There were people everywhere. Children playing with light up toys in the street, food vendors busy grilling in the square and lovers holding hands whilst they jumped over the huge hole left from the roadworks.
It was the first place we visited that was as bustling during the night time as it was during the day.
Arriving in the dark, it filled my heart to see the main square in front of the cathedral was humming with activity. Despite a 3am start, a days drive across Honduras and a long, sweaty wait at the border, I was itching to get out there and join them.
Leon is one of the two big colonial cities in Nicaragua. The once capital houses the country’s first university and played a key role in the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship.
During the day, I found it easiest to orientate myself by recognising the many churches that can be found throughout the city. They all looked pretty distinct so I knew whether the hotel was East, West or back where I had come from! In the Leon heat you definitely didn’t want to be wandering about lost for long. The churches have a romantic look of disrepair about them. Peeling paint, cracked and weathered, I think they look prettier than when they were first painted.
I loved that as a university town, I could see local students walking around with books on their way to and from class, just as I do in considerably less dramatic Lancaster. I’m telling you, if my university offered semesters abroad at Leon university, I would take that opportunity to live in such a cool city in a snap.
Along with an abundance of churches, there are street art and murals everywhere. Some are on a pretty grand scale. A lot of them are very political, others are memorials for people who fought in the revolution.
In order to understand a little bit more about the revolution, I visited the Museo Historico de la Revolucion or the History of the Revolution Museum. My knowledge only extended as far as a study we had done in Sociology about priests that had joined the Sandanistas, the liberal party that led the Nicaraguan resistance. The UK’s history lessons are seriously eurocentric in that respect.
For a museum that houses nothing but newspaper clipping and a few small military artefacts, it was thought provoking, at times chilling, and highly informative – entirely down to the great guide. He didn’t speak English (so show up with a willing Spanish speaker to translate) but it was poignant to hear the history recounted by a veteran.
After we’d finished in the museum room the guide took us up the obviously once grand staircase. The building used to be one of Somoza’s palaces but it’s been empty since the Sandanistas had their way with it. I declared that if I’d been a squatter in Nicaragua in that time this would have definitely been my first choice squatting spot.
The walls inside are painted with once bright pink and blue paint which is crumbling now. More astute observations from me that student revolutionaries don’t look half as revolutionary nowadays without the ’70s moustache.
Another set of stairs and we were led onto the roof of the former palace. I was terrified! The views across Leon were brilliant but I barely focused on them as I carefully stepped over the cracks in the tin roof. The cathedral, which is the largest in Central America, is directly opposite and we stopped for a while to watch the daily activity in the square.
I really didn’t want to leave Leon. They say there’s a rivalry between liberal Leon and conservative Granada and I think I had already given my heart to Leon by the time we left for Granada.