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Dave and Jan's travels, day 269:

12th February
We crossed the Honduran border at a place called Los Manos. By dint of hiring a local youth on each side to take care of the administrative detail, we rendered this normally stressful and lengthy process merely lengthy. We then pressed on to Léon, via Estile.

At our first stop we popped into the Museum of Martyrs and Heroes in Estile. This is one of several across the country, run by the wives and mothers of those who died in the revolution. These places are deeply saddening, for the most part consisting of simple portrait photos of teenagers who died in their prime. You're continually aware that these people died very recently, so recently that the people you meet in the museums still survive fallen loved ones. It seems such a waste that people had to die in such number just to get rid of a regime as patently evil as that of Somoza. That, and the inanity of the contra programme, has left a country where 46% are under 15 years of age, the infrastructure is shot to hell, and foreign debts loom large over everything. Obviously the IMF are solving these problems in their usual inimitable style.

Back to more happy thoughts. By the time we went to sleep in Léon we had met several Nicaraguans, none of whom had wanted to stop talking to us. This is the friendliest country we've visited yet. Everyone is genuinely happy just to help out with advice, or directions, or just to chat. People leap into the street to warn you that you're on the wrong road. Four examples follow.

The first person we met in the museum was a woman who lectured us at great length on the iniquities of the current (non-Sandinista) government. Apparently they only fund organisations run by men rather than women. Worse, she doesn't approve of their plans to privatise pension provision, and is generally sceptical about their avowed free market economics.

As soon as her back was turned, we found ourselves talking to an English speaking man in his thirties. He'd learnt his English whilst working in Texas, but had decide to return as he couldn't stand the pace of life. He reckons that his friends there all seem ten years older than they actually are. Certainly his life was happening at a very manageably slow pace. He also expressed his deep admiration for Boy George.

And then to Léon. We took our car from the hotel to a nearby house that provides secure parking, where we encountered one Thelma Plata. Her engineer son lives and works in North America, although he had learnt his English in the U.K. Apparently this is a good thing, although I'm a little hazy as to exactly why. And Thelma is rather worked up about the locals' habits of eating exotic meats such as iguana and rabbit, although once again, I'm not totally sure whether she's in favour or not. And I believe that her Sandinistan leanings used to antagonise some foreigners, somewhere, some time.

Back to the hotel, and a lengthy conversation with a student of tourism. He's planning to visit Germany in July and will pop over and visit us.

After all that, we hid in the hotel room for a while before popping out for dinner where we met an Englishwoman. Her church-sponsored tour of various villages had been interesting. It seems that there is a fine balance between the Sandinistas and the more right-wing thinkers at present. Although there is no doubt in anyone's mind about the value of many US products, in particular those relating to basketball footwear and carbonated soft drinks.

There's a wonderful ambience in Nicaragua, created by a people that never make the mistake of taking work too seriously and who are never too rushed to chat for an hour or two. This is occasionally frustratung, never more so than in the ninety minutes or so it took to obtain cash in a Léon bank, but overall it's something I love.

Léon Cathedral is the largest in Central America, and it certainly is gigantic. It also contains monumental paintings of various steps along the road to Calvary, grand sculptures of the great and the good, and the graves of famous Nicaraguans. None is more important than Reuben Dario, a poet. A poet? Poetry appears to be serious stuff in Nicaragua.

Otherwise Léon turned out to be a great place to spend a evening watching the sun go down in the town plaza, swigging a coke and chatting to passers by. I like it here!


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Cathedral, Léon

Holey road, Nicaragua