León – Crumbling Under its own Passion

Jet lag and exhaustion caught us around 22:00 so we got an early night and woke to the sounds of a metalwork shop jangling through the gap between the wall and ceiling. It was the only rough edge to an otherwise blissful place to stay.

We followed the Lonely Planet walking tour of the city’s main sights, feeling like amateurs for doing so but knowing we’d get to see plenty that way. But we soon found some colloquial charms, like the market where we bought fruit at around one Cordoba a piece. We soaked-up the city with every step on every street, it has such a consistent charm. Every building is painted in a bright pastel shade different to the one next to it. The streets are cobbled and the pavements are a mosaic of concrete and tiles. A mess of power lines is draped above. León has an abundance of churches and cathedrals, each one in disrepair, match the surrounding architecture. It is a low, flat city of evenly spaced blocks, easy to navigate and mostly accessible on foot. It is the political and cultural heart of Nicaragua, proud of its revolutionary heart and fervent with the laughter and preaching of the inhabitants that fill the profusion of cafés and bars.

A typical street in León with a volcano for a backdrop

A typical street in León with a volcano for a backdrop

On the guidebook route is León’s Museum Entymologica but its doors were closed and gated in spite of a little chalk signboard saying it was open every day until 16:00. I knocked anyway. No answer. As we turned to leave a local decorator ran across the street saying something that included the word abrir (open) and before he had a chance to press the door buzzer that we hadn’t spotted, the door opened. Standing there was the figure of a man that could have been picked by a low-grade Hollywood casting director, he was too perfect. His old green polo shirt was soaked with a strap of sweat over his belly. His hair swayed in dishevelled grey locks, weighted with sweat at the tips. Dark bricks of eyebrows nestled under an untidy fringe and were dwarfed by the great thicket of grey tendrils that constituted his moustache.

Jean-Michel spoke in a thick Belgian French accent. After poking him with a few geeky questions about his collection, he started to talk and didn’t stop until I interrupted him to excuse us a while later. While he spoke he peeled the sun covers back from extensive rows of glass-topped display cases, covering perhaps 25m of worktop. Each one was packed with bugs, hovering on pins like fleets of aircraft in formation. Monsters like Stag and Goliath beetles, all manner of moths and butterflies, mantids, and thousands I couldn’t name. He had been running the place for thirty years. We paid C$10 each to lose ourselves in both the insects and his passionate lectures on wildlife and genetics.

Display case at the Etymological Museum in León, Nicaragua

Display case at the Etymological Museum in León

A little past 16:00, on-cue like every dat at that time of year, gusts of wind emerged from nowhere and whipped the streets into cyclones of dust and junk. The ever-building clouds set thick and darkened, and the first few spits of rain foretold the inevitable deluge a few minutes later. In the tropics, the “Rainy Season” is a misnomer for the uninitiated. It doesn’t mean rain-filled days and it certainly isn’t cold. Instead, clouds build throughout the middle of the day and unleash a downpour every afternoon around the same time. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the rain vanishes, the clouds dissipate, and typically there is a sublime sunset cast amongst the fleeing cumulus blobs. Once, before a big trip, I asked a dear friend what kind of jacket I should buy. He said, “If it rains, wear a pub”. That’s what rainy season is all about. This time we wore a smartly appointed coffee shop and sipped at mugs of “Cafe Nica” while revising our Spanish vocabulary.

See the Flickr album: Outbound, Managua, León, Padre Ramos

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  1. […] before Central America had what we would recognise as cities today. It was similar to León, where we had been a few days earlier, but Granada is its clean-cut, well behaved sister. Its streets were lined with pastel walls and […]

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