Colonial ruins and colonial churches
04/01/2015 - 04/01/2015 96 °F
The cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua
Our entire plan for the day couldn't have happened without the excellent staff at Las Isletas Boutique Hotel in Granada. They have done a good job helping us out with our sightseeing, but they hit one out of the park with today's suggestion. We had booked our first 4 nights in Granada, and the last two in Leon, Nicaragua. The problem is that they are roughly 3 hours away from each other. Public transport, aka the "chicken bus," would be the cheapest route, but lose us an entire day of sightseeing. Shuttles run by travel agencies are faster, but not too expensive, but don't get in till about 3 pm -- too late to take in one of the two main things we wanted to see in Nicaragua (the volcano Cerro Negro and the ruins of Old Leon).
Ruins of Old Leon
So, the staff offered to hire a driver to take us to Leon, but stop in Old Leon on the way. Bingo! More expensive, but allows us to do both of the "must do" things we had on our list. Of course, Old Leon is not the most visited sight in Nicaragua, so we had to help our driver find it - ha, ha! Turns out they're rebuilding the road to Old Leon, but the engineers thought it would be a good idea to take down the sign for the turnoff! We drive about 5 minutes past it, but thankfully our driver sensed we'd missed it and asked another driver. We found out later the staff at Old Leon get complaints daily about the lack of signage. So, we didn't do too bad going only a little out of our way.
Monument to the Indian resistance to the Spanish conquistadors
Our English speaking guide at the site was a nice man, and between the three if us, we did a good job of translating the information. He did want to rush us through the tour, though -- even though we were only the 4th group to show up that day. That is one of my pet peeves and why I'm usually willing to take the chance of missing information by skipping on a guide entirely. Too often they want to give you the abbreviated tour, as all the incentives are set up that way. The sooner they finish, the sooner their turn comes up again, and usually that is how they get paid.
Volcan Momotombo, whose eruption was the deciding factor in the Spanish abandoning the site of Old Leon
Rant off, and now I'll tell you a bit about the site. It was built in the early 1500s, one of the earliest settlements in the area. However, it was abandoned about 86 years later due to the combination of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions -- which combined with the predatory, economic practices of the colonial Spanish, meant its income was dropping year by year. You can only enslave and oppress a people for so long before the profit curve begins to work against you. The city was moved northwest to its present location, and the jungle and volcanic ash hid Old Leon from the world for centuries. What is there today has been excavated in the last 50 years or so, and consists of brick foundations and walls of the town. It was a hot, but atmospheric, meander through the past. This is no Pompeii, but Old Leon makes a pleasant excursion for those who enjoy history.
Leon's oversized and ornate, white, stone cathedral
Once we checked I to our hotel in Leon, we began our self-guided tour of Leon's amazing churches. The top of the list, and less than 100 yards from where we are staying, is the cathedral. It is the largest in Central America, leading some to speculate there were some shady dealings to get the plans approved from Spain. The cathedral's massive white stone walls, towers, and dome are blackened with age. The decoration of the stonework is incredible, with carvings, statues, and shining bronze bells all contributing to the soaring effect of the exterior. The interior is more plain, but a number of important figures from Nicaragua's history are buried there. There is supposed to be an awesome rooftop tour we hope to squeeze in, but like all rooftops we've encountered in Nicaragua, it was closed.
Iglesia de la Recollection, probably the prettiest church in Leon, Nicaragua
We stopped by two more scenic churches in our afternoon visit, then headed back to get cleaned up. We wanted to be waitin to catch the Holy Week procession at 6 pm. Perhaps the best timing of one entire trip is that it is occurring during Easter week. The churches in Nicaragua take out their holy statues and parade them through the streets. We'd caught one in Granada, but hoped to catch more in more devout Leon. In fact, our stay in Leon (and Nicaragua) concludes on Good Friday. So, hopefully, we will get a chance to witness the pageantry of a Nicaraguan Easter week. As always, we will be counting on the information and advice of the locals -- just like we did this morning on our visit to Old Leon.
Evening Holy Week procession from Leon's cathedral, complete with lighted statue, band marching behind it, and a crowd of worshippers...hopefully, the first of many we will see in Leon!