It was melting hot, but León—Nicaragua’s second-largest city and once-capital (it lost the title in 1852)—was still a good visit. Located in northwestern Nicaragua, not far from steaming volcanoes, Pacific coast mangroves, and cloud forests, León is used by most travelers as a base for active adventures.
Of course, with Ben at my side—or rather, strapped to my chest—active adventures weren’t to be had, and so he and I (and Shon, when he wasn’t working) found other ways to enjoy León, mainly by roaming its simple but picturesque streets and taking plenty of fun photos along the way.
The city was clean and felt pleasantly livable with a great assortment of local shops and mom-and-pop restaurants interspersed with colonial, clay-roof homes. We spent hours in the pigeon- and people-filled plaza, which was European in design and had a grand cathedral (Central America’s largest), a center fountain, and a border of pretty baroque buildings, one of which housed an outdoor café that was perfect for people watching. Vendors at one end of the plaza sold styrofoam bowls of shaved ice drizzled with raspberry syrup, condensed milk, and other sweet flavorings.
There was a classic Central American market overflowing with fruits, vegetables, clothing, and endless knickknacks, as well as an air-conditioned supermarket stocked with Pampers, Cheerios, and the like. Lovely old churches graced every corner (or so it seemed), as did students. Central America’s second-oldest university is located in León, and the city is both Nicaragua’s intellectual and political hub.
One afternoon, Ben and I braved the early afternoon sun and set out on a guided walking tour of the city. We learned the stories behind provocative political murals and about the city’s Sandinista past. We visited a jail-turned-museum that was used during the country’s revolution.
The highlight of our excursion, though, had nothing to do with Nicaraguan history. Instead, it was an encounter with a group of school girls who cooed at Ben in his Bjorn. He gave them big, gummy smiles in return, and I couldn’t quite tell who was more smitten with whom.
Mornings began with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and gallo pinto (Nicaragua’s ubiquitous beans and rice). Each day included a handful of hotel breaks during which Ben and I would hang out, read books, eat snacks, and watch episodes of Mad Men in our air-conditioned room. In the evenings, Ben would get a sponge bath. Shon and I would relax with ice-cold Victoria beers.
These are my memories of León. They’re simple. They include no tales of lava-spewing volcanoes, crocodile-filled mangroves, or misty cloud forests. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.