Hello all, and welcome to my first blog post of the year! Jarelle has given his impression of our first two days reuniting in Nicaragua, and has shared the awesomeness that is volcano boarding, so I won’t go over it again. I want to give you my impression of the start of this memorable Central America trip and tell you more about those first two days in León.
Going Through Airport Hell
The trip started in the worst possible way for me… After having planned it for over a month, having booked all the flights and a lot of the hotels, here I was at the London airport, facing what could have been a decisive blow to our tropical volcano-climbing aspirations.
As I entered the queue for the Norwegian Airlines check-in desks, two employees stopped me and asked me if I had authorization to fly to the US. I was like: “what do you mean, I have my tickets.” – Yes, people, this is the kind of European-centric entitlement thinking that many people around the world cannot afford. And I sometimes need reality checks like this to be aware of the privilege we as Europeans have of flying to almost any country in the world and having them stamp a visa on your passport in 1 min at the arrival airport. But, there is one nation that is even more privileged than us, and that is the US of A. So if you want to go there, as a oh so very suspicious European, you need to get the proper authorization and paperwork beforehand. Something called an ESTA.
So there I was at the London airport, with the Norwegian Airlines check-in desk closing in 20 min, with no paperwork. Luckily, the employees redirected me to a airport desk nearby that swiftly got me the proper paperwork for a £20 fee. If you want to avoid such shenanigans, make sure you get your ESTA online on this site: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/.
Finally blessed with that saintly piece of paper, and realizing my luck, I vowed to make this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience, drinking twice as many Macuá cocktails, climbing volcanoes at twice the speed, surfing twice as many waves, and discovering twice as many lost Mayan cities in the jungle.
Half-a-day later, I reunited with my broski Nerd “Twice as Many” Abs (8 vs. 4), at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Because one airport mishap wasn’t enough, we had another one: we went through security, after which the TSA agent singled out my friend and methodically proceeded to search his bag for 10 minutes, after which, looking for our gate, we took the wrong hallway turn and exited the boarding terminal, only to have to go through TSA security again – with only 30 min before our flight to Nicaragua. Luckily we made it, and later landed in the capital city of Managua, warmly welcomed by our hotel driver, a jokester of a man.
Our hotel was a convenient 5-min drive from the airport (convenient because it was past 1AM), and was quite modern and cozy. Highly recommend you book your night there if you’re in the city, it’s called Airport X.
Going to León, Nicaragua
The following morning, feeling reinvigorated and excited, I went to fetch the rental car at the airport while Jarelle was sleeping (because of course, coming from neighbouring America, he should be the one with the most jet lag). And onwards we drove the 2 hours through the hills and countryside to the western city of León, Nicaragua. Well, starting with 1-hour traffic in Managua where, passing a one-legged man standing in the middle of the highway as well as other reminders of the country’s poverty, Jarelle promptly decided to become an international nurse (coincidently -or not- we then met three separate international nurses during our Nicaragua trip). Maybe he’ll tell you more about it in 5 years.
Now, since all Cerro Negro volcano boarding tours start early in the morning, we would have to do ours the following day. Therefore, we took the free afternoon in León to have lunch in a lovely hacienda-style restaurant, Restaurante Carnivorio on the Avenida Central Norte, eating delicious pluma-style beef. This place could sit a hundred people but we were the only ones; so clearly, it was catering to tourists, but remained surprisingly affordable (we even splurged with some Mojitos and Ceviches).
We then walked the street of León, browsing the markets for an Indiana Jones hat. It’s a small city, so you can walk all around it in 1 hour.
In the evening, we wanted to go to the rooftop of the León Cathedral, also known as Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. Look on Google Maps if you want to get there, but you can’t miss it, it’s this beauty right in the middle of town:
However, we hadn’t checked the opening hours and were refused entry by this guy:
Closes at 5pm he said, and there we were at 5:08pm…
After talking to him, he redirected us to another entrance to see if we could get tickets. There we went, only to meet another woman telling us it was closed. However, that was without counting on my awesome intercultural negotiation skills. They open doors anywhere!
“But please, kind lady, we are leaving tomorrow!”
“I just flew 20 HOURS ALL THE WAY FROM EUROPE(!!!) to visit your beautiful city [This sparked a smile; I knew I had won]. I heard the rooftop of the Cathedral is amazing. I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world!”
“Please kind lady, give us an option!”
And so the kind lady spoke: “Ok, you can go for 20 min. But you’ll need to pay a propina (tip) to the doorman, my cousin, the Church, my niece’s stuffed bear, Jesus’ descendant Marco, and the entrance ticket. All in all, $5 per head. Yes, yes, yes to everything, I said, with the wry smile of someone who had found a Porsche 911 for $2,000 on eBay.
Climbing to the León Cathedral Rooftop
So we got our tickets and climbed the stairs to the rooftop where we were met by a really cool guide. We took off our shoes and explored the rooftop and its 34 domes. It was just past sunset so the colors were beautiful. I took out my Olympus camera and started shooting, showing the guide how the camera works in an attempt to make us pass for professional travel bloggers/photographers.
He showed us all 12 volcanoes surrounding the city and explained some of the Cathedral’s history. Construction started in 1747, in a melting pot of styles (Baroque, Neoclassic, Gothic, Mudejar), and included 7 underground tunnels which lead to other churches in the city (how awesome is that!).
Later that night, we went to eat on Gringo Street (the street where tourists hang out), at the hostel & restaurant Via Via. The food was very unremarkable, but the place is really nice. Then off to bed we went, looking forward to next morning’s volcano boarding adventure, which you can read more about here.