After a short stop in Panama we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua where a driver was waiting for us. It took about two hours to get to Colibri hostal in the center of León, a tranquil place with a hummingbird garden and several hammocks to relax in. León is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, and is known for it’s colonial architecture. It was founded in 1524, but was moved in 1610 after being ruined by a volcano eruption. It is an important university city, and the tourist industry is still young here, so the city felt very authentic. They had some noisy traditions including church bells and drums, but the strangest was probably the air-siren going off at 7 am and noon every day. Our hostel was a few blocks away, so it didn’t wake us up (but we heard it), but we were close to the main square at noon one day, and it was so loud that it hurt. Strange tradition.
The temperature got really high in the middle of the day, so we often had a siesta in the hammocks during this time. We went on a couple of afternoon tours and enjoyed the city in the mornings and evenings. The central square is in front of the cathedral. There were market stalls and street food (very good!) in the side streets, lots of people selling everything from blinking toys to hammocks and ice cream (and most of them had a bell or similar to get attention). Two gigantic traditional dolls (La Gigantona) and several Christmas cribs were set up on the square, and there were kids and families everywhere. The first evening there was also fireworks and a group of kids were allowed to ring the cathedral bells before performing La Gigantona over and over again for hours. This was really fascinating the first night, but after that we stayed away in the evenings. Too much noise!
“La Gigantona” is a street play that combines drums, folk verses and dancing performed by young boys. La Gigantona is a 3 meter high tree doll in a colorful dress, representing the elegant Spanish woman. El Enano Cabezon is a small man with a big head, whose intelligence is underestimated by the Spanish colonialists. El Coplero resites the folk verses and Tamborilero plays the drums enthusiasticly.
León Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in Central America and is declared a UNESCO world heritage site. From the rooftop we had great views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes, but it was being renovated, so parts of the roof were closed and some were so white, that we were almost blinded. Still a nice experience. The local market was also fascinating. It seemed that the locals did most of their shopping here, and you could buy pretty much everything. It was stretching through several buildings and into the streets, with different areas for food, shoes, toys, clothes etc.
We often like to sit outdoors when eating or drinking in warm countries, so that we can watch everything happening in the streets. Except for the city’s oldest restaurant in the plaza in front of the cathedral (noisy), we didn’t really find any, but we soon learned that instead of having tables on the sidewalk, most restaurants had large courtyards in the back. From the street they looked dull and with no people, but in the back there were lots of people and often fountains, trees and flowers. It was hard to find the good ones though, so we used Tripadvisor a lot. But addresses in León is not easy either. 2,5 blocks from the plaza, down the road from the travel agent etc was the closest we got. Yavoy was one of our favourites, popular among the locals, good music, good food and a few craft beers available.
One afternoon we went on the Telica twilight hike with Tierra Tours. The drive to the Telica volcano took about 1,5 hours, most of it on a crazy dirt road, where it felt like the car would tip over several times. The road is only a few years old and is maintained by the local farmers. It certainly gave us an experience, and saved us for a long hike. It took us about 45 minutes to walk from 600 meters above sea level to the lower side of the crater at 1000 meters (the highest is 1061). Two locals were sitting close to the crater selling beer and soda from a cooler, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a beer before climbing the last few meters. There was a lot of smoke coming from the crater, the sulfur smell was quite strong, and between the smoke we could see lava glowing 120 meters below. The release of gasses in the crater made a loud sound, almost like a jet plane taking off. We walked back down in the dark using flashlights, and stopped along the way to watch the stars. No light pollution and really clear skies made it a magical experience.
We also spent an afternoon volcano boarding down Cerro Negro volcano. The drive there was shorter and easier, but the climb to the top was a bit harder. The black lava, strong sun, loose rocks and heavy volcano boards didn’t help, but we reached the top in less than an hour. The volcano consist of two craters, we hiked up the smalest crater where some smoke were coming out. At the top we walked over to look at the big crater, here the ground was so hot that we could actualy burn our fingers when we removed the top soil (or is it ash?). The entire group were sledding down (sitting), except the two of us (nicknamed “the mental Norwegians” by the rest of the group) who went for the home made snowboards. When standing on top we saw a couple of very small cars at the bottom, but the slope itself was so steep we didn’t really see it. Definitely (and literally) a black slope! We have sandboarded before, but this was much more difficult. We kind of got a hang of it in the lower part, but by then our feet were cramping up, so we needed some breaks. We were chewing lava all the way home and probably still have some lava in our ears… A great experience, but the next time we will probably do the sledding as well. More speed and less work.