LEON LEON LEON, INTELLECTUAL LIBERAL LEON

With that said, do we need to say, “We loved it?”

Please allow me to babble on for just a few lines because to this 40-something traveler a good hotel room makes all the difference. Via Via was sooo unexpectedly nice and so very cheap. Well, cheap for the awesome room we had. You must see the photos, but I will describe it quickly; king size bed, huge wonderful wood double doors opening up to a lush green courtyard, and a volcanic rock bath (showering was like in a waterfall)! A luxury hotel? No. The luxury suite in a regular hotel? No. A backpackers place with a really nice room for a whopping $20.00? Yes!

Leon was founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernidad de Cordoba, at the foot of a volcano. We have heard different versions of the story; volcanic eruption destroyed the city; they moved before the volcano erupted for some unknown reason. What ever the reason, they moved to the current location by 1610. More interesting about the place is that the city hired American filibuster ( aka pirate) William Walker to sack their nemesis city, Granada, located around 3 hours south during an ongoing civil war. He recruited his band of mercenaries in San Francisco, where among other things, he was editor of the San Francisco Herald, and then set sail. Then, to the Leonese surprise, he took over the whole country for a couple years before being ousted with the help of the Costa Ricans. Leon still has its colonial feel. Its conservative, southern enemy city, Granada, had to be renovated to be the “colonial” town that it is today. Reconstructed buildings everywhere in Granada have plaques documenting the destruction left in the wake of William Walker.

Leon, Nicaragua – Nic Trip – June 09

Onward and forward, Leon is a tight knit town with narrow streets and predominately one floor buildings, all with beloved courtyards. It is simple to get around which makes it easy to see even more of the Nicaraguan Catholic churches. And we did, spending more than 2 hours in one church, the large Cathedral. We spent time outside the Cathedral, in the Cathedral, and even on top of the Cathedral. We did not even have time to see the “Bishop’s Garden.” We checked out a couple of other churches too, one we liked for its odd set of alters and sculptures.

Churches of Leon – Nicaragua – June 09

Other than its history, which I will explain briefly after this, Leon is basically a colonial college town. There are lots of young people, an awesome art museum, and good places to eat, drink and hang out. And they had lots of internet cafes! Apparently, the internet is too expensive to get privately, so cybercafés are on every block and go for 75 cents per hour.

Now, let me tell you about the Revolution Tour by Harry the Dutch guy / history buff. The seven of us all jumped into Harry’s little jeep he called Ernesto, after Ernesto Che Guevara, and off we went. Our first stop was to, yes, yet another church. San Juan Bautista de Subtiava is the oldest church in Leon, built in the 1530s. The Missionaries could not get the Sutiaba Indians inside the huge dark building, so they installed one of their deities, a huge sun icon, on the ceiling to entice them inside. The Sutiaba worshipped the sun and seeing that it was shinning (with colorful paints), even during the night intrigued them enough to enter. Once they were in, all the easier to convert. The Catholics are a sneaky bunch! We then drove to El Tamarindon, a Tamarindo tree. This tree has a lot of significance for the Sutiaba people; in 1610 their Chief was hung on it by the Spanish. As a show of power, the Spanish would not let the body be taken down, so the Chief never had a proper burial according to the Sutiaban’s traditions. The Sutiaba people still own a lot of land, and they had leased some of it to the Spanish to establish the city of Leon. Well the Spanish never paid their bills and to this day the Sutiaban’s refuse to pay their taxes and other city provided services until the city pays them back for the hundreds of years of past due payments and interest.

We then went to a building that was originally built to be a fort, El Fortin De Acososco, but was used for a prison during the Somoza rule. Adjacent to El Fortin is the very large city dump. Yes, we went to another dump, but this time I can not blame Jim. After we talked about the dump problems, we went to check out El Fortin, which was just recently locked up. It is left in ruins as a memory to the horrid torture and deaths that took place there under the Somoza regime. Our tour guide, Harry, had talked to 3 local men who are survivors, 2 would not even return to El Fortin and the one that did, broke down in tears. These 3 men have false teeth because one of the torture techniques was to file teeth down to the nerves to cause constant pain. We learned about the horrific history that occurred there and the thousands that were tortured and killed. It was a very sad place, but with a beautiful view.

To finalize our tour, Harry brought us to a place to cheer us up, a cemetery. He explained quickly once we were inside the gates, why he said it was a place of cheer. People of Nicaragua celebrate the lives of the people that have passed with fiestas and on the Day of the Dead all cemeteries become party locations. It was quite the cemetery and the oldest one in town. The Sutiaba people buried their dead there even before the Spanish came.

Leon Revolution Tour – Nic Trip – June 09

Our last day was filled with history and a bit of rain afterwards, giving us time to relax before our trip to Estili the next day. Although we had good bus karma regarding timing of the buses, they were long hot old school bus rides. Estili was worth it though.


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~ by HenderBalz on June 30, 2009.

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