I decided to go to León on a whim. Mind you, most of the decisions I take these days are spontaneous—the oh-so-great freedom of traveling.
From Granada, I hopped onto a minibus to Managua. In the capital, I changed buses and arrived in Léon by midday.
As usual, my first task was to find a place to stay. I spend most of my time looking for things here: hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, bus stations, landmarks… it’s fun and exciting. There is nothing like scouting a place you’ve never been before and getting to know it, little by little. It’s rewarding.
People in León seemed to be fans of three things: churches (each barrio has one), political left-wing murals (the city was and is a Sandinista stronghold) and Big Cola (whatever that is, it was advertised everywhere).
After wolfing down a couple of empanadas, I started my “scouting mission” in the Parque Central, by a busy market. I couldn’t miss the gigantic Cathedral of León, the biggest in Central America. It never ceases to amaze me how religious people are—services are packed, anytime of the day. I walked around all the barrios, spotting more churches, in various state of decay but all very busy.
León felt like a slightly more rundown version of Granada—not rundown in a bad kind of way, just less polished. On the other side, it was less touristic and people were extremely friendly and talkative.
After walking for a few hours, I somehow ended up at the Museo de los Héroes y Mártires, right by the Parque Central. Staffed by veterans of Nicaragua’s numerous wars, it has a fascinating collection of pictures about the conflicts that wracked this nation.
“I’ll show you the pictures,” said the old guy who looked like it had been at the front-line of the anti-dictatorship movement. “But do you want to climb on the roof first?”
Climbing on the roof of a museum? Well… yes, sure, why not?
I followed him upstairs and we stepped onto the rickety metal roof overlooking the Parque Central and the Cathedral. This was the city where Sandinistas, armed with guns, fought against the Contras, Somoza’s dictatorship and U.S.-backed troops. The view on the city was beautiful and it looked peaceful but I couldn’t help thinking of the country’s bloody history. What makes some people heroes and what makes some people cowards? What makes a teen grab a gun and fight for freedom?
The Museum occupies the former palace of the Somoza dictatorship. It has never been renovated and you can still see the bullet holes that lace the walls. This decaying place serves its purpose—to remember the ghosts of the past.
I spent quite a while here, looking at old black and white snapshots of the wars. The world is a confusing place, it’s sometime hard to tell what’s right and what’s wrong. But I do hope that if I ever have to fight, I will fight for justice, peace and freedom.
After this historical break I was treated to a lovely sunset. Time to find a place to eat. It started pouring and most of the comedores that had been opened during the day were now closed. I walked around for a good thirty minutes, hungry and soaked. Eventually, I flagged a collectivo, these taxis that pick up various passengers along the way.
“Take me to a comedor!” I said. He looked surprised but he did a good job of finding a place open and I had a huge plate of gallo pinto, pollo, queso and huevos.
Done with León. What’s next?
You can see the complete set of Nicaragua on Flickr.