Friday, May 13, 2016

Day 3 León

Today was our first real day in León. Upon waking up, ready for the heat fully smothered in SPF 50 with hair high on our heads and sweat dripping down the smalls of our backs, we embarked on our morning filled with history and cultural immersion. Walking around the city we stopped first at a mural in one of the central squares of the city that wrapped around a park commemorating the independence of the country and the victory of the Sandinista revolution in 1979.
Next to the mural is the  cathedral in Leon (the largest in Central America) where we were able to climb the winding steep steps to view the horizon from el techo (the roof). This was no normal view, you see. From the top of this gargantuan white building punctuated with domes everywhere, you could see the chain of volcanos that belong to the Nicaraguan people. I say they belong to them not because they feel at all as though they own them and their actions, but more so that their history is chock full of earthquakes and eruptions that destroy cities and leave ruins in their wakes. These people own the volcanoes because they have lived through the destruction and moved and revived their culture and town.

This view in particular really hit me as our tour guide, Lenin, told us a story of his past. When he was a young chap sitting in his living room he felt a tremor run through the earth. Given the nation's history with natural disasters, everyone was in a panic. They all ran to the streets and looked at each other in horrific anticipation of their impending doom. (Sounds melodramatic, I know, but imagine your entire city-yes city- being demolished by an earthquake) after 5 minutes there was another tremor, and then another. Over the course of the next three days there were over 300 tremors a day. Every 5 minutes the entire city would shake. For three days.
While Lenin told us this we peered out from atop this epic cathedral facing the volcanoes that had caused this disruption. The smallest one to the right of our vision had been the culprit, you see. These three days of ruckus was due to the birthing of the valconcito (little volcano). I'm from a place with beautiful deciduous trees and wonderful mountains, but the concept that the earth gave birth to a new phenomenon like that of a fire-breathing-mountain man in the course of three days completely astounded me.

After this revelation, we headed towards the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs run by the mothers of FSLN fallen heroes. We saw picture after picture, head shots with names and dates. It really put into perspective how this was a people's revolution, and mostly it was the young who fought and died in the streets of Nicaragua to free their country of dictatorship. Meanwhile the US supported the country's genocidal dictator, Somoza, for fear of "another Cuba." There in the museum we got to sit and talk with one of the mothers. She had lost two sons to the Sandinista Revolution.
Then we continued on to the house of Rubén Darío, the most venerated poet throughout all of Nicaragua. Somewhere in the morning's tour we also stopped by the León Cultural Center. There we saw a painting by a US artist, called "La carga" (the load), depicting Ronald Reagan holding a rifle and perched on the back a woman portraying all of Latin America.

After lunch and a siesta we set back out to see the Museum of Traditions and Legends housed in what was once a prison during the rule of Somoza. From there we went to see the indigenous neighborhood of Sutiava and its church that features a mixture of indigenous and Spanish influences. Along the streets were school children in uniforms of white and blue (national colors of Nicaragua) of all ages walking home from schools, or actually stopping in the field to play some impressively good soccer first.

Thus ended the tour for the day and the 8 of us spent some of our free time in the central park trying our luck at haggling (in Spanish) with the local vendors of souvenirs.
Of the 3 cities we have seen so far I have loved seeing this one the most, with its squares and parks every few blocks, its university buildings, and the openness to its feel.
Thanks for reading.
-Jordan Newcomb

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