We reached Leon (pictured above, the street where our hostal was located) in the afternoon of December 7. Most of the city’s residents are aligned with the Nicaragua’s political left, and the university town was a hotbed of resistance against the CIA-backed Contras during the 1980. At the same time, Leon also ranks among the hottest places in Nicaragua in terms of average daily temperatures.
Leon’s cathedral is the largest in Central America. It so happened that on the day we arrived residents were celebrating La Purisima, the Catholic holiday of Immaculate Conception and one of the most important in the country’s calendar.
I stepped inside the cathedral where the evening mass was being read. Sadly the loudspeakers were blaring at a volume that made it impossible to understand what the priest was actually saying.
On virtually every block across Leon’s colonial city center, families opened their patios to the public so that everyone could admire the opulent private altars erected in honor of the Virgin Mary. Some owners also gave away homemade sweets as part of the griteria (literally “shouting” or “cacophony”) whereby visitors would ritually exclaim their adoration of the Virgin in exchange for some toasted and sugared cornbread. Residents would first ask, “Quien causa tanta alegria?” (Who causes so much happiness?) and visitors would then respond by chanting, “la concepcion de Maria!” (Mary’s conception) and receive candy.
Similar to the Dia de los Muertos festivities across Mexico a few weeks earlier, brass bands accompanied stilt dancers on tours across the city.
Some partied a bit too hard (he was breathing, so I left him alone).
The following day the city was still in recovery mode. And yet what a wonderful contrast to artificially lifeless Antigua, Guatemala!
On December 9 Harry and I continued to Managua where we stayed with Maike and Javier and their daughters Amelie and Nila.
Maike currently works as “No. 2” in the German embassy while Javier is running a technology center funded by an international development bank. Their home offers a breathtaking view of the city and Lake Managua.
Harry loved exploring the expansive grounds…
… and playing with Amelie’s and Nila’s dog Max…
… while on the morning of December 10 I was being treated to a lavish breakfast on the terrace. This vitamin-rich start into the day turned out to be a real blessing as I then spent (or rather, wasted) three hours at two Nicaraguan banks trying to withdraw money from my U.S. account. Internet banking is still in its infancy in Central America–mainly because of access restrictions and limited computer literacy–and so clients wait in long lines to be seen by a personal banker or teller. Nothing wrong with that, but unfortunately “no se puede” (“it’s not possible”) appears to be the standard answer in the Nicaraguan retail banking sector — one that eclipses a whole range of alternative explanations such as, “I don’t know and would need to ask” or “I am not sure, but let me find out.” To cut a long and pretty unnerving story short: no se puede.
Meanwhile Harry was waiting in his crate, and it was hot — too hot. When I finally returned to la bestia (whose sun roof I had, of course, left open for ventilation) he was panting heavily. I rushed to a supermarket, bought a bag of ice cubes and a gallon of drinking water, soaked two towels with it, and wrapped him with them as he was gobbling an entire liter of water. The emergency treatment worked: to my great relief he was back to normal soon after.
But then la bestia acted up. We were on our way from Managua to Playa El Gigante when I took a wrong turn and, after noticing my mistake, tried to turn around on a narrow country road. Suddenly the engine died. When I tried to start it up again, it did not even crank. Weeks ago Martin of team Uyarak had already suspected that my car battery had reached the end of its life cycle. On December 10 it died a quiet death. Fortunately my streak of automobile luck seems to continue — la bestia broke down merely 300 meters away from a battery-and-tire shop (pictured above). I managed to drag her there with the help of my mobile power pack that I left connected to her comatose battery…
… and within fifteen minutes the necessary surgery was completed. Although I had to dish out US$140 for the–reassuringly more powerful–replacement, I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if this had occurred in the middle of nowhere.
Given the accursed bank run earlier in the day and the emergency battery replacement, Harry and I reached Playa El Gigante only after the sun had already set.
We got up early on December 11 and took a walk on the pristine beach, which is popular with both local and international surfers.
Then we met up for breakfast with Leela, a former colleague of mine who is now leading language and youth programs of a community NGO in El Gigante.
Leela has been living in El Gigante since September and is very much enjoying her new role as a social development practitioner. Wherever we went kids would call her name and ask to join her swimming class, and adults approached her to sign up for free English lessons.
Harry and I are staying in gorgeous El Gigante for another day and plan to cross into Costa Rica on December 12.