So I finally rode a chicken bus.
Last weekend a friend and I braved the trip to Leon on our own, and it was great. We met up at the bus station across from UCA (University de CentroAmericano) and got in line for a bus to take us to Leon, which is about an hour and a half away in the minibuses. Buses run roughly every 20 minutes, so we didn’t have to wait long to hop on. The driver collected the price for the trip. There was no ticket, we just handed him 51 cordobas apiece for the trip up. This is about 2 USD. Of course there was no air conditioning, but it wasn’t bad in the morning and with the windows open.
We arrived at the bus station in Leon, which is about a 25 minute walk from city center, or central park. Neither of us felt like walking, so we snagged a bicycle taxi for 26 cordobas apiece to take us there. The man was incredibly friendly, and Kelsey began talking to him about his job. Then he offered to let us try the bicycle. And how could we refuse?
So here we are, two gringas trying out the man’s job.
Biking wasn’t that hard, but the steering certainly was!
Once we reached Parque Central, we looked around and enjoyed the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Leon. My teacher told me (and I haven’t verified this) that the reason Leon’s cathedral is so huge is because the approved plans got mixed up with another cathedral in Montevideo. So their cathedral is small, while Leon’s is much larger than the population needed, back in the late 1700s. It is the largest cathedral in Central America. It is a beautiful old building with so much history surrounding it that I felt like I could just sit inside for an hour to soak it all in.
The inside was so much cooler than outside, though I’m not sure how that’s possible. It was easily over ten or twelve degrees cooler, which all the windows and door open for the breeze and the sun.
Unfortunately, the cathedral, although obviously loved, has not been well taken care of. There are cracks in the floors and walls, and plaster has fallen off some of the vaulted ceilings.
Stone lions surrounded the cathedral on the steps, platforms, and everywhere outside. The lions can also be found around parque central.
Leon, as the second largest city in Nicaragua, is also the capital of the department of Leon. Founded by the Spaniards in 1524, it was too close to volcanoes and earthquake fault lines. By 1610, everyone agreed to move and rebuild the city where it now stands. Leon was the capital of Nicaragua on and off in the mid 1800s, until Leon and Granada, its rival, compromised and made Managua the capital of Nicaragua.
Because of Leon’s ancient history, it has many, many churches, although now it is known also for being a college town.
The picture of me below should give some perspective of how large this place is, as the door are behind me and to my left.
I don’t think I will ever tire of looking up at the high ceilings of cathedrals.
Afterward, we strode across the park (which is really quite small) and bartered for souvenirs for a while. During our time there, a journalist and camera man approached us, interviewing people in the market place. Being the tallest, whitest people there, we stood out. Our first thoughts were, “Crap. We are going to look like idiots on the news.”
I thought I was going to get away scott free, because the journalist turned to Kelsey first, and asked questions about where she was from, what she was buying, if it was her first time here, and what her name was. We had to tell her several times to slow down. Between the two of us, we could figure out what she was saying and respond appropriately. But then she turned to me, and I had to come up with answers of what I was buying (which was really nothing, but I thought it would be rude to say I didn’t like anything in the market) and answer in Spanish. Bad idea. Thinking and talking in a foreign language is something I can’t do well. So after we stumbled through that, we decided not to check the news when we got home and hope it wasn’t aired.
The museum of the revolutionary war was just on the other side of the market, so we went. It was about 50 cordobas per person to get in, and they offered English guides. We turned them down and decided to puzzle through to Spanish ourselves.
The war happened in the 1980s, so we promptly understood that if we wanted to be liked in Nicaragua, we should never, ever, ever mention Ronald Reagan. Particularly to anyone who probably fought in the war.
While we couldn’t understand everything, we could piece together that the contra war began in Leon in roughly 1981. You can, of course, learn more with wikipedia or other online sources.
There are many more church in Leon. To the left is Iglesia El Calvario. Although the church has existed in that place since 1609, the present building was erected in 1810. To the right is another church that I snapped a photo of while driving past in a taxi. I really couldn’t tell you want church it is, only that it’s old and beautiful.
Another of the more famous churches in Leon is the Iglesia la Recoleccion. As you might be able to guess, this was also snapped in a moving taxi. Construction on this church began in 1785.
After tiring our feet out in Leon, we returned to Managua in a smaller, more crowded “chicken bus.” The taxi from the center of Leon to the bus station was 26 cordobas per person again. This return trip in the bus also cost 51 cordobas per person. I wouldn’t call the experience miserable, and am planning to do a similar trip in the next couple of days, but I definitely wouldn’t call it fun either. Especially in the afternoon heat.
Upon arriving back at UCA, we still needed to return to our respective homes. Taxis are plentiful in Managua, but you have to be careful. And you have to negotiate. It is not common, but still, sometimes men masquerade as taxi drivers to rob or kidnap gringos. To be safe, we got in separate taxis at the same time but wrote down the plates of ours and one another’s. It also shows the drivers that you aren’t an idiot.
My taxi driver, however, was very pushy, and I didn’t like him at all. He encouraged me into his car, and that was when I realized that I hadn’t agreed upon a price. You never let the taxi drive without agreeing on a price.
“Wait,” I told him. “How much to Barrio la Luz?”
“5 dollars,” he told me.
“In cordobas,” I said.
“Absolutely not,” I told him. I was tired, hot, and not in the best of moods and not willing to be ripped off. “My neighborhood is one mile away. It’s very close. I only have 40 cordobas. Will you take 40?”
“I will do 100,” he told me, frustrated.
“No,” I answered, equally frustrated. “I will not and cannot pay you 100. I have 44 cordobas. That is all.”
“Find another taxi,” he told me, not even looking over his shoulder while talking.
“Fine,” I said, and marched out of his car, across the parking lot, and hailed the first cab I saw.
“How much to Barrio la Luz?” I asked.
“30 cordobas,” the other taxi driver replied, and so I hopped in and got home safe and sound. It was quite liberating to know that I got a Nica price even with my white skin.
When I retold the story the next day to my teachers, they were happy for me. “I’m so proud!” one told me. “You weren’t ripped off and you acted just like a Nicaraguan!”
So now our joke is that “Yo soy chela, pero no soy tonta.” Which, translated, means “I’m a white girl, but I’m not stupid.”
And now that I have that victory under my belt, I am more confident that I can really do this travel thing.