Having spent most of our time away surrounded by nature, we were ready for some urban culture. For the third time, we had a brief stop in the lovely Granada. Our arrival coincided with the start of week-long festivities celebrating Virgin Mary, with daily processions.
We were also invited to a gallery exhibit with some thought-provoking pieces by local artists, including one where ailing Uncle Sam is attended to by a donkey.
Nicaragua’s relationship with the U.S. is complicated…
From Granada, we headed to its northern rival, the fiercely left-wing and anti-imperialist León, for a week of Spanish study and a home stay with a local family.
We also sought some culture in the form of theatre (in vain), visited the fantastic Museo de Arte Fundacíon Ortiz-Guardián, and were inspired to read some of the poetry of Ruben Dario.
The tree is happy because it is scarcely sentient;
the hard rock is happier still, it feels nothing:
there is no pain as great as being alive,
no burden heavier than that of conscious life.
To be, and to know nothing, and to lack a way,
and the dread of having been, and future terrors…
And the sure terror of being dead tomorrow,
and to suffer all through life and through the darkness,
and through what we do not know and hardly suspect…
And the flesh that temps us with bunches of cool grapes,
and the tomb that awaits us with its funeral sprays,
and not to know where we go,
nor whence we came! …
León calls itself the capital of the revolution, with Sandino’s ideals represented everywhere. Keen to learn more, we visited Galería de Héroes y Mártires, where we received a warm welcome and were guided by a FSLN veteran, who took us through the exhibition and the history of the revolution from Sandino to present day.
Our home stay host, although a devoted Sandinista himself, gave us a more objective view on current Nicaraguan politics and the controversial, recent re-election of president Daniel Ortega. We will keep talking to the locals about the issues affecting Nicaragua today, for what we have learned so far has only sparked our curiosity further.
During a special roof tour of the revolution museum, under moody skies, we could see the string of volcanoes behind the impressive Basílica de la Asunción, the largest cathedral in Central America…
…and every day, we would walk by the gorgeous Iglesia de la Recolección.
We found ourselves amidst La Griteria, another local celebration of the Virgin Mary, where altars of the lady herself feature in Catholic households, churches and on the main square. This culminates in a gathering outside the cathedral on the evening of 7th December, marked by cries of Quién causa tanta alegría?, along with the handing out of traditional sweets to children, and fireworks throughout the night.
Curiously, alongside this celebration, Gigantonas – large puppet figures of tall, strong Spanish women – appear. Supported by teams of boys, one puppeteer coordinating her dance, the others maintaining the rhythm on drums, they parade the streets over several nights around this time.
The temperature in León can be stifling, but the lovely Pacific beaches of Poneloya and Las Peñitas are just a 20-minute bus ride away. If you want a more secluded experience, you can head to the Surfing Turtle Lodge, reached by a small boat followed by a horse & carriage ride or a walk.
Here you can surf, do yoga, play beach ball and party (low key) all day and well into the night if you are so inclined. Our experience of the closeness to nature was enhanced by a crab in the shower and two bats in our room!
The most incredible experience , however, was witnessing recently hatched turtles making their first journey into the sea. Sadly, poachers are still roaming the coastline for turtle eggs to be sold to local restaurants. The lodge combats this by buying as many as possible themselves and hatching them before releasing them to the sea. The process includes ensuring they have at least 10 metres of beach to “run” down before reaching the sea. This allows them to gain proper orientation in relation to the beach so that females of the group can navigate back in 15 years time when the they begin to nest themselves.
One of the most popular tourist activities in León is volcano boarding at the nearby Cerro Negro. Both sitting down or standing up options are available and Roger could not resist giving the latter a try.
The tour involves a 1.5 hour hike up and around the 720 metre peak, carrying your choice of board, followed by a considerably faster descent (in some cases, sub 1 minute). The views on the ascent vary from picturesque landscapes to quite otherworldly.
Next, we will travel to the coffee growing region in search of the perfect cup of cafe negro.