Friday, 22 February 2008


13th – 19th February

Lion of Leon
Lion of Leon

Leon – gently-fading, paint-peeling, left-leaning, Sandinista-supporting, heat-sweltering, Colonial-Spanish, ex-capital of Nicaragua.

Door Man
Door Man

Door to Somewhere
Door to Somewhere...once

We have had a very enjoyable few days here. In many ways it is just an ordinary small city with little major ‘pull’ to attract tourists. It is not a Granada or Antigua. And that is what is good about it. This means that people who live here either ignore you or treat you like anyone else without trying to sell you anything. Quite a few people randomly come up asking for a dollar and sometimes people stare for the novelty of seeing a gringo in town.

There are few major sites.

Viewing the Cathedral
Viewing the Cathedral

The most obvious is the splendidly blocky cathedral is the largest in Central America and squats there like a manga sumo wrestler. It is tough and uncompromising, not graceful.

Nuns Gather
Nuns Gather at Night

What it is notable for are massive paintings of the Stations of the Cross inside, and four Atlas-like sculptures high up on the front supporting cross walls.

Atlas in Leon
Bloody Heavy these Colonial Cathedrals

There are a few other interesting colonial churches, the yellow La Recollocion being the most architecturally beguiling and the 19th Century El Calvario being simply awful; a demented cross between Trumpton and Legoland. A small adobe church in the suburb of Sutiava is an interesting indigenous church.

Attendance at La Recollocion

The streets are almost invariably lined with colonial period single-storey buildings. All equivalent to those in Antigua yet peeling paint is testimony to the lack of funds for restoration and give a greater appeal for lived-in character. The theatre is a boldly coloured delight.

Leon Theatre
Leon Theatre

Drama Queen of Leon
Drama Queen of Leon

Like many Central American colonial towns there is plenty of street life, from fruit and hot dog vendors to the tinkling bell alert of a hand-pushed ice cream cart or the Sunday special toy cars for children. The central park, outside the cathedral, is one of the best used we have seen so far. The market is enjoyable and a great place to buy your fruit, vegetables, tamales, tortillas and cheese. In Sutiava, the Casa de Queso is recommended for cheese-lovers.

Street Food
Street Food

Bottle Shop
Bottle Shop in the Park

Our highlights, for very different reasons, are:

The Ortiz Art Foundation. A private family’s amazing collection of Latin American art, mostly Central American, from the 15th century to contemporary housed in two large, beautiful courtyard colonial houses. The collection is a major one by any means and holds one intriguing contemporary art piece after another that largely have clever techniques and sense of humour in common. Worth more than one visit.

The Sandinista tour and Sandinista memorials. You can read more of these below.

Lazybones Hostel. Perhaps the best accommodation we have yet stayed in on this trip. Two courtyards form the focal points for a relaxed and well-kept hostel that gets the right balance between easy-goingness, services and tranquillity. With a pool, free internet and WiFi, free tea and coffee (a blessing after the tea desert that is El Salvador) and a pleasant courtyard of rocking chairs below a grand mural aswell as the right attitude from the owners creating a peaceful, respectful clientele it is a lovely home-from-home. A double costs C$325 at the time of writing. Highly recommended!

The Cocinita Vegetarian Restaurant. Set in another lovely colonial building, the food is great. The only thing we had a problem with was what to do with the first large choice of meals for the first time. We’re used to having the ‘one’ thing on the menu we can eat! It took us a while to choose, overcome as we were with curry, tofu, falafels, gratin, pasta, gazpacho, etc, etc, etc… Everything we had was delicious. If you head towards it – don’t give up. It really is there despite the lack of life in the vicinity or obvious sign. Look for the large table in the entrance with the chess pieces – the table has two large chess boards built-in to it.

Three Bells for San Francisco

Doors and More

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