I was reading the autobiography of Gioconda Belli before I arrived here so I had a more detailed picture of the history of Nicaragua than that of the other countries I have visted
. She was involved from quite early on in the Sandista movement which, over the course of the 1970s, succeeded in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. This upset the US very much so they paid an army to try and topple the new FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional). OK, so that is a VERY short version of what happened, but it is a pretty interesting history and it's amazing to visit a country that went through a 10 year war in my lifetime. I was checking out the local currency and noticed that none of the notes have people on them. Usually the currency of any given country has famous and influential politicians, poets, etc on it, as well as the national animals and flowers. Nicaragua has no people on its notes. I guess this is because with such a turbulent history, there is no single national sentiment on the power figures of the last few decades. Putting Somoza on the money wuld piss off half the country and putting anyone of the comandantes from the FSLN on the money would piss of the other half.
This morning I was shopping for a Sandinista T-shirt for Guess Who when a woman starting talking to me, the conversation went like this:
Where are you from?
Yeah, that's in Europe
No, it's down south, under China.
Oh... what are you doing in Leon?
We are looking around, going to see a volcano tomorrow.
Oh, those treks are tough, so much walking.
Yeah, but I don't mind.
Can you give me some money so I can buy milk for my baby?
Prior to this fun exchange we had visited the Catedral de Leon. We heard that you could climb to the top and we looked for a tour or office. We found a sign that said there were tours anytime between 8:30 and 12pm
. But we could not find anyone who looked like a tour guide. We went round to the only door with the word 'office' on it and asked the lady there if there were tours. She appeared very angry and yelled at us to go around the side. 'Around the side'. Okie dokie. We wandered around some more until eventually we spied some other gringos who had a tour guide with them and followed them down a dark tunnel in the side of cathedral. At the end of this tunnel was a large locked gate. Behind the gate was a table and 3 people selling tickets for the tour. The room they were sitting in had artifacts and posters all over the walls, as if it was a museum. But we never got ino that room. We followed the other gringos (we do this a lot, cheaper than buying a Lonely Planet), and found our way up on the roof of the Cathedral. There were stunning views of Leon. Too bad it was cloudy though as we could just make out the shapes of volcanoes all around us. That was the 'tour'. Self-guided.
Last night we went to the cinema and saw Los Vengadores (The Avengers). We lost a little in translation; that is to say we had no idea what was going on. The action was amusing enough though. Even without the details of the plot we could tell that Captain America is a giant douche and Tony Stark is hilarious. I probably upset someone saying that, but I don't care - have you seen the costume that pretty boy wears? We assisted our understanding of the film through the use of a small bottle of rum
. That also helped us get through the noisiest cinema experience ever. It was like watching a film in a creche. Babies and toddlers crying, kids asking their parents to explain the plot and everyone chewing with their mouthes open.
After the movie we headed to the town square under the cathedral. It is really relaxing sitting out there in the evening. Families and teenagers all hang out there. There are hand-cranked rides for the kiddies and fried chicken places everywhere. It is a really nice atmosphere. We didn't get hassled at all and it feels quite safe here even at night. Although I am sure there are other areas which are not like that at all.
Leon is wonderful. We arrived here on Saturday and set ourselves up in a 6 bed dorm which has no other guests staying in it. The area we are in is very cosmopolitan, we were excited to discover a cinema and a large supermarket with all the things a supermarket should have. It is the second largest city in Nicaragua, but it feels like a smaller town. There are cathedrals everywhere, really old ones. They are all pretty sad looking though, which I discovered is due to the bombings that Somoza ordered during his war with the Sandinistas in the 70s. Leon was filled with Sandinista artists and poets during the war and there are quite a few murals on city walls depicting events such as a massacre of protesting student by Somoza´s regime.Many of them have been restored recently, unlike the cathedrals which are still blackened and scarred by bombs supplied to Somoza by the US government.