A Day in Leon, Land of Volcanoes

On the roof of the church we finally had the chance to feel the sporadic breeze sweeping over the stark, white roofline.  I shifted my weight occasionally, trying to avoid overheating the pads of my feet on the warm cement, kicking up light clouds of chalky dust as we walked through the maze of whitewashed domes.  It felt like a scene from Star Wars, other worldly, and far from the Nicaragua I’d come to know.

The blazingly bright, clean white against the backdrop of the tin rusted shacks and dirt roads offered a contrast I had yet to see in this country.  I stood silently, nearly visualizing the gusts bouncing against the tile roofs towards the volcanic mountains in the distance.

I was looking forward to exploring Leon for the day without going volcano boarding.  This is one of the times where I’m torn about making my travel plans.  When is it OK to not follow what you want to do instead of spending your time ticking off everyone else’s bucket list items?  When you’re away as a writer do you go for what YOU want to do and see to enjoy your own personal experience, or do you do something you think you ought to do because your audience may want to see it?  This city seemed to be the struggle between what I would choose to do and what everyone else deemed as a “must do”.

When google searching for ‘Things to do in Leon, Nicaragua’ inevitably you come across a slew of stories and reviews about volcano boarding.  I had zero interest in going, but I contemplated doing it because it may have made a good story.  Volcano boarding, an activity I’d have been all over in my twenties, and now hesitant about in my thirties.  Adding to the growing realization that even though I don’t always admit it, as we age we don’t always travel like we used to.  I book rooms near the airport for short stays instead of sleeping in a body numbing fetal position at the terminal.  I take cabs instead of shlepping my bags on three different buses to get to my hostel.  I book private rooms over sleeping on a top bunk with 11 other strangers.  I’ve aged and in turn my travel has changed and honestly, I’m happy about it.  I’m happy to have the choice.  I can take an overnight train for 15 hours and then land in a new city and check into a nice hotel.  I revel in the ability to still see glimpses of that backpacking penny pinching lifestyle while having the luxury of treating myself now and again.  With the shift in my travel tactics comes a welcomed maturity and confidence I’ve come to embrace instead of runaway from.

So, instead of succumbing to what I thought I should be doing, I did Leon in a day, my own way which didn’t include a jumpsuit, goggles and throwing my freckled body down a gravel mountain.

The Leon Cathedral is the largest in Central America.  The roof is newly restored so it’s so white washed that you’ll have to squint when the sun shines off of it.  It’s a few dollars to ascend the winding stairs but the views are worth the small fee.  Not only do you have a wonderful perspective of the city itself and the volcanoes in the distance, but you also get to see up close the architectural details of the unique building.  Be sure to step inside, Nicaraguans most famous poet, Ruben Dario, is buried in the floor of the church.

After mostly meals of beans & rice, the food is good but monotonous and I was craving something different.  We sought out Pan Y Paz, a french bakery & cafe, for a much needed cuisine change.  It’s the classic love story, a French man & a Dutch woman met in Nicaragua, fall for each other, open a bakery and the rest is history.

They provide Leon with loaves of fresh baked treats and also well paid job opportunities for locals wanting to learn the art of rolling out quality baked goods.

The city murals around town are a great intro into learning more about the revolution from decades long dictatorship, the student protest, uprisings and assassinations that all took place here in Leon.  It’s streets are full of stories of tumultuous past with visible scars still healing today.

Arguably the hottest city in Central America, Leon seems like some days it is the epicenter of the sun.  I was happy to get a lot of sight seeing done earlier in the day, leaving time in the heat of the afternoon to explore the Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz Gurdian.  The gallery is housed in two restored colonial style buildings and has an impressive collection of contemporary art and offers a serene escape from the dusty, crowded streets.

The building itself with it’s tile work and pristine gardens is just as beautiful as the artwork that is housed within its walls.  It originated as a large private collection but is now open to the public for a small entrance fee.

Do I regret not going volcano boarding?  Nope.  It was a day I planned for me, my way & the Leon I wanted to experience.  I added another life lesson from traveling with the countless others I’ve learned, a reminder to do what makes YOU happy.

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