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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Viva la Revolucion! / Dance on a Volcano

NICARAGUA | Sunday, 30 November 2008 | Views [3296] | Comments [2]

Lorries, buses, vans and cars packed with FSLN supporters at the rally

Lorries, buses, vans and cars packed with FSLN supporters at the rally

Viva la Revolución!

Fleeing the political music in San Juan, we got the chicken bus north to León, via the den of inquity (well, maybe) that is Managua, the capital.  Luckily for us, on arrival in the capital the nice guys on our bus took us (for a small fee) from the southern station where our bus terminated, across the city and directly to our bus for León, ergo avoiding said inquity.  That´s just one example of how nice Nicas seem to be.  They´re always trying to be helpful and as a rule they´re very friendly.

León is Nicaragua´s second city, and is the long-term rival to Granada.  They were founded around the same time and struggled against one another until the capital was moved once and for all to Managua in the 19th century.  This was after the Leónesse invited in William Walker, and he burnt Granada to the ground….  Like Granada, the city is mostly old colonial town houses, with a big central plaza and the nicest cathedral we´ve seen in central America so far.  The city isn´t as pretty as Granada, and there obviously hasn´t been the same drive to maintain and restore the buildings, but León makes up for this with a vibrancy that Granada probably lacks.  The markets are airy and pleasure to walk around, and the architecture seems to have its own little intricacies – like the double corner doorways you find in many town houses in the centre, or the bas-relief carvings on the Iglesia de la Merced.

Rather lovely corner doorways

León was the heart of the Sandinista revolution in the 70´s, which they´re still very proud about – and power hasn´t changed locally since.  We visited the museum of the revolution – more a collection of newspaper clippings and photo´s of heroes who invariably met nasty ends.  Still, we had the violent history of Nicaragua explained to us in detail by the slightly drunk guide – in Spanish, Rachel gave me a summary.  Granted to say, the history is a pretty sobering experience.  After our tour, our guide took us up onto the roof of the building – which originally had been home to the hated national guard under Somoza. 

We tottered around the worryingly flexible tin roof, checking out the roofscape of the city, and looking down on a massive crowd of people who were gathering for a rally for the FSLN mayoral candidate – FSLN are the supposed successor of the Sandinistas, headed up by Daniel Ortega, and ex-Sandinista general.  We went down to the second floor and took up a place on a balcony overlooking the central square.  It was awash with red and black Sandinista flags, and then with horns blaring, a massive convoy of trucks, buses, vans and cars zoomed past, young people hanging of the sides waving flags and cheering.  Young and old were out to wave and support them.  Meanwhile, an aircraft flew low overhead dropping propoganda leaflets! Now this is something you really don´t get in the UK!

Cycle taxi´s of León for FSLN!

I guess one might feel sorry for the opposition here – they have absolutely no chance, and the only poster we saw that wasn´t FSLN was on the ring-road outside of town.  Saying that, they´re not so strong elsewhere in the country, and the news while we were there showed that politics is still a dangerous business here – two FSLN mayoral candidates were murdered in the northern part of the country where right-wing Contra interests still hold sway.

Another sad reminder of Nicaragua´s past was a co-operative coffee shop dedicated to Ben Linder, who was an American volunteer who worked with poor farmers in rural Nicaragua in the 1980´s – he was murdered by the Contras.  The co-operative is great though – they have a really nice café, employ local people with disabilities, and have a program that brings small coffee growers together to allow them to process and market their beans, and start to develop a name for high-end Nicaraguan coffee.

Dance on a Volcano…

We had one adventure out of León – to visit one of the youngest volcanoes in Nicaragua – Cerro Punto.  Our tour was run by a non-for-profit group, with volunteer guides, and all the profits go to support a local NGO called the ´Aunties´.  This is a group of women stall-holders in the market who have programs to care for and educate León´s street kids.  We got up early (and I mean early – 4.45!), in order to get breakfast before heading for the first bus out of town with our group.  This is because you want to climb the volcan in the morning, before the sun gets hot - there´s absolutely no cover there, and the mountain is covered in black volcanic sand which absorbs the heat making it into a somewhat unpleasant place to be in the afternoon.

We walked upwards, past peanut fields and eucalyptus plantations until the vegetation suddenly stopped – and we were faced by vast sand-dunes of perfectly black sand, unlike anything I´ve ever seen before – we were transported immediately into a world of monochrome.  We walked up and across to the side of the mountain, looking up at the incredibly steep cone of the main crater.  A field of striking white boulders littered the foot of the mountain – chucked out by the last explosion in the 90´s. 

Walking across black sand dunes, looking up to the crater

We crossed a lava flow and started to climb the very steep side.  Sooner than we thought we came to the first crater.  We took off our packs and walked into its heart.  Clouds of sulphurous gas billowed around us out of multi-coloured fumeroles, caked with mineral salts.  If I was struck by surrealness on the slopes of Volcan Rincon in Costa Rica, this was something else.  We could have been on Mars, or at the beginnings of the earth 50 million years ago, or in Hades.

We climbed up until, skirting around the first crater until we arrived at the summit, overlooking the huge second crater.  The landscape below us was scarred by the black sands and lava flows that ate into the surrounding forest like a cancer.  Just a few inches below the surface the sand was hot to the touch.  This really was an impressive place.  The only thing to do now was to get down.  And this involved volcano running!

Strange things happen in the crater...

So, with some trepidation we walked to the edge of the path, and looked down – the slope kept going, at the same steep angle, all the way to the bottom.  Our guide showed us how to run – dig your heels in, keep your feet wide!  And then we were off – the sand was like crunchy snow that ate your feet as they plunged in, sending up clouds of volcanic dust behind us.  After ten minutes of running, our leg muscles were starting to ache from driving our legs through the sand, but the end was in sight.  At the bottom we sat to rest and take the piles of grit and sand out of our boots…

Volcano running!

Some people sand-board down the mountain, some use sleds!  One French guy rode a mountain bike down it in order to get the world record downhill speed.  He got it, but broke all the bones in his body when he hit the rock field at the bottom.  I think I´ll stick to running.

To see more pictures click here:

Tags: leon, nicaraguan revolution, sandinistas, stupid ways to get down a mountain, volcan cerro negro




Nice to be nostalgic a bit from time to time with some of your stories and pictures.
How are you doing?
And, how is your spanish??
I agree, Léon is much more interesting than Granada, it would be a nice city to live.

Greetings from a rainy & cold Belgium..
Stijn & Els

  Stijn Dec 10, 2008 6:48 AM


Great to hear from you guys! I think I may have mislaid your blog details - could you send me the link? Our Honduras stories should be up in the next few weeks. Hope you got on OK getting new jobs and settling back into the 9-5 :)

  rachel_and_daniel Dec 12, 2008 8:47 AM

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