Surprise! It’s March and we’re in Leon, Nicaragua, the capital of the Sandanista revolution that overthrew the Samosa regime in 1979. This is the first Times and Places article to be written on the spot.
We flew into Managua, the capital, two nights ago and found a private taxi to Leon, a 93-kilometre ride that takes two hours, with good reason: it’s a two-lane highway full of trucks so everyone, including our driver, plays chicken. Luckily we made it to our Hostale Lazybones, which was $30 a night for our slightly lived-in but clean private room with shower (not even warm, but refreshing) and fan, which is fine, even though the temperatures soar to more than 32C.
We got in quite late—midnight our time is 10pm Nica time—so we toured the grounds of our spacious hostel equipped with dorms for more rugged travellers, a tiny pool and pool table, Internet corner, hammocks in a huge courtyard and murals adorning the walls.
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This morning we set out to see the town, walking four or five blocks to the Parque Centrale. It was hopping and buzzing with music and a fundraiser was in progress to collect money to help handicapped children have dental work done. Giant “women” strolled the square while hoards of schoolkids tried to peek inside the costumes to see who was actually “wearing” the mannequins.
We found the tourist office easily and got directions first to an air-conditioned café that was part of the Best Western Hotel, and then to the Museo des Artes three or four blocks in the direction of our hostel. The café is a kind of Nicaraguan Starbucks without the logos, and we enjoyed the air conditioning.
The art gallery, on both sides of the street, showcases every era and artist, but the modern gallery features mainly modern Latin American artists, some huge and interesting splashes of colour painted with gusto and abandon. There are also very old religious paintings, somewhat dark but still to be enjoyed. There are sculptures, masks, an old taxi, a huge wall painting of chess pieces all painted white. Now, I could do that, I thought fleetingly. Now I know what to do with all my incomplete sets of chess men and women.
We took our guidebook’s recommendation for a swanky lunch in the garden of the priciest hotel in Leon, La Conventa. The view was splendid, as was the service. Unfortunately I had to send back my risotto because the rice wasn’t cooked, but Irwin enjoyed his Latin chicken. Luckily the large salad entrée was enough for me and we hightailed it out of there after taking lots of pictures of the gorgeous courtyard.
We discovered Via Via, a restaurant where all the profits are poured into such projects as helping buy school supplies and pay for transportation to schools. Public schools are free in Nicaragua, but many families cannot afford to support their children’s education. Via Via is a rambling place set around a lush garden with locals and travellers enjoying the hammocks and Skyping with their friends in colder climes.
We love the enchiladas, both cheese and meat, with a thick, fresh corn tortilla and a side salad of cabbage and tomatoes. Nothing like any enchiladas we’ve ever had.
Unlike Granada, there are memorials and dedications in several areas downtown to the martyrs and heroes who lost their lives in attempting to overthrow the corrupt and cruel Samoza clique. There are slogans dedicated to the three icons of today’s Nicaragua: Cesar, Fidel, Daniel. There are also dozens of posters promoting the forthcoming visit of U.S. evangelist Sharon Daugherty.
In passing through Managua we saw a huge installation commemorating the first anniversary of the death of Venezuela’s Cesar Chavez. His financial backing has been essential in maintaining hope in the newly religious Daniel Ortega, who has added Christian spirituality to his commitment to revolution. But, we understand that millions of the dollars that Chavez pumped into Nicaragua have found their way into Ortega’s personal treasury. He is said to be among the wealthiest persons in Central America. And that is why some disgruntled Sandanistas call him a thug.
To which Tomas Borge replies, “Well, there are no political prisoners in today’s Nicaragua.”