For those of you who may have the physical printed itinerary that we sent out with Christmas cards, or physically handed to you if we saw you during the holiday season, you may notice that we have strayed a little from our intended itinerary. We did not book anything ahead for this trip, which honestly stresses me out, but it has allowed us to be a little more flexible (which is the benefit I suppose). I am unsure if this loose and unplanned travel approach is for me, but we are super planned for our Europe trip, so we can compare the two different travel styles. Our planned amount of days first shifted in Antigua where we stayed an extra day to fully enjoy the benefits of our home-stay. In San Pedro la Laguna we cut a day. In Utila we added three days. Our first city in Nicaragua, Leon, was not on our itinerary all! But, after many other travelers told us how much better they liked Leon versus the well known Colonial capitol Granada, we decided to change plans once again and give it a go.
Our first day in Leon we dubbed “tourist day” and we left the hostel after a free delicious breakfast (Logan had pancakes and I had eggs add gallo pinto, a spiced mix of rice and beans) with the camera around my neck, ready to fill our day with churches and markets. We walked around the HOT colonial city (it was SOOOO hot) for a few hours, peeking into a few churches and more than peeking into the main cathedral. We went to the top of the cathedral and were able to see the whole city of Leon as well as the beautiful volcanoes that surround it. After our church tour we went on a market tour (all self guided and at a slow pace as not to induce heat stroke). The market was one of the craziest yet, in terms of both the amount of stuff and what we saw. There were papayas the size of watermelons, baby parrots, live crabs, live iguanas and dead skinned iguanas. All of these things were crammed into a warehouse type building alongside stalls selling everything from jeans to televisions to dog food.
All that food made us hungry so we went for lunch at a french cafe called Pan y Paz (yes that’s right, a French cafe in the middle of Nicaragua) where we had salami sandwiches on french baguettes, mandarin juice and a chocolate and almost croissant. It was so delicious and the mandarin juice was refreshing. We had decided to buy shrimp at the market for dinner and found a grocery store (a real one with aisles and everything!) to supplement our food supply. It was so strange to be in a real supermarket after only shopping at tiendas and local markets for over a month. We walked around for a long while, mostly just to enjoy the air conditioning, since it was so hot outside. Even though it was only 2 pm and there was more to see in Leon we decided to go back to the hostel to read and plant ourselves in front of the fan (did I mention that it was hot?). We ate a delicious dinner of garlic shrimp, grilled onions and rice, accompanied with a Tona, easily my favorite Central American beer so far.
After a hot day in the city we were excited to head to the coast for the day, to a little town called Las Penitas on a beautiful stretch of beach. We took the chicken bus, 30 minutes and $.50 each, and arrived at the beach mid morning. It was a beautiful day, perfect beach weather, and NO ONE was at the beach. We had heard about this beach from other travelers, but no one else must have talked to the people we did because with the exception of one little stretch where locals were swimming, the beach was DESERTED. More space for us! We spent the day walking the length of the beach, collecting seashells, eating ceviche and drinking a liter of beer, walking some more, eating an entire grilled fish while drinking margaritas, and walking some more. It was a perfect, relaxing, wonderful day. We caught the chicken bus back to the city, made more shrimp and rice, drank some more Tona and went to bed.
We had a nice two day stop in Leon. The city was full of hustle and bustle (it had the worst traffic we had seen so far). People who like Leon seem to like it because it doesn’t cater to tourists. The city makes no attempts to hide its imperfections and central part of the city is central because that is where the market and the cathedral are, not because that is where the gringo filled hotels and restaurants are. It was a good city to visit. We did not fall in love with the city itself, but we didn’t hate it and it did grow on us the longer we were there. However, the undisputed highlight of our Leon stop over was Las Penitas. Granda was next, and since everybody compares these two capital cities, I guess we will do the same in our next post!
Will we like imperfect, liberal Leon better or manicured, conservative Granda? Stay tuned!!