Embrace Your Gringo
While we ´re usually content to wander around with our Lonely Planet clandestinely tucked in a bag, pretending that we ´re able to veil our gringo-ness, and hoping to look like super savvy locals, sometimes it ´s nice to pay someone ten bucks to show us around. In reality, it probably doesn ´t make us any more conspicuous, and we get to see everything worth seeing without really having to think.
That ´s exactly what we did in Leí²n. Two doors down from ViaVia, Green Pathways Tours hooked us up with a charming guide named Juan who gave us the lowdown on Nicaragua ´s capricious politics, myriad cathedrals, varying and socially compelling artwork, and the best tamales to try in the local market.
Do As the Locals Do
Our meandering began with a stop at an enormous, bustling market that serves the needs of most of Leí²n ´s inhabitants. On our way, Juan pointed at La Union, the brand new bright and shiny Wal-Mart owned supermarket whose prices are quadruple those that most Nicaraguans pay. He urged us to take note of the differences between the two, which turned out to be impossible to avoid. Inside the market, women buy everything they need to make a typical Nica meal, which basically means a whole lot of corn-based products. Corn courses through Nicaraguans ´veins; it ´s in everything they eat and even drink, whether it ´s sweet or savory. When you go, make sure to try the tamales wrapped in banana leaves. But don ´t eat them until you go to another stall and buy a chunk of salty cheese to combine with the somewhat bland tamales. I ´m drooling just thinking about them.
How Many Churches Does One City Need?
With full bellies, we paid a small fee to climb the towers of Leí²n Cathedral, Central America ´s largest cathedral. We enjoyed a 360 degree view of the city with its thirty-some cathedrals and its surrounding volcanoes from the domes of the cathedral while we waited for the funeral that was taking place underneath us to end. After the last mourner was gone, we found the tomb of Rubí¨n Darí¬o and subsequently searched for hidden symbols of the Freemasons Society, of which Darí¬o was a member and whose symbolic square and compass can be found hidden throughout the cathedral.
Philanthropic Art Collectors
Afterwards, we went to the Centro de Arte Fundacií³n Ortiz Gurdií¡n, an extremely impressive local and international collection of all types of art that ´s housed in two buildings which stand across the street from each other. It ´s a truly superb and striking collection and is most definitely Nicaragua ´s finest. (They ´ve even got a Picasso, although I was most impressed by the modern art housed in the second building.) Proceeds to go a breasat cancer foundation for women with significant financial needs.
Check it out. There ´s more than volcano boarding in Leí²n!