Leon & Grenada, Nicaragua

Leaving Tegucigalpa before dawn, we negotiated a taxi and headed the 5K out of the city to the Discua Litena bus terminal that would take us to the border of Nicaragua. Our ultimate destination was Leon. As painful as it was: being double-billed at the border ($3 each to exit Honduras, then $7 each to the Nicaraguan official – who gave us $4 receipts for Nicaragua and, again, $3 receipts for leaving Honduras – argh!), nine hours, four chicken buses and a cow crossing later, we arrived in Leon. Stretching the aching muscles and dusting ourselves off (literally), we donned our packs and hiked into town. Hotel Avenida had even us beating a quick path for the door. Hostel Big Foot only had dorms, so they pointed us to Via Via across the street. Via Via had one private room left. As we made our way into the back of the hotel, an oasis opened before us: hammocks with people reading, a quiet, open-aired, manicured courtyard garden, surrounded by airy rooms. The room they showed us was huge with a chaise lounge, writing desk, cable TV, track lighting, king size bed, and a private immaculate tiled bathroom. Bracing for the nightly rate, the lady said “435 Cordobas”. Calculating… calculating… DING! 24 dollars…SOLD! After two nights in the hole of a room in Tegucigalpa, luxury beckoned – loudly.

Leon is the cultural and intellectual center of Nicaragua and also has the largest cathedral in all of Central America. We spent our first day a nearby beach: Las Penitas. Only about 20K from the city, it was delightfully deserted – no parasailing, no boats, no cruise ships – nothing. We got to swim (and get thrashed) by the large pacific waves. The next day we walked the city, touring all its cathedrals and monuments. Unfortunately we did have one mishap, as we tried to get cash from a BDF ATM in the supermercado on 1a Calle NE, the multiple transactions never completed but (as we later discovered) still debited our account. It was an adventure to go to a Nicaraguan bank and try to explain the situation in broken Spanish. The situation is still unresolved and we have limited hopes of ever recovering our $250. One word of advice if you travel Nicaragua, do not use gas station or grocery store ATMs. The only bank we have had success is the BAC and their Credomatic visa/plus machines (it uses the red lion as its symbol).

Three days after arriving in Leon, we made for Granada via Managua. Bus drivers earn enough to be middle class here, and they all “pimp” their rides – flashy uniqueness is the norm. As the bus was leaving the station we noticed one chicken bus’ name was “Unidad de Repuestos” which translates to “Spare parts United” – ahhh, so they do have a sense of humor.

We were dumped onto the side of a major road in Managua with no idea where we were. After asking a local where the UCA (oo-kah) bus terminal was, the five minute explanation in Spanish had us flagging down the next taxi. 50 Cordobas and 15 minutes later we arrived. Several bus drivers going to Granada starting playing tug of war with Cynthia – who smiled politely and then glared… they backed off. We decided on the 20C larger mini-bus with AC.

Grenada is the oldest Spanish City in Nicaragua. It is one of those places where you might forget you are in Central American…and then a family of 4 rides by on a 10-speed bike. It was here that American William Walker tried to make himself supreme ruler of Central America before he was driven out. Grenada is a beautiful colonial town and we were amazed at the lovely café area and central square. It wasn’t until we inhaled the stench of the shoreline did we realize why the center is located a 1km from the largest lake in Central America (Lake Nicaragua). We did try the local delicacy, vigoron, a concoction of yucca, coleslaw and fried pigskin. Pigskin aside (literally), the rest was quite tasty with a spicy kick.

Next stop: the volcanic island of Ometepe and the beaches of San Juan del Sur in southern Nicaragua.

Check out the pictures in our Leon-Granada gallery.

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