BLOG: Nicaragua – from Managua to León

I haven’t had much time to write blogs as I am too busy with work, which is always a good thing for a freelancer to be able to say!

Though I dearly miss travelling. So, in an attempt to soothe my travel-sick heart, I have written a blog about Nicaragua, where I visited in the Summer of 2017.

Previously I wrote about the country’s capital city Managua, where I’ll pick up from.

After two nights in chilled Managua, my husband and I left our hotel around 8am and took a taxi to the Uca ‘bus station’; a mud-caked road lined with shacks and mini-vans and re-purposed American school buses. In my pigeon

In my pigeon Spanish I ask a portly, sweaty man where we can find the bus to León – the heart of the 1960s and 70s political revolution.

‘En la fila’ the man says and points to a long queue. We join, people give us lingering glances from the corner of their eyes because we are the only gringos and we have a gigantic suitcase that my husband lugs over the dried mud. I wonder when the bus will come and when it does, will we even get on it? There’s always lots of ‘what ifs’ when taking local transport!

However, after only a short time, a small bus and an old US school bus, beautifully painted in typical Latin American style of colourful, bold patterns, arrives and we race with everyone else to get on.

Our big bags are grabbed from us, my husband hesitates then follows them to check they are being put on the bus, which of course they are. The bus has Latin love songs blaring from built-in speakers. A good sound system always trumps air-con on local buses. I

The bus has Latin love songs blaring from built-in speakers. A good sound system always trumps air-con on local buses. I lOVE travelling on the old American school buses in countries where excessive noise is just a way of life.

As the bus pulls off I enjoy watching the scene unfold: the bus conductor jubilantly doles out tickets; the street vendors tempt locals with pop, savoury snacks and sliced fruit wrapped in plastic; people sing along to corny love songs. My heart swells a little because, finally, I feel like I am ‘travelling’ and not just ‘holidaying’ in a semi-fancy hotel.

During the two-hours to Leon, I feel the bump, bump of the bus and the wind washing my face from the open windows; the prefect anecdote to the heat. The Nicaraguan countryside unravels before my eyes. The driver, of course, toots his horn incessantly the entire journey, to be honest, I’m not sure how the developing world would cope without the humble vehicle horn.

I’m reading Vitali Vitaliev’s book Life as a Literary Device, which is, besides an excellent read, about the condition of being a writer, his life and travels. He identifies certain traits in writers, including the compulsion to write, depression and an excessive sense of self-awareness. It makes me wonder if travellers also have a similar set of common traits. Most likely.  Possibly they include the compulsion to be an observer of others’ culture. Or perhaps an inherent restlessness? A nomadic nature? An endless craving to be out of their comfort zone or their comfort zone is the antithesis of other people’s comfort zones, on the road instead of on the sofa? No lo se.

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As the bus pulls up in the outskirts of Leon, the bus conductor (I give him this title but he could have easily been the drivers’ son) tells us we can get a cycle taxi to the centre but we must not pay more than 30 Cordobas. (Of course, we step out of the bus and straight into a cycle taxi who charges us 70! We shrug our shoulders because we don’t care.) As we shimmy out our seats to exit from the back of the bus, a young woman smiles at me and says ‘bye’ in English, which I find rather touching. She laughs in mild embarrassment when I look both delighted and surprised and say ‘Goodbye’ back.

Leon is more rustic and worn down than I had imagined. I think I was expecting something similar to Sacramento in Uruguay, which is what I think of as European pictureesque.

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The town, as is customary in this region of the world, centres around a grand, leafy Plaza with a towering church as the focal point (the biggest in Central America from what I remember) that is white but looks like it needs a good scrub. There is also a college, some bars, the Museo de la Revolution, food and balloon sellers and trampolines for los ninos.

It is insanely humid when we arrived. After dropping off our bags, we just walk around in circles exploring the town until we eventually decide to visit the Museo de la Revolution.

The term ‘museum’ is used loosely here as it is, in truth, a crumbling colonial building that possibly hasn’t been attended to since the revolution. Information is displayed in a handful of very shabby display boards that hang lopsidedly off the walls or are simply propped up on the floor.  There’s also an obligatory graffiti Muriel of Latin America’s favourite hero: Che Guevara.

Our portly guide, dressed in shorts and a red polo top open at the neck displaying some sweaty chest hair,  shuffles his bum bagged around his chubby waist before quickly corning us. We exchange some formalities in Spanish and he tells us that we are the 6th Ingleses to visit today,  which is apparently very unusual.

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Seemly convinced of our fluency in Spanish, which is actually appalling,  he launches enthusiastically and passionately into his oral history of the political revolutions of Nicaragua, starting with the much-revered Sandino. My husband and I exchange panicked glances when we realise he has no idea we don’t really speak Spanish.

Mercifully, I had read the story of Sandino in Managua which, coupled with my previous Spanish learning, helps me understand what our grandly gesticulating guide is talking about. I try to explain a bit to my husband when our guide pauses for breath, which is not often.

To help us out a bit, he speaks with enunciation, exaggeration and repetition so we understand better. Unfortunately, this only goes so far and although I understand the basics, most of the interesting detail is lost in translation.

We spend a long time in the first room as he vigorously bashes about the displays with his stubby finger, shoving them about aggressively so that I now understood the cause of their poor condition. In the second room, he shows us a picture of young revolutionaries fighting on the streets of Leon and points at a young, slender man holding a sign amid a riled crowd. Is it him? ‘Tu esta un revolucionario?’ my husband asks. ‘siiiiii, siiiiii’ he confirms pushing his chest out with pride. I’m impressed to meet a living, breathing revolutionary. (I later say to my husband that he could have been lying about this for effect, though I don’t think he was).

To end, he shows us a picture of the cathedral and plaza that we had visited the day before, it’s brimming with people celebrating the end of the war. He says something that I understand to be ‘a little by little, we will make the country better’ which seems like a  positive note to end on.

We tip him and buy two dvds he is selling (that we still haven’t watched) for US$10 out of pure politeness; well we are British.

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