Leaving Puerto Viejo at around 9am we had a short five hour bus journey to the capital San Jose. All reports we’d heard were that it’s a bit of a dump and not the best place to spend a night out. Our plan was to book a bus as soon as arriving onward to the Nicaragua capital Managua. Unfortunately, because of the holiday season all buses were booked. Nicaraguan migrant workers are all heading home for Christmas so we ended up on the 7am bus the following day. This did however give us a chance to try and buy a new cheapo camera to keep us going until the end of the holiday. Turns out Latin Americans get a bit of a rough deal when it comes to cameras. All the models on display are at least two years old (compared to the US and UK market) and are at least twice the cost as the same model back home. Maybe it’s a bit of unfair price fixing, maybe it’s a huge import tax. Anyway, we couldn’t find one so gave up and kept our fingers crossed for Managua.
We did nothing else that day, just wrote our diaries, booked some tickets to a Leftfield gig back home in April and that evening even ordered delivery Domino’s and watched a film. A slice of normality.
7am and we were a on a TransNica international bus to Nicaragua. The best buses to get are the Tika buses, they are the gringo cattle trucks of Central America, nothing like the quality of buses in Argentina but apparently very comfortable. TransNica is nothing like Tika buses. Cockroaches scampered everywhere around my seat, and by the time we got off I was covered with bites around my ankles. Still, the border crossing was a breeze and the scenery changed wonderfully from pizza joints and shopping malls back to lush tropical forest and small villages. Then we hit Managua. It was a pit, luckily we were moving straight through to Leon but not before watching some poor chap get mugged right in front of us. We shared a taxi with an American girl who spent her whole time away in San Jose and Managua, can’t think why.
We had never heard of Leon, it wasn’t on any of our various and every changing itineraries. It’s one of those places that over the months we kept getting told we simply HAVE to go to. On top of that, Josh, one of our new traveling chums, spent three months working there last year and had nothing but good things to say. So here we are, and it was a very good choice.
Leon is on the verge of exploding as a tourist destination. The infrastructure is all here, hostels, bars, restaurants, but it’s not yet gone the final mile. Expensive generic hotels and chains have not arrived, American coffee shops are not on every corner and the locals still live and sell in the city centre. The locals are usually the first to be squeezed out of the colonial city centres, either forced out by the local authorities or persuaded by huge lumps of cash. I imagine in a few years it will look a little like Cusco here, it may not have the draw of Machu Picchu but it has all the charm.
Although I’ve said many times that we had got a bit bored of colonial towns, I’ll eat my words. We spend hours walking through the cobbled streets, there is some sort of local fair on and all families are out in their best. Street food stalls pack the central squares and local musicians and street performers are also out in force. Latin America can do a rather good street party. Whereas in England an evening event in town may well end up being awash with vomit, drunks, and a few street brawls, here it’s a family affair. Sure, there may be a few guns in pockets and a shortcut via a back street might mean you are relieved of a few valuables, but it’s refreshing to see large families all out enjoying themselves.
We meet up again with our friends we met on the San Blas tour, spending another day at the beach, and enjoying a few local tours. I also dipped into the local casino for only the second time in my life and walked out $170 up. I’ve promised Leah something nice when we are in Orlando at the end of the holiday. We also manage to find a Radio Shack and pick a up a new camera.
On our last day we spent a few hours with a local jeweller where Leah had a ring designed and made from scratch. She came up with the shape and style and I (with just a little help from the jeweller) smelted the silver and sculpted the ring. Turned out alright, I think. Leah seems happy. We recorded a video of the whole process if you have four minutes to spare. It’s more interesting than it might sound.
We loved Leon, another place we could have easily spent more time. However, we have flights booked to the tiny corn islands off the coast of Nicaragua. We enjoyed our Christmas on an island so much last year we’ve decided on an encore. The plan was we would be on our own for a quiet affair. However the night before leaving Leon we managed to convince our friends to come join us. So it’s now a party of six. Should be a good Christmas!