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47. Leon

Nicaragua

Being in our 30s we feel a little old for the typical backpacker scene, but "backpacker alley" in Leon was where we ended up staying. I'm pretty sure we were the oldest people on the street. It didn't worry us too much, especially as it meant that there were lots of cheap bars around. 

 

Leon was a beautiful colonial town, full of crumbling buildings and superb architecture. With a student vibe and plenty of eateries, we loved it straight away. Everything from the art galleries set around open air courtyards to the numerous churches and street food options - it was perfect. But there was plenty going on outside the town that captured our attention too.

Our first trip was to Volcan Telica. The long drive took us out to a eucalyptus-filled forest, reminiscent of Australia. We passed by several farms in small villages, where we were told that some families had to travel up to two hours each way just to go to school or to get water to sustain their crops. I get annoyed when I am stuck at a traffic light for 30 seconds. Nothing like a little perspective...

 

From our drop off point it was a simple but steep 30 minute climb to the crater, then another 10 minute walk to the other side of Telica, where we could watch the sunset over distant volcanoes. We didn't pick the best night for sunsets, but it wasn't raining for a change so that was a plus. Once it became dark we headed back to the crater, hoping to see the bright orange lava bubbling away inside. A thick blanket of smoke was sitting at the opening to the volcano, so we saw nothing. We did get to witness the moon rising from the landscape before us though, which was spectacular.

After our tour guide fed us a traditional dinner (yep, more gallo pinto), we were dropped back in Leon and immediately located the closest bar. We were in the mood for dessert, so we ordered a Nicaraguan specialty, Pio Quinto. This was a cake soaked in rum and topped with custard and cinnamon, not dissimilar to a trifle. I never thought I would say this, but there was way too much rum in the cake. Won't be going near that one again. 

 

A while back I had read about what sounded like the most awesome thing in the world: volcano boarding. Leon was the home of volcano boarding. I tried to sign up with a small, intimate tour group but it was so small they didn't have enough numbers to go out. So it ended up being Bigfoot, where the 30 or so other tourists on this trip were at least 10 years younger than me. For some reason Danny decided that he wasn't game enough for the adventure, so he spent the day chilling out around town.

 

We were taken out to Cerro Negro in an obscene, open-air, bright orange truck. I was sort of glad I didn't know anyone who lived in the area and would recognise me. When we arrived we were handed an equally obscene, bright orange jumpsuit and a far-too-simple-looking volcano board. It was a tough slog carrying the board in strong winds for an hour up the loose volcano rocks - a ski lift-type operation would have been handy here.

The crater of Cerro Negro.

With our jumpsuits on we were ready for action. Unfortunately, the bees also wanted to come along for the ride. Within minutes I was covered in dozens of bees, apparently attracted by my dazzling outfit. They didn't love everyone else so much so I had no idea why they picked me. Several people came to my assistance, attempting to swat them away so I didn't suffocate in a bee cloud. Why bees were hanging around the top of a volcano I will never understand.

 

Once I was finally free of my hostages I sat down, pushed off and held on for dear life. Of course I wanted it to go as fast as possible, so I leaned right back to reduce the wind resistance. Not a good idea. The board was much more difficult to control than I had first thought, and within 20 seconds I was rolling down the hill instead of sliding smoothly down. I managed to halt my descent, position myself back on the board and get going again. Only to make all the same mistake and come flying off again. It was just like surfing - clearly I wasn't a natural. I did end up making it to the bottom on the board at a leisurely, controllable speed without coming off a third time. It was fairly embarrassing but also tons of fun. I wish there had been time to go up again. 

I was on a bit of a high for the rest of the afternoon, which led to a craving for junk food and cheap drinks. The cheap drinks turned into shots, which to anyone who has stayed at Bigfoot knows means only one thing: the Lava Shot Challenge. Two regular shots followed by one double shot of their home-brewed, extreme chili rum, all taken five seconds apart. Once downed you cannot eat or drink anything, or move from the bar, for the next 30 seconds, while the chili supposedly eats you alive from the inside. As a bit of a chili-addict it was too easy, and nowhere near as spicy as I dreamed it would be. Although I felt 18 again, I was quite proud of my free t-shirt. 

 

A great way to end our time in Leon.