Beisbol & Volcano Boarding (Andy)

Trip Start Oct 04, 2009
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Trip End Nov 20, 2010


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Where I stayed
Albergue Hostel

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, January 8, 2010

After an interesting longer than expected experience in San Miguel we were ready to head on to a new country.  We decided to bypass Honduras as most of the major sites are on the Caribbean coast (we are staying near the Pacific) and we weren't feeling particularly brave enough to enter a country with such recent presidential election issues.  Next stop, Leon, Nicaragua!

Before coming to Leon I knew only what my very high level and biased Lonely Planet summary gave me.  The city was moved in 1960 because of an earthquake, Ruben Dario is a big deal, Nicaraguans love baseball and the US is evil.  We originally were going to pass over the city on our way to Lago de Nicaragua but decided to make a stop solely based on the fact that we didn't want to be traveling that much in one day.  This may not have been the best way to plan out the journey but the spontaneity and feeling that you could do whatever you want whenever is freeing.  So it was with this we headed to Leon.

To save some money, Lindsey and I decided to take our chances with local transportation rather than the, normally 3 times as much, tour buses.  Getting to Leon would be a little tricky as we would need to change buses at each border crossing.  Nervous travel Andy would prove to be particularly bad at this process.  For example, when we arrived at the Honduras border and stepped off our second bus of the day the border crossing was no where in sight and immediately we were swarmed by people offering us a ride.  I, acting perfectly in my role as the nervous travel guy, heard one of them say its 3km to the border and immediately agreed to take a Tuc-Tuc.  The border crossing in total was maybe a 1/2 km long and because I didn't agree to a price beforehand we were ridiculously overcharged. 

Border crossings in general are extremely hectic and the people are, unfortunately to say, usually very untrustworthy.  It just sucks that after an amazing experience in a country meeting unbelievably helpful and kind people that the taste in your mouth when you leave is that of deceit.  On top of the 3km lie we were also told Honduras buses don't take US cash (they do), there is no ATM on the Nicaragua side of the Honduras border (there is), and the buses to Leon are extremely infrequent (they aren't).  For some reason, call it my trusting nature, no matter how many times I'm lied to at the border my nervous guy instincts kick in and I believe whatever anyone tells me.  Thank God Lindsey is there to knock some sense in to me.

We arrived in Leon in the late afternoon and were surprised to see the amount of tourists in the area.  While in El Salvador we often found ourselves in places where we were the only non-nationals (with the exception of el tunco) but here we seemed to be the majority.  It was actually quite unsettling at first.  It sort of felt like all these other tourists were ruining or experience or something (i know its a stupid way to think being a white american tourist myself but its tough not to have those feelings).  Our search for a hostel took us to three different places until we settled on a less than ideal spot on the north side of the city, El Albergue Hostel (loosely translated in English; the hostel hostel - great name).  As both of us were a little tired and sick from the day of traveling we crashed for the night.

Unlike any other city I have been to in Central America, Leon is extremely proud of their artists, namely their poets.  Ruben Dario has a park, the main street, a cemetery and numerous buildings named after him as well as being buried in a tomb in their most famous cathedral (the largest in Central America).  Lindsey and I had a chance to visit the Ruben Dario museum and learned a little bit more about his life.  Unfortunately as it was written and narrated in Spanish we didn't seem to understand everything presented but learned enough to get a good grasp on his importance in Leon's history.  I was most impressed that a nation that had so recently been in a civil war for as long as Nicaragua was (the whole Iran-Contra thing - it was like a light bulb went off in my head when i realized the link between where we were and Reagan's Iran-Contra deal) could still have such an emphasis on the arts.

So with all of this we figured that Leon would probably be one of the most open and welcoming cities that we would visit.  It turned out to be the exact opposite.  We blamed it on the influx of tourists, especially the late teens and early twenties tourists who spent their time drinking, yelling and going out in large groups.  But either way, we found that people were annoyed with our presence, giving us strange looks and one word answers.  Even our waitress one night after we ordered the typical India Viejo dish (unbelievably delicious by the way, like a stir fry curry soup, so good) barely talked to us, acted annoyed that we were asking questions and when we gave our tip (which was a decent one still) acted like we were inconveniencing her.  It was frustrating after a country thats people welcomed us with such open arms to come to a city where people seemed annoyed with us there.  But, that didn't stop us from partaking in some of the big events going on in the city, namely baseball.

As I mentioned earlier, we read in our handy dandy Lonely Planet book, Baseball is the favorite past time for Nicaraguans.  We found out that the two top teams in their league were playing in Leon while we were here (it wasn't that rare as there are only 4 teams in the league).  Hardly able to contain my excitement, I was practically running to the stadium to try and make the opening pitch with Lindsey in tow behind me.  Lindsey enjoyed saying "you never walk this fast for things I want to do."  We bought two tickets behind home plate for a total of $4 US dollars and made our way to the entrance.  There were no assigned seats or really sense of order except for our section, "the expensive seats," were fenced in and guarded with few people sitting in them, while the rest of the shaded areas of the park were crammed with people (way too hot to be in the sun for a 1pm game).

The first thing you notice about the stadium is the crowd.  Extremely rowdy, they are on their feet from the start of the game and blowing horns at every opportunity they get.  They are seriously into this game, like sell your firstborn child for a win type of into it.  They are cheering and booing at the right moments and, when called upon, singing a team support song (that we couldn't quite make the words out to) with the help of an impromptu drum line in the background (i think the drum-line were just random fans that snuck in enormous drums).  When Leon is doing well the crowd is in absolute hysterics throwing beer at each other, climbing fences and yelling obscenities.  When Leon is not doing well they are just yelling obscenities.  People that cant pay to be in the stadium climb the satellite towers and watch from the outside.  This is the kind of crowd that you really enjoy watching a game with.  The field itself is even like an old school field (except for maybe the barbed wire - yes there is barbed wire surrounding the entire field).  Not a ton of advertisements, no high rise seats, no seats in the outfield, its like a minor league game in the states only the crowd is insanely into it. Lindsey and I were safe from the beer throwing, head banging, fence climbing crowd in our expensive seats but still a bit nervous that the crowd would at any moment tear the place down.  By the end we were Leon fans for life, cheering and singing (well attempting to at least) with the crowd.  Just an awesome way to watch baseball.

The game ended up being a great one.  Leon goes down early 5 to 0 but fight their way back to win it in the bottom of the 9th.  Check out the video that we took of the winning run, i know i said this a million times but just craziness.  I mean this is 1pm on a Friday of a regular season game!  I wasn't particularly impressed by the defense of either team (there seemed to be a lot of errors) the Nicaraguans seem to be focused on two things, pitching and hitting, which makes for an entertaining game.

After the high of the baseball game the next day we decided to do something a little less crazy and we tried our hand at a sport called volcano boarding.  While it is a bit expensive in comparison to a $2 baseball game, it seemed like a pretty cool experience flying down the side of the volcano.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for us boarding actually meant sledding.  Lindsey and I have had a bit of an itch to hit the slopes after hearing about how much snow everyone is getting back home but it will have to wait until later in the trip I guess.  So we make the trip 45 minutes outside of Leon to a small volcano in one of their national parks where we proceed to climb for an hour up the steep cliff.  At the top we get a good view of the double crater and actually get to go inside and check out steaming holes spewing sulfur.  We get a great view of the volcano ridge heading all the way into Honduras and are there just before the sunset.

While hiking up the volcano we are carrying a protective outfit and our boards (makeshift plywood sleds that seriously could have been made by a ten year old in shop class that do not look like they will hold up sledding down a volcano).  We take some time putting on our over-sized protective suits noting that on each of them the butt region has taken considerable damage and emotionally prepare ourselves for the trip.  Our guide gives us instructions on how to steer which basically sound like "don't do this or you will flip the board and tumble down the entire volcano."  Seeing the way we were supposed to go down didn't not lift our spirits much either, it was basically just a straight path down a cliff.

The trail downhill is split into two sections so if you want you can actually race your opponent down the mountain.  Being the competitive couple we are we both exchanged some trash talk and prepared ourselves for the decent.  The board felt exactly how it looked, flimsy, but surprisingly you have a lot more control than you would assume.  We didn't go nearly as fast as the fastest time (clocked at 82 kph!!) but we were going fast enough to make me nervous (this could have only been 10 kph but whose counting).  Heading down the slope, rocks would get tossed into your face and if you forgot to keep your mouth closed you would get a nice meal of volcanic ash.  Lindsey and I were neck and neck for most of it but I think my weight won out to her finesse style and I narrowly beat her to the bottom.  After an overextended gloating period we were back on the truck on our way to Leon wishing we could have another shot at the mountain.

So that was about all of our time in Leon.  We missed out on the Sunday afternoon rooster fights, which I was severely bummed about.  But after hearing that they fight to the death and their is blood everywhere we felt a bit better about not going.  Although if I can find away to get our sun-identifying-challenged Guatemalan rooster neighbor down here and into that ring I would do that in an instant.  I hate that freaking bird.

Îm starting to find myself a bit restless with our travels.  Its been amazing seeing everything that we have an opportunity to see but I'm ready to start something a little more concrete again.  Studying spanish and focusing on that has helped but I'm about ready to find a project to work on.  Soon I think we may bunker up with a family at a home-stay in one of the upcoming cities or potentially do a farm stay.  Not really sure but just getting to know some locals on a more personal level would be very rewarding.  Speaking of that we formally accepted our positions at SKIP (Supporting Kids in Peru) and will become their Economic Development Coordinators in February.   It looks like an amazing organization that has taken an all encompassing approach to helping the poor communities around Trujillo.  Most of our work will be around business education and micro-finance projects so Lindsey and I are both looking forward to put what we learned at Bentley and during our careers to good use for the poor in Peru.  To learn a bit more about them feel free to look them up on-line - www.skipperu.org

Next stop for us, Granada!  Tourism capital of central america.  I hope everyone is doing well back home and our thoughts are with those people closely affected by the earthquake in Haiti.  Miss you all.
Andy
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Comments

Billy on

Good post - tuk tuk drivers are the same everywhere. Finishing up in Guatemala now, few more days than back to Cali. Sorry to have missed you guys - but, hey, there is always June. Safe travels.

B

geosloan
geosloan on

I tried volcano boarding down the side of my apartment building. Just got out of the hospital. A "don't try this at home" warning would have been nice.

Joughin on

Glad to see you two are doing well. Keep up the good work and keep the blog a flowin

Mike Q on

nothing like $4 expensive seats at the game. I am assuming that your love of snowboarding has now been replaced by volcano boarding. looks like you two are finding a lot of interesting adventures.

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