CIA’s sweet little dalliance which became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. Needless to say, the good folk of the USA were far from pleased when details leaked and the whole operation was exposed.

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The Plaza Central was fairly buzzing last night with a shabby funfair down a couple of adjoining streets and vendors taking up most of the space in the plaza itself. Come morning, I saw why. The ship I had seen in port the previous evening was a cruise ship and passengers had just been let off for the day. Hawkers and pedicab drivers badgered anyone who obviously wasn’t a local which certainly took the edge off what seemed to be a pretty relaxed town to date. I also noticed extra security in the form of National Police on the streets; presumably to protect the punters. I had to cash up, so after a quick wander around, collected my pack from the hostel and caught a pedicab to the bus terminal.

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I had to return to Chinendega and then catch a collectivo to the mercadito from where the bus to Jiquilillo left from. Once there, I found I had to wait two hours for the next bus so found a small cafe in which to have something to eat and wait it out. This was one of those bain marie offerings where you chose what you would like and paid accordingly. I sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched the hustle and bustle take place around me. With about half an hour to go, I decided to wait on the sidewalk opposite where I was told the bus would arrive. A senor selling bags of tomatoes took interest in my sitting on the side of the road and made inquiries. Not satisfied with just finding out where I was going or even where I was from, he wanted to know if I was married and how old I was. Had a considered a Nicaraguan husband? Some things are better just politely laughed off.

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My bus eventually pulled up and people starting piling out. I decided to wait until it died down a bit before finding somewhere to put my pack and find a seat. My tomato Romeo came along to flog his wares to the punters and asked why I hadn’t found a seat yet. As I patiently waited, I began to see the error of this strategy as the bus continued to fill until there was no room for me to move even if I wanted to. As I was moved down the aisle with the rest of the standing senors and senoras, an hombre took pity and helped me put my pack up on the rack. I then had to stand sardine style for the better part of an hour before being able to secure a seat. Well, I learned that lesson well!

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After about an hour, the bus turned down a rough dirt road and had to slow down considerably due to the many ruts and potholes. By now I had secured a sweet spot behind the driver so had a great view out the front window. We passed tiny pueblos, stopping regularly to pick up and drop off passengers and their goods. Eventually, we came to Jiquilillo which is basically one of three tiny beachside communities alongside a remote stretch of beach. I was watching out for the sign for the hostel I had chosen out of the guidebook, but the driver asked me where I was staying and pointed it out to me. Rancho Tranquil certainly lived up to its name as a quiet little property on its own private stretch of beach.

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I was just in time to grab a cerveza and wander down to where they were releasing baby turtles at sunset. This turtle rescue organisation did things very different to Surfing Turtle Lodge and I was dismayed to see the organiser encouraging other travelers to actually pick the turtles up and have photos taken with them! They then let the turtles waddle on the sand for a couple of metres, collected them back up and released them directly into the surf. I later googled correct protocol for release of these endangered creatures and this is certainly not how one does it to ensure greatest rate of survival. Still, I wasn’t about to interfere.

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I watched the sun set, then went back to the hostel for dinner. I hadn’t realised that this hostel was vegetarian only, but it was nice eating communal style with the other travelers staying there for the night. It appeared that I was the first Australian to stay at the hostel, so proudly stuck my pin in the map. Most travelers seem to come from the US or Europe as was the case on this occasion. It was lovely lying in bed in the dorm listening to the rumbling of the waves only a couple of hundred metres away. A very soothing way to enter one’s slumber.

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Isla Los Brasiles – Corrinto

Packed up and said my farewells. Surfing Turtle Lodge proved to be a most enjoyable and memorable spot to spend Xmas. It’s very easy to see how some travelers come to spend a few weeks ‘volunteering’ and end up staying on. There is certainly a lot to ‘stay on’ for.

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I walked back to catch a lancha over the channel to the mainland. I saw the lancha come in but no one was there when I got to it. I waited for a while looking around and then heard the snap of a twig. The lancha driver had decided to take a moment in the mangroves whilst waiting for passengers. I gave him his privacy and waited. As we were taking off, a large party from the lodge who were catching the shuttle to Leon came around the corner of the mangroves accompanied by a horse driven cart carrying their packs. The cart drove straight through the low water to the lancha while the others waded. It ended up being a very full boat after all and the hombres amongst them were called upon for lancha leverage duty until we were in deeper water for the motor to take over.

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Back on dry land I decided I wasn’t in any hurry and stopped for a cerveza at one of the little restaurants dotting the beach. Thus fortified for the hill climb, I returned to where I had left the bus a couple of days ago. I didn’t have to wait long before a bus came lumbering along and after a quick detour of the more touristy Las Penitas, I was on my way back to Leon.

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I caught another bus from the mercadito which the beach buses use as transits, to the main mercado to catch a bus heading north. A busker hopped on en route and proceeded to entertain the commuters with guitar and harmonica. As the bus tore through the city streets without heed to anyone’s comfort levels, let alone ones ability to play the guitar whilst standing, I was impressed that he still had a full set of teeth after such antics. Thus I handed over a few Córdoba to assist with what I can only assume will be future dental work needed.

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As I came away on this trip carrying a knee injury which is still to rectify itself, I have been struggling with swelling and pain. I did bring the remainder of my post surgery anti inflammatory meds with me, but had exhausted that supply. I had the box they came in so asked at one of the many pharmacies at the mercado if they had anything similar. To my astonishment, the señorita came back with a packet of meds made in Guatemala which appeared to have the exact same dosage of the drug I had been prescribed in Australia. This drug company is no Bayer so I may yet grow a third ear but am finding myself running out of other options.

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Armed with my dodgy Guatemalan drugs, I found a bus to Chinandega from where I planned to take another bus to Jiquilillo. A quick check of times to get to both places decided me on changing my mind and heading straight to Corrinto where this particular bus terminated. We drove through the pretty little town of Chichigalpa which is the home of Nicaragua’s famous rum distillery, Flor de Cana. A short stop in Chinendaga and we were heading down to the port city of Corrinto.

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The bus terminated and I could see a ship in port in the not too far distance so figured I was probably not far from the centre of town. I got directions for the Central Plaza and found it was only a few blocks away. I asked directions to a hostel I had picked out of the guidebook but got directed to Hostel Garcia which did the job as far as I was concerned. Cheap, basic with an odd little bathroom tucked into one corner. A thick, though shabby monogrammed towel was at my disposal. Ritz!!

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The guidebook recommended eating at one of the waterfront restaurants which are known for good seafood so I went in search of one. They all looked quite pricey but I found one a little shabbier than the others which had reasonably priced cerviche. I took the first of my dodgy Guatemalan meds after googling any info I could find on the company that made them. Oh well, another ear could come in handy…

Leon – Isla Los Brasiles

Time to leave Leon and head to the beach for a couple of days over Xmas. I’ve found it’s best to ensconce oneself somewhere pleasant for the couple of days the whole place shuts down and had opted for an Eco resort out of the guidebook I liked the sound of.Over breakfast I had another look in the guidebook for directions to take the local transport to Poneloya on the coast. Fortunately, I picked up what I had overlooked previously – that the buses didn’t leave from the terminal I used the previous day, but rather another one in a part of town I would need to catch a collectivo to. Thus informed, I kitted up and walked the few blocks to Parque Central from where I could start my journey.

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The clapped out bus hurtled to the corner, came to a screeching halt half way around blocking the entire intersection and with Latino efficiency swapped out several of its occupants (myself included) in record time. As I hadn’t had time to put away my pack harness and it was a bit of an OSH issue (if such a thing exists here!!), I alternated between holding fast as Speedy Gonzales opted to see if he could get the bus airborne over the street’s lumpy surface and trying to secure my pack rigging before someone did themselves a disservice on it.

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I found the bus I needed to continue on to Poneloya and fortunately was able to secure myself a seat at the front of the bus to best take in the views. After hot, bustling Leon, I was looking forward to spending a couple of days at the beach. The bus ride down provided glimpses of everyday Nicaraguan life; tiny thatched roofed casas shaded by age old trees, vistas of majestic volcanoes dominating the landscape from afar, broad fields upon which cattle and horses were grazing, and a dozen locals trying to pull an upturned car out of a ditch.

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The bus pulled up in the centre of ‘town’ if that was what the few ramshackle buildings represented. A short stroll up and back down a small hill led to where the lanchas left to take people across the narrow channel to Isla Los Brasiles where my digs for the next two nights lay. A short walk on the other side along a sandy track deposited me at Surfing Turtle Lodge. This Eco-lodge is solar powered and nestled on the edge of the beach. Palm trees and gardens add to its lush tropical appeal. I had booked a dorm bed in the large upstairs screened dorm, which had a large deck jutting out and amazing views out over the Pacific Ocean. With a great bar and communal area below, I had picked well for my Xmas break!

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The lodge has a turtle hatchery attached and has released many thousands of turtles since it began operating. They have a local turtle specialist who oversees the whole operation, from monitoring the local beach for females laying eggs to purchasing eggs from local poachers who otherwise would sell them to restaurants for human consumption. Three species of these endangered sea turtles nest on Isla Los Brasiles – Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Green Turtle. The eggs are carefully gathered and buried in plots in a fenced off area on the beach to prevent loss from predators. When the baby turtles hatch, they are taken closer to the water were they waddle down to enable any females among them to ‘imprint’ the location so they can return to the same spot years later to lay their own eggs as adults.

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After sitting in the surf with a cerveza, I returned to the bar to make new friends. The lodge organises daily sunset beach volleyball games and after most people had eaten dinner, Christmas themed group games were spun out with raucous results. My team won and we were rewarded with shots of rum. It was then time to go down to the beach for the nightly bonfire and shenanigans around the beach bar.

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I noticed a shifty looking hombre on a pushbike by the bar and wondered what was going on. It turned out he was one of the local poachers who had ‘stolen’ a cache of sea turtle eggs from their mother and was looking for a quick profit. I found out later, that the poachers generally come to the lodge first to sell their eggs as they tend to pay slightly higher than the restaurants. I went with the staff and one of the owners to bury the eggs in a plot in the turtle hatchery. The date and number of eggs are recorded on a plastic sign so they know how many baby turtles to expect and when. A quick check of other plots that have been hatching recently revealed two more baby turtles. These were put in a container with beach sand and taken down to the beach to be released. As the tiny turtles made their way to the water, they were caught up in a small wave and finally made their way out to sea. Bon Voyage little Christmas turtles!

Puerto Momotombo

After three days exploring Leon, I was keen to take a break from its pre-Xmas franticness and ‘escape to the country’. I walked to the main bus terminal to catch a bus out of town to the tiny pueblo of Puerto Momotombo. The map in the guidebook only had an arrow pointing to the edge with 500m next to it, but I managed to find where to catch the bus I needed without too many difficulties after asking locals.

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An extremely public altercation between a young man and his mother kept the masses amused. One of the spectators gleefully tried to fill me in what was going down but unfortunately I couldn’t understand all he was saying. I got the gist that the mama was trying to stop her chico from getting into strife and he was having none of it. You have to give it to these women – they’ll fight tooth and nail for their loved ones without heed as to who watches on. An ice chest had upturned over the road and as I helped the vendor return the packets of water to it, el Chico came tearing through the melee causing pandemonium again. Mama, of course, hot on his heels. I decided to leave them to it and crossed over to where the buses were.

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I first had to catch a bus to La Paz Centro, then jump on another bus down to Puerto Momotombo. As the bus chugged through the hilly terrain, we passed all manner of transport including trucks, horse drawn carts and tuk tuks. Eventually, we hit the dirt road into Puerto Momotombo.

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This little pueblo is situated on the edge of Lago de Managua and in the shadow of Volcan Momotombo; Nicaragua’s famous volcano which looms 1280m above the lake. Volcan Momotombo was directly responsible for completely destroying the original city of Leon in 1610 and even left a miniature of itself in the Lago as a reminder of who was boss in those parts. Now a days a sleepy little pueblo pays homage to its slumbering master and a kind of quid pro quo seems to exist.

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I wandered down to the edge of the largo where a couple of thatched roofed open aired patios were situated. I had read in the guidebook that I could get a lancha to take me out to Isla Momotombo, however, this option appeared to be off the plate. What was on offer though (upon asking) was a delicious meal of pan fried fish with a tasty salsa, plaintains and salad. Washed down with my new favourite Nicaraguan beer, Tona. All for just AUD7! A cooling breeze came off the largo, local music was playing behind me, and in front was the spectacular vista of both versions of the majestic Momotombo.

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After lunch, I decided to wander through the pueblo and see if I could find the Unesco World Heritage listed site of Leon Viejo. It turned out to be just on the edge of Puerto Momotombo and relatively easy to find. I passed an hombre on horseback guiding his small herd of cattle down the Main Street and waited for the dust to settle before continuing on.

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The site of Leon Viajo was buried for over 300 years until archaeologists from Leon’s UNAN university eventually unearthed the chapel and central plaza. Further excavations revealed more of the city though time has taken its toll and most walls are not particularly high. It’s still an interesting visit and the view from on top of the still buried city fortress is phenomenal. Unfortunately, funds are limited so further excavations are slow to take place.

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My guide, Martha, started the tour then asked how I got there. When I explained I caught the bus from Leon, she informed me that the last bus back to La Paz Centro had just left. Martha was going back via La Paz Centro after work herself so told me I could tag along and catch a tuk-tuk with her. My options seemed limited so I agreed. We did a whirlwind tour of the site, then walked back through town to catch a tuk-tuk.

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Stopping at a small tienda on the main road, Martha bought groceries whilst I sat and chatted with the owner. As always, people from this part of the world are impressed that someone from so far away has come to visit their shores and want to know what Australia is like.

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A tuk-tuk came by soon after and we hopped in. The driver stopped to pick up another two people so there were three of us squashed in the back and two in front. The tuk-tuk’s little motor worked overtime getting us up the hills, but the driver performed admirably in preventing us ending up under one of the various trucks that came roaring up behind us a little too close for comfort for even my seasoned companions.

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A detour off on a rocky dirt track brought us behind yet another small herd of cattle on the move. As the two accompanying chicos on bicycles smacked their bovine butts with a stick, we were able to pass without incident.

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Back in La Paz Centro I waited on the main road for a bus to Leon. This must have been Nicaraguan peak time as the bus was so full I could barely find somewhere to have both feet on the floor. So close to Christmas, locals were traveling to spend time with family and the bus was full of presents and packages for the festivities. As it was I had to get up close and personal with a large boxed pedestal fan with a mass of purple ribbon affixed to one corner.

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I eventually made it back to the bus terminal in Leon and found my way back to the hostel in the dark. A quick reorganise of my pack was in order before bed as I was leaving the following day.

Leon

My final day of attempting to finish the guidebook’s walking trail with no further distractions! So much for 4-6 hours… Mind you, I knew I was going to be in town for a few days so didn’t knock myself out. More old churches and I came to the National University of Nicaragua. Leon is known for being the cultural and intellectual hub of Nicaragua so the university takes pride of place in the centre of town. This is also a particularly important place in Nicaraguan historical context as it was students from here that guided the revolution. It always makes me wonder what would have happened to these leading lights who dared to take on the old guarde with their liberal views, only to be rewarded with an early death.

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Pondering and pounding the pavement is thirsty work so I decided to find one of the many student bars mentioned in the guidebook to take the edge off a particularly hot day. The bar I chose also had a makeshift cafeteria in the entrance where diners could choose their combination of local cuisine from a variety of Bain Maries. I chose to just sit on my cerveza though the food did look good.

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Suitably refreshed and ready to continue this never ending trail, I made my way past the final few places of interest and ended up at the Museo Ruben Dario. This remarkable poet is one of the most important figures in Nicaraguan history, alongside revolutionary leader, Sandino. The Nicaraguans tend to rate a decent poet and many of them have made their way into local history’s records, but none so much as el señor Dario. The Museo was set in his birthplace, which was of interest in itself as an example of a moderately wealthy Leonese casa of the late 19th century.

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I chose just to wander by myself and read the many info boards (in Spanish) rather than get a guide. El señor Dario turned out to be a shocking alcoholic and after winning the hearts of most of Latin America, came home to die at a mate’s place. His body was interred in the main cathedral and his funeral took place over the better part of a week, attended by everyone who was anyone. All this for a man of verse. Like I said, Nicaraguans do rate a decent poet.

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By this stage, I was well and truly over pounding a particularly hot Leonese pavement and decided my afternoon ambitions lay in the form of a shaded hammock back at the hostel. Three days in a hot, hectic city had taken its toll and I made plans to escape the following day to somewhere cooler and off the beaten track.

Leon

First port of call for the day was finding someone to repair my travel sandals which had started coming adrift. I got directions to where I could find a zapateria (shoe repairer) in a local market. A seasoned senor saw my sad sandals and waved me over to where he was hammering away on a pair of boots. Whilst we were discussing what was needed and the price, el señor kept pulling out a disposable razor and absentmindedly running it over his stubble. I tried not to laugh as the whole scene seemed quite ridiculous to me. Still he did a good job hand stitching my sandals for less than AUD9.

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I continued my walking tour from the guidebook, past a couple of interesting churches, until I got to Mercado San Juan. This market place had all the hustle, bustle and skank one could hope for and drew me in for a good explore. What you couldn’t buy in a market place like this clearly didn’t exist and you should just go home! The various enthusiastic vendors would certainly subscribe to this point of view and I was jostled quite fervently to examine the goods at hand.

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Once I was finally spat out of one of the mecardo’s many entrances, I decided to just take an unsolicited wander of Leon’s streets and observe the local streetscape and activity thereon. As dusk steadily approached, vendors were closing their little shops and joining the congregating locals in plazas to enjoy the festivities of the season.

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Back at the hostel, I got chatting to a couple of my fellow dorm companions and spent the evening swapping stories and more than a few laughs over numerous cervezas at the bar.

Leon

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!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.

Managua – Leon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Managua

After a slow start, I headed off with my new Scottish friend to seek out the sights of downtown Managua. First stop on the agenda was the highly commended Parque Histórico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa with its spectacular vistas of Lago de Nicaragua and beyond. Passing the Monumento Roosevelt, Michele and I immediately started climbing the steps to its summit before we were stopped by an armed soldier over the road. Despite no signage, we were firmly informed that we were not permitted to scale the stairs and hence had to come back down. I have a personal theory that if a man with a gun tells you to do something, it is usually best to do as he says. No problem, we’ll just continue on to the lookout at the lip of the volcano which is where the better views were anyway. No such luck, another armed soldier advised that the parque was closed. Bugger.

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Undeterred we struck the first two ‘places of interest’ off the list and continued to ‘spot no. 3’ on the list, the National Assembly Pedestrian Walk. We got a block before we were informed by yet another armed soldier that we were not allowed to go any further. There are not a lot of places of interest in Managua and we were rapidly being denied access to what little there was. Back down the ‘Avenue of Christ’s Arrival’, we encountered a particularly lacklustre parque consisting primarily of concrete and the occasional bit of vegetation. Managua was not doing its best to recommend itself to either of us by this stage and we decided to hotfoot it to the nearest bar for a refreshing ale.

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Down at the Malecon we found the cheesiest of tourist centres, consisting of several large restaurants resplendent with Mexican Mariachi bands for your not-so-authentic Nicaraguan experience. Michele and I chose one overlooking Lago de Nicaragua and ordered our ceverzas. It was lovely sitting there in the wafting breeze, gazing at the polluted lake and our spirits were soon restored. Michele decided to head back to the hostel whereas I wanted to explore a little further as I was determined to find something that would yet recommend Managua.

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A somewhat nicer parque led to Managua’s old cathedral which was severely damaged in a 1972 earthquake and to date has not been restored. It is off limits to visitors which suited me just fine. One look at the wonky towers was enough to make me happy to just view it from a safe distance. Still, it was impressive and I enjoyed strolling around its perimeter.

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At last I had found what used to be the ‘heart’ of Managua before the earthquake crushed the life out of it. On its southern edge lay the beautifully ornate Palacio de la Cultura and to the north was another historic building now used as a government office. Opposite the cathedral was the tomb of revolutionary figure and founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Carlos Fonseca. A pretty parque lay beyond complete with rotunda, statues to national icons and paved paths winding through lovely gardens.

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By this stage it had started to drizzle, bringing welcome relief from a muggy Managua Monday. Back at the hostel, I caught back up with Michele and sampled some of the local rum we bought dirt cheap from the local supermarket. Despite a day of ups and downs, it was interesting and at least we got to see some of Managua before moving further afield.