Tortuous arrival in Leon, Nicaragua. God purses his divine lips, and blows.


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Published: April 8th 2007
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Decided I´d better get up to date and then backtrack or I´ll be home before I get chance to write about my extended little jaunt around Latin Am sans girlfriend :-)

On 5th April took a 6am bus from unhappening capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa (try remembering how to say that after a few light ales) all the way to the sand-pit that is Managua, capital 'city' of Nicaragua. I didnt get any pics of Man, but suffice to say the centre of town is simply the highway where there is a junction, marked by an incongruous Holiday Inn. On arrival at the bus station, a gang of portly middle-aged latinos, shirts open to their sweaty navals, were all crushed up against the wire fencing hawk hawking at us like a pack of seals. "Taxi taxi!! Amigos taxi!"

We agreed the price of 'fifteen' with one fella, and were shown to his vehicle, which looked like something about to be delivered to a scrap metal merchant. He got in and had to hotwire the jalopy, and 4 minutes down the highway we broke down. He pulled out some dodgy looking pink petrol and began filling his carburettor directly!

After some chuffing and puffing we got started, only to break down again immediately. He repeated the procedure, using more fuel this time and we managed to roll in to the gas station ahead "the fuel guage doesnt work, so i sometimes run out of gas". Quelle surprise. En route to the other bus station for our connection to Leon, he asks me in the front and the 3 others crammed on to the backseat, hemmed in by bags, if we'd not prefer if he drove us to Leon. "Only 60 dollars" says he, which will be cheaper than the bus, he reminds us. The crowd in the back find this joke hilarious, given that his vehicle barely made it to the main bus station. Thing was, he scooted past the main bus-stops - after some precarious weaving and threading through people clogging up the filthy streets - pointing out the spot where the bus normally leaves from. "Look, no bus"...er, yeah, no shit. How perspicacious....or does he have an ulterior motive we ask ourselves? So, he kindly takes us to another back street...our 'last chance' to get a bus. We vainly protest, alas too feebly, and he drives us to an empty street. "Nope, no buses here either" he fakely laments. "Look my friend, just drop us at the bus depot and we'll take our chances....we saw lots of mini-buses and someone assured me they will take us to Leon."

With a rueful expression, he drives us back round to the free-for-all pickpocketers' wonderland that is Managua local bus station. Not one to be cheated out of his 60 dollars for the extended trip, he promptly demands 15 US DOLLARS of us for riding in his heap of a car for what would normally be a 10-minute journey! "Are you joking?" the four of us retorted, almost in unison. I then realised he hadnt told us what currency he meant when he said 15 and i'd got confused under the currency switch and merciless heat. He was intransigent when we tried negociation and to avoid hassle on arriving in a new land we just paid it. "Cunt", put in Keith. "I hope his fucking car crashes." It looks like it already has, several times, I thought.

So there I am, with my 27 kilos of bags (no shit; at this stage I still hadnt sent stuff back to Europe, and somehow kept on collecting new crap - the light traveller I am not), struggling against a veritable tide of urchins and local travellers. We managed to assert ourselves and make it through this viscous soup of latinos, somewhat Moses style, to the pavement in front of one bus to, lo-and-behold, Leon, leaving in 5 minutes. One second after arriving on said pavement though and our shields seemed to go down and the mass re-absorbed us. I even think I was leaning back at one point, with my huge heavy pack on my back supported by them. It was unnerving though since all these tiny hands came at you, open palmed attached to arms like the tendrils of sea anenomes, dirty children's faces giving you that twinge of guilt, but here their sad expressions seemed mixed with malice and we wanted to get our multiple bags with easy zippers out of there. But it wasnt easy! So many people, and soooooooooo hot.

We looked at the bus. It was the same type as the chicken buses of Guatemalen traveller folk-lore, i.e. ex-US school buses with glimmering chromium-plated front-ends with extra decor in all colours. And like them, it was not just full, in the sense that every seat was taken....it was FILLED with human-beings. They appeared to be sitting, standing, lying and stuffed into any cracks. There was NO room for us - even the DRIVER told us it was full (if they refuse your cash, you know that short of chopping us up and stuffing us into Tupperware containers and loading us on to the roof, that this bus is FULL - latin american full.) The next bus would be several hours later, and we had no option but to ask a taxi, he said. "But what about these mini-buses over there?" They arent going to Leon he told us, and we'd have to wait for another bus (from his company - you get the picture). We extricated ourselves from the crowd, now most fascinated by a pink Englishman and 3 pasty Irishfolks (ok, Keith was quite tanned for a Dubliner), and hauled our bags to the minibus stand. On the way it seemed prudent to try and get a taxi to agree to take us for 30 dollars, but the first one I tried tried me for 90.

Arriving at the mini-bus 'office' (an old school desk under a tree with a pleasantly smiling black lady) we were informed that buses to Leon leave every hour, from under another tree around the corner and it would cost us about 5 dollars each. Laughing (you have to), we joined a queue of other stragglers struggling with the temperatures (seems to get everyone) and ...breathe....relaxed. I bought some water from a kiosk and, common sense giving in to hunger, a piece of chicken frying on a street-man's gas-bottle powered hot-plate. The ride in the mini-bus was indeed a crush, and if we'd known about it for sure in advance, no doubt we'd have complained, but given the journey so far it was a pleasure. This is evidenced on our faces, even though for a couple of hours we had to sit with our bags on us:












So we get to Leon, old colonial place, and it's Holy Week. HOT Week more like.......God was simply microwaving the place for Semana Santa. Have a look at all the crazies, trying to march in processions whilst keeping in the shade. This place was INFERNAL. You couldnt do anything, it was just about sweating from morning till night.
















Cool priest though. And it was during this procession me and my 3 irish catholic friends (non-practising) felt the power of Him.......as the priest spoke, a few puffs of the golden dirt in front of this suburban church started to stir in the light breeze. Then suddenly, a real tornado, just like the one in Wizard of Oz, appeared with a column of whirling dust spiralling 100 feet into the air, right in the square in front of the old dilapidated cathedral. The priest's words were eerie against the backdrop of the blowing, swirling wind. The dust cloud then dissipated as quickly as it appeared.....the priest said Amen, never having turned around.




Walking around the town, well, staggering like old infirm people with one lung, you see it's interesting and in a suspended state of decay. And all through central america women have amazing powers of balance.





You couldnt help being impressed by the crumbling, yet hardy and faded grandeur of the main church:




Looking up at the belfry, the bell and sculpted males either side seemed worth setting my zoom for:




Hats!




Poor little horsey worsey.....do you love your owner I wonder? Does he whip your skinny butt as you cart his fat ass and makeshift trap around these sizzling streets?





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