Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 26 February 2006


It has been a while since I last wrote. It has also been a much better week this week than last week. Today marks the end of the nine official days of mourning for the family. The house is currently packed with relatives remembering Leopoldina. Many members of the family have attended a daily mass in rememberance of Mamita these past nine days, and the living room in the house has been transformed into a beautiful dedication/shrine (for lack of a better word) for her.

This weekend I went to Leon, northwest of Managua. I had a fabulous time. Leon is an old colonial city, similar to Granada in many ways, but it was (is?) also a Sandinista stronghold and feels much more frenetic than Granada. Tranquilo is certainly not how I would describe Leon. Vibrant is more like it. The road from Managua to Leon is dry and hot…as is the city itself..a big change from Jinotepe’s mild, breezy climate. The road winds around Lake Xolotlan (Lake Managua), and there are stunning views of the perfect conically-shaped Volcan Momotombo on the Northwestern shore of the lake and its aptly named counterpart in the lake, Momotombito. Upon arrival in the hectic bus station, I made my way into the center to find a hostel, which thankfully had a bed, but unfortunately had no water…the whole city has been having trouble with reliable water, and in a climate like that, it makes for some stinky, sweaty people!

Anyway, I put down my stuff and braved the midday sun to wander around a bit and orient myself in this new city. Leon is famous for many things, not the least of which are its murals, most of which are products of the 1980s Sandinista era. I spent a very steamy afternoon wandering the streets of Leon, trying to acclimate myself to the heat (with little success…), but often gave in to the allure of a shaded bench or cafe. I can’t say I did all that much, really, aside from get my bearings and snap some photos (see below). I was supposed to go “Volcano Surfing” on Cerro Negro at sunset (hike up and sled down the sandy, gravelly slope while the sun sets over Leon), but there were 30mph winds on the slope, rendering it too dangerous. Kind of a bummer, but I can always go back! I had a nice lazy evening in the hostel with some cool kids I met. I also got to wondering whether the support for the Sandinistas in Leon is as fervent as the exterior atmosphere leads you to believe. I wonder if the myriad politically-left murals are maintained and not defaced for the tourist draw, or if people genuinely support the Sandinista ideals they represent. (I have yet to meet all that many Nicaraguans who do, which explains my skepticism.) I would imagine that it is likely a combination of both motivations…perhaps a little more of the former than the latter, but a combination nonetheless. I saw a fair amount of anti-Bush, anti-US grafitti in town, moreso than in other areas of the country I have been to, so perhaps that is some measure of the political attitude of the city, but clearly not a complete picture.

On Saturday morning, we set off for the beach at Las Peñitas, about 20km outside of Leon. We had a bit of an adventure getting there, but that is another story. Las Peñitas is a quaint fishing village set on a beach that has quite the undertow, so swimming is a bit risky…although that didn’t stop us from trying. It was certainly not the most breathtaking beach I have ever seen, but it felt so natural, so real, so Nica. And that is what I loved about it, there were more Nicas out enjoying the beach than foreigners…although there were a fair amount of those too, all crowded into the fancy beachside cafes. We opted for the less well-publicized and Nica-friendly cafe for lunch, and were justly rewarded with excellent food and really slow service…free of charge. We found a great hostel/guesthouse at the very end of the road, right in front of a semi-protected lagoon/estuary at the head of La Isla Juan Venado, which is 22km of protected coastline, mangroves and sea turtle hatching ground. The rest of the afternoon and evening we relaxed on the beach and in the hammocks, ate fresh fish and enjoyed our fair share of Flor de Caña rum. There was a lively party on the beach on Saturday night that for some reason was descended upon by a group of 80 (no joke) Norwegians. Really random…especially when you consider the fact that there really aren’t all that many Norwegians in the world to begin with, and to find 80 of them at once, in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua of all places…strange. However, I met some really fun Nicas from the Northern Mountainous region who were in Leon for the weekend, so that was fun.

This morning, I woke up at first light it seemed (after a late night, too, so I am exhausted) and went for another stroll on the beach. I left the beach around noon, and made the trek back to Jinotepe…three busses and one local truck in all, but the 4.5 hour journey door-to-door cost less than $3. Below are a sampling of the pictures from this weekend. I left much to be discovered in Leon, and can easily see myself returning, but I also have realized that I only have a few more weekends left, so I have to plan my time carefully! I really love exploring this country, it has so much to offer. But I also love having a homebase to come back to– familiarity.

The Plaza of Heros and Martyrs in Leon. Adorned with Sandinista colors: red and black.

“Sandino Lives.” Sandino is pictured here Stepping on Uncle Sam. He is always recognized by his hat. Sorry for the orientation of the pictures. I don’t know how to rotate them!

Sandino stepping on Somoza.

Cathedral of Leon.

Guardian Lion in front of the Cathedral. This picture is so much cooler vertical…

Mural outside of UNAN-Leon. This mural certainly caught my attention as it claims “Long live the students because they are the leavening for the bread that will come out of the oven with all of its flavor to feed the poor…Long live literature!” (a rough translation). It depicts the demolishing of the 6% literacy rate (which was an all-time low estimate of Nica’s literacy)

Me on the beach this morning…

Rocky Beach. There are some pretty cool volcanic rock formations on this beach…the result of the dozens of dormant and active beasts that dominate the geology and landscape of the region. (Don’t worry, Kristin, I took lots more pictures just for you! You’ll have to wait to see them though.)

Beach at Las Peñitas. Complete with empty soda bottle in the surf…

Fishing boats waiting for high tide, so they can go out to work.

Allison, being crazy and cute.

How cool are we?! Great face I’m making, too, huh?

Rafael and I.



  1. It sounds like the English lab is starting to function, and you should be very proud of that : ) I love seeing all your pictures and hearing about your host family, and travels. Your knowledge of the culture and history of Nicaragua is always impressive. I miss you so much honey, and I think of you often. I hope all continues to go well. And just remember when you’re students are frustrating you… take a deep breath and know that tomorrow is a new day.

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