We hopped on a couple of chicken buses to Granada, via Managua, to Leon. Tuktuk drivers immediately swamped us as we arrived at the bus terminal; this was the first time this has happened to us in Central America. Luckily it was isolated to the bus station. The next thing we noticed about Leon was the heat. It was incredibly hot so we were relieved that we had organised to stay at Lazybones Hostel, which has a pool! The pool turned out to be a lifesaver during our stay in Leon. However, we did get a fright when we found a massive tarantula in our room.
As soon as we had checked in, we hit the streets in search of someone to teach us some Spanish. We had picked up bits and pieces on our travels so far but we wanted to become a bit more conversational. We found a place called Leon Spanish School Nicaragua and our teacher David showed an incredible amount of patience listening to us butcher his language. For only US$225 for the both of us, we got private lessons for 5 hours a day for four days. If you ever want to learn Spanish in Nicaragua I recommend that you look him up. I very naively presumed that I would be close to fluent in Español after a few lessons… Obviously I vastly underestimated my memory skills, and the fact that the part of my brain for learning languages has never had much exercise. However, we did improve a lot and instead of pointing and saying “beer”, we can now say “can I have a beer please”. With a bit of practice I think we will keep improving every day.
During our time having Spanish lessons in Leon we really fell in love with the city. The people were very friendly and the food was delicious. The city itself is an old colonial one but is a bit run down compared with Granada. But we liked this about Leon; it was the hotbed of the revolution and consequently has a lot of character.
Our favourite afternoon treat was raspados. This is an icy treat that we purchased from a bell ringing street cart vendor at almost every corner. It’s a huge ball of shaved ice and is then covered in either tamarind syrup or gooey dulche de leche (caramel), and topped with local rojito berries. It is to die for and we gorged on them everyday. We also devoured many bags of mangoes. It is such a cheap snack and we just couldn’t help ourselves.
Our Spanish teacher, David, told us that we had to try tacos in Leon from his favourite taco restaurant. We happily complied with this and when we got to the restaurant we say a long line of locals queuing up for tacos at the takeaway stand, luckily we managed to get a table inside. Nicaraguan tacos could not be more different to what you traditionally think a taco looks like. They roll a corn tortilla around spicy pulled pork or chicken and deep fry it. It is then topped with spicy cabbage, sour crema and chilli-pickled onions. They are delicious and we went back for them multiple times.
You can probably tell from my constant and high praise of Leon that we had a fabulous time. We were really sad that we had to leave this interesting and vibrant city.
Here is a breakdown of our costs for 7 days:
Budget = US$392 (NZ$560)
Accommodation – US$139
Activities – US$6
Food/Drink – US$162
Travel (incl. Taxis) – US$11
Miscellaneous – US$67
Total spent – US$385 (NZ$547)
So we were US$7 under budget (NZ$10), which was good. We would have been even more under budget if I hadn’t stepped on Andrew’s computer resulting in it needing to be fixed, it only cost US$50 though so that was lucky.
We budgeted an extra US$225 for Spanish lessons, which I have not included in the above.