Leon is like a small town with spacious and airy but simple houses. Like Antigua, nothing is more than 2 stories. But unlike Antigua, it is extremely hot and dry.
Casa Gordita was run by the Guate-Canadian Monica, who we later found out is endearingly called Gordita (fat lady) by the community. The place was not much like a hostel but more like a home stay as she rented out rooms in her house. She gave us a map, recommendations and tips for travel. She had been in Leon for quite a few years now and was very active in the community especially helping locals with the tourism industry. Based on her recommendation we went to a canteen style place. Nica food is like deli, you have a big spread of dishes and you load your plate with whichever one you want to eat. It is not spicy and had a big selection of vegetarian dishes from creamed corn, grilled eggplants, plantains steamed, boiled, fried, cheeses, etc etc. With the mammoth task of the 15 hour border crossings completed, Ollie had one nice cool thing on his mind.
We were picked up early next morning with the other couple living in the hostel by Henry. He was a local tour guide and worked at the tour company with his fiancé. Today was Volcano boarding day! He went next door to get some coffee while we paid at the tour agency and I went after him. All the 5 of us ended up sitting down for breakfast and coffee chatting about rum and travel stories. Such are the joys of touring with a small group! The Australian couple got in the back of the truck while we sat in the AC chatting with Henry. The sight in front of us on arrival looked a little daunting.
We put our overalls in our backpack and the heavy board in our hand to walk up the rocky path. It was so windy that Henry actually had to show us a trick to hold the board so we didn’t fly over. The hike was made more difficult due to the wind, heavy board and the gravelly volcanic ash. We had to hold each other while taking photos so that we didn’t fall over in the mouth of the baby volcano below.
Henry gave us instructions and then ran down the slope to take photos of us. Just one more opportunity for a photo before we jumped on our boards. Ollie’s hair had lost all sense of control in the high winds.
It looked really steep, Joey ended up in hospital last time he did it. Maybe we should walk back down the path. Maybe we could close our eyes and it would all be over. We sat on the board with our hearts beating fast. It was more exhilarating than scary. The idea to board down a volcano is something that never crossed my mind. Ollie and I started together but I got stuck in the gravel just seconds into it. Ollie was already half way down. I dusted the board and went at it again. And zoom! I was tearing down the volcano. I tried to slow down a bit as it was tough to balance in the gravelly slope.
With Ollie dreaming of great glory on the slopes of Cerro Negro Volcano, we enjoyed the sunny and bumpy ride in the back of the truck, only to be completely dehydrated in the evening without realizing it.
We tried the vegetarian version of the local dish called Indio Viego, tomato citrusy stew at a cafe and dinner at local food stall where the lady assembled a great plate of grilled food.
I could barely eat dinner though and had to down a liter of water with hydration salts. We took the hydration salts all through Nicaragua to help us cope with the dry scorching heat.
People here seemed very nice and loved visitors even when if they were not vendors / tour agencies trying to sell you something. A driver stopped just to apologize to us as he startled us with a loud noise. He turned out to be a Nicaraguan partly based in Texas and we chatted with him for a good 15 minutes in the middle of the road.
I am not sure how Ollie went for a run in the morning but I don’t think he stopped sweating for the next few hours. I had started having fruit juices and we both loved a mid afternoon ice cream in heladarias (ice cream shops) that were everywhere, just like the locals.
The main UNESCO world heritage awarded cathedral was being renovated on the outside but beautiful on the inside with pristine white domes on the roof top. You could see the whole town for up here as it was the highest point in town being the second floor.
We also went to a weird museum which was previously a jail and is now set up with freaky looking tall dolls. The free guide recited his speech in every room in an accent I haver never heard before. He explained the prison history, tortures that were conducted here, Spanish invasion and present day superstition and apparitions. It was weird, random and a little bit eery.
There is an exhibition of original Picasso paintings and other interesting Latin American paintings. Couldn’t believe we were seeing Picasso’s work for 5$ in touching distance. Of course we were not allowed to touch or take photos.
We cooked some pasta and enjoyed a great chat late into the night over some wine with the fellow travelers and Monica. The next morning we walked to the chicken bus station in the sweltering heat and were melting in the sun. We gave a little shout to the bus driver and he pulled over right in front of the hostel we wanted to go to on the Las Penitas beach. To be honest, I don’t think chicken buses are considered a cultural experience as I heard many a times. I think they are as cultural as taking a subway if you visit New York City. This is what the locals use for transportation. The best part is you can flag one down at any time on the road and get off anywhere you want – for cheap. The buses are actually old USA School buses driven down the Pan-American highway to Nicaragua and Guatemala, refurbished with new bright colors and sparkles and put back on the road.
The beach was rocky with black sand and waves were meant for surfing not swimming. We took advantage of the small shallow pool in the hostel to cool off a little bit and chat with some Irish backpackers. One of them actually had the horror story of being slashed by a machete on his cheek as he was being robbed in Antigua. He admitted It was his own fault for being in the wrong part of town at the wrong time late into the night and not in his senses. Soon after, a big group of teenagers from surf expedition came and took over the place and pool as they waited to start their surfing lesson. We ditched the crowd and napped only to wake up for the stunning sunset which brought everybody to the beach. A romantic sunset walk was called for as we took it all in, again loving where we were, and what we were lucky to experience. Sunsets on the west coast of Central America were mind blowing.
The next morning we had the mammoth task of getting half way across the country to Granada, the next big tourist city in Nicaragua. Ollie had pre planned this bit to perfection. We flagged down a chickens bus to Leon, negotiated a shared taxi to the bus station, hopped on a collectivo to Managua university, crossed the road and caught a minibus to Granada central and walked the last 5 minutes to our hotel. Ollie’s ego was boosted and our Spanish had come a long way.. Even though they spoke in a completely different accent to the counties before. We made it to the pool just in time for a mid afternoon dip.