Time to tell you guys all about the last stop on our Nicaraguan adventure – LEÓN. We thought we’d fallen in love with Granada, but little did we know there was another charming, colonial town just a few hours away for us to explore.
Before I start writing anything, I’ve got to break the big news…. We booked flights to CUBA! Safe to say, it was the most spontaneous decision any of us have ever made. We were sitting at breakfast just browsing at flight prices on our phones (after both me and Alice had dreams about doing so the night before) and then 10 seconds later I was typing in my passport number and credit card details. We’re all super excited and slowly getting over the fact that our bank accounts are dwindling. This add-on-trip will cut our time in Mexico a bit shorter than we’d originally planned and we’ll have to do some re-shuffling to make sure we’re in the right city for our flights but it really is a ‘now or never’ time to visit. Cuba has recently opened it’s borders to the U.S. and things are going to start changing drastically – we want to experience the old Cuba while we still can. A while ago, someone mentioned that the changes would be positive for the Cuban people and that we could visit the country in a few years when things become more modernised but Alice quickly shut them down and said: “May be good for the Cubans, but not for us, mate – we want to see the bloody cars”.
So, that’s that. We’ve just spent £100 extra each to essentially get a picture with some colourful, old-fashioned cars… This officially takes #doitforthegram to a new level. Stay tuned for the results.
Back to León… you may recall me mentioning in my last post that we took a bus to this city from Granada. When we first started our adventure in Panama, we embraced buses (even chicken buses) daily yet suddenly, the glitz and glam of Costa Rica changed us and we became far too comfortable with our luxury shuttles. There was actually a shuttle available to Leon for just US$12 each directly from our hostel but after much deliberation we thought it was about time we went back to our roots.
We buckled up our backpacks and walked to the minibus terminal in Granada. There are people on the streets calling out names of destinations trying to fill up their van. Buses depart all day long so don’t worry about sticking to a timetable – just be prepared to wait a few minutes while they call for passengers. Your luggage goes on the roof, so if you’re carrying a backpack make sure it has the waterproof cover on it just in case it rains! The first journey was from Granada to Managua, the capital city, which we have been told is rubbish and not worth visiting so now I am going to tell you that it’s rubbish and not worth visiting. I lose blogger points for trusting word-of-mouth over personal experience but, to be fair, if you only have a short time in Nicaragua then there are definitely other cities you would rather be spending your time in.
The second journey was from Managua to León. This van was 10x more cramped and we found ourselves split up from each other and squished in between various (chubby) locals. There was no headrest on my seat but I fell asleep anyway (surprise, surprise) whilst Alice sat behind me and sniggered at my head bobbing and swinging all over the place. I eventually woke myself up when my head landed on the shoulder of the lady next to me and realised that Alice wasn’t the only one laughing at my inability to stay awake in a moving vehicle… We were the only tourists on the bus but I don’t think that statement really reflects the popularity of these buses amongst travellers – they are perfectly safe and, by far, the cheapest way to get from A to B. The total of the two journeys amounted to 80 cordoba (about £2) – BARGAIN, 10/10, WOULD RECOMMEND.
Upon arrival in León, we were harassed by a ton of taxi drivers. Luckily, Alice had done her research beforehand and made sure that we didn’t get ripped off or roped into catching a bike-taxi instead of a car-taxi. Eventually, we found the right price and made our way to Hostel Casa Ivana. Some of the cars we’ve sat in on this trip have been seriously questionable safety-wise – I mean, not just the crazy drivers but their vehicles too! Most of them are falling apart with holes in the floor, wires hanging out, flat tyres, you name it and we like to play a mental game of ‘Would this pass a UK MOT inspection? Yes or No?’. The answer is almost always a firm no. Some comforting words for our darling Mothers back at home! You’re welcome.
Hostel Casa Ivana is a small family-run hostel on the outskirts of the town. We were so happy to discover that it was very much ‘our vibe’ – relaxed atmosphere, comfy private rooms and dirt cheap!
They also have dominoes here. The game, not the pizza company. Weird, because if you’d asked us all before this trip which one we preferred we would have unanimously agreed upon the pizza but now, I think all 3 of us have a real soft spot for those small, rectangular, spotted bricks*.
But no, we really have become quite a fan of tabletop games out here. I have no shame in admitting that we never really got acquainted with the nightlife in León and, instead, spent our time playing multiple games of Ludo and drinking endless bottles of Fanta lemon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We know how to live.
*Please forgive my terrible synonym of dominoes to ‘small, rectangular, spotted bricks’. Words don’t always come so naturally to me.
It rained quite heavily the first day we were there so we decided to put on our raincoats and head to the supermarket to do a food shop and save ourselves some money on eating out. We got so distracted in the supermarket by making snapchat videos and taking pictures with the oversized courgettes that we returned back to the hostel with just a single pineapple. No pasta shells. No vegetables. Nothing. Just a pineapple. Concerning that it’s been 4 years since any of us lived with our parents, yet we are still unable to food shop responsibly.
We didn’t really do much in the town of León apart from a walking tour of all the major sites. There are tons of free walking tours available daily but Alice decided that none of these were satisfactory, so she created her own. Abbie and I followed Alice into every Church and Cathedral whilst she gave us background knowledge that may have either been made up on the spot or memorised previously from Wikipedia. Either way, I think these self-led tours are gonna become a regular thing from now on!
At the end of our tour, we bumped into some local students who wanted to practice their English. Of course, being budding linguists ourselves we were more than happy to oblige and spent a good 30 minutes chatting to these guys. Their teacher was really thankful and we took some pictures with them at the end. I suppose that’s the great thing about not being on a strict schedule – you can stop and talk to anyone and everyone and, as I preach about regularly on here, getting to know the locals is such a vital part of understanding the culture of a country.
As well as our town tour, we also went VOLCANO BOARDING. It’s quite easy to book transport to the volcano through whichever hostel you’re staying in and most companies will provide you with water and boarding equipment too! It’s a short drive out of the town to Cerro Negro and then quite a long, steep hike up to the top. Bear in mind that you’ll have to carry your own board and equipment so you need to have at least some degree of physical fitness.
Once again, I found myself partaking in my least favourite physical activity but, once again, I was powering ahead of the others just to reach the top. It’s all mental for me, if I lose focus I’ll start to feel tired and give up so I have to stay in the zone which is usually quite an antisocial one. Upon reaching the top, I reunited with my fellow empanadas and apologised for my inability to hike and talk at the same time. We were given plenty of time to soak in the views and take a peek into the huge craters around us before gearing up (putting on some ridiculous boiler suits, science goggles and bandanas) and sliding down.
There’s a very quick tutorial from the guides before you are sent on your way – it all seemed simple enough. When we watched other people do it we thought it was all pretty mellow and slow but it was only when we started the descent ourselves that we realised the truth! You gradually begin to accelerate until rocks are flying everywhere and you understand why you’re wearing goggles to shield your eyes, then you hit some serious speed and feel your core start to tighten as you attempt to stay upright on the board instead of tumbling sideways and finally you skid to a halt and wish that you could do it all over again. 100% a must-do for any adrenaline junkies out there and we all agreed it was the perfect way to end our stay in León!
In other news, I’ve been wearing the same t-shirt for 72 hours. That sentence isn’t really ok but what makes it even less ok is that this t-shirt says ‘NICARAGUA’. On a scale of 1 to 10 my current level of ‘tourist’ stands at a firm 11. I may have to buy one that says ‘Honduras’ soon because our next border crossing awaits – Time for country number 4!
👋🇳🇮 –> 📍🇭🇳