Nicaragua is called the land of lakes and volcanoes. Not surprising since there are 28 volcanoes in the country, of which 19 are active. In Granada I had been driven up to the top of Mombacho and Masaya and while in Ometepe I had been surrounded by the stunning Maderas and Concepcion. In Leon it was time to get tough and tackle Telica. At 1,061 metres above sea level Telica is not the tallest in Nicaragua (San Cristobel at 1,700m is) but the draw card of this active volcano is the promise of lava at the top. Shea, a Canadian I had met in Granada, had told me about a non profit organisation called Quetzaltrekkers, who did a two day, one night trip up to the top of Telica. All profit from Quetzaltrekkers hikes go toward projects for street kids in Leon and so liking the sound of supporting such a cause I signed up.
Telica was my highlight of Nicaragua and everything about Quetzaltrekkers was perfect. We met at the office early on the Saturday to have breakfast and organise our packs. You could borrow sleeping bags, mats and also backpacks and between the 14 of us (11 backpackers, three guides) we divided up the water, food and tents. To keep costs down for the organisation we crammed into a chicken bus with locals heading out to our starting point at the bottom of the volcano.
The climb took about four hours, and it was made tough only by the dry heat and the dust. We were all covered in dirt and sweat by the time we made it to our campsite near the crater in the early afternoon. Melissa, a Canadian girl in our group, put it perfectly when she said we were having Type II Fun. Fun that only is fun after the fact, unlike Type I Fun which you enjoy while you do it.
After lunch and a short nap in the sun we went up to the crater to peer over the sides before exploring bat caves on the side of the crater. Of course I stayed well away from the caves as for some reason I have a massive fear of bats. My imagination seems to always play with the idea that I might encounter rabid insomniac bats.
After watching the sunset over the pacific from the top of Telica we had a quick dinner before wandering back to the volcano crater to watch the lava. On the way we saw jumping spiders, which, when shining your torch, had the craziest blue eyes.
When we had visited the crater that afternoon I had felt pretty comfortable sitting on top of an active volcano. Back up there in the pitch black however, it was a different story. Leaning over I could see the bottom of the crater, bright red with lava, 130 metres deep. If seeing the red heat of the earth wasn't scary enough, the sound that came with it was absolutely terrifying. The crater roared like a jet engine, like when the plane starts up. Only louder.
I only spent a minute or so sitting on the edge before moving a few metres back to try and relax. I sat hoping someone else was ready to walk back to the camp with me. Finally I asked Melissa if she was ready to go back and she, as well as everyone else, jumped at the chance. Maybe I wasn't the only one questioning what on earth made us want to spend a night on top of an active volcano.
I slept for only three hours that night. Maybe it was the wind, trying to blow our tents down, that kept me awake. Or maybe it was my imagination, every five minutes reminding me I was sleeping on an active volcano. Definitely Type II Fun.
My time in Leon, apart from sleeping on an active volcano, was rather chilled. Most of the time was spent in the hostel, sitting by the pool. I did do a few touristy things though. One day we went to the beach at Las Penitas and one morning we visited the Museum of the Revolution.
Leon played an important part in the revolution and you can sense it in the streets when seeing the murals. It was here where opposition to the conservative Somoza dictatorship began and grew. The corrupt and wealthy Somoza family ruled for four decades from 1937. During this time the majority of the country was in poverty so by the 1950s a group of liberals from Leon joined together to overthrow the dictatorship. The civil war lasted until 1980.
Leon vs Granada. Making Melbourne vs Sydney seem tame since 1835.
Leon is the liberal university town, Granada the wealthy conservative town. For 200 years, before becoming independent from Spain, Leon was the capital. After Nicaragua became a republic in 1835 however, there was a power struggle between the two towns over supremacy. By the 1850s it was a full blown civil war and eventually in 1857 Managua, the midpoint between the two, was named capital.
Nowadays you can still see and feel the difference. To me Granada was beautiful, and I loved my stay there, but it was more a tourist town than anything. It lacked the vibe Leon had. Granada was clean and there was a tourist street filled with tour agencies, tourist orientated restaurants and happy hours. I was comfortable in my little tourist bubble there.
On the other hand Leon had a certain grubby charm about it. It didn't have the polished beauty of Granada, but there was personality in the streets. I spent six days in Leon, and each day I loved it more. On my last day I was sad to leave. Some places just feel special. For me, and even for no reason, Leon was such a place. x