Thursday, April 17, 2008

Leon Viejo

...or "Old Leon" was the first capital of Nicaragua...back in the early 1500´s. Nicaragua´s capitals have quite the history of destruction - this one was destroyed by an earthquake in 1610 and then buried in ash in the many eruptions that followed over the centuries.

Archaeologists began to unearth it in the 1960´s and it´s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I once heard a tour guide in Vietnam (his name was Mr. Tam, a Vietnamese national speaking fluent English with a south London accent) refer to UNESCO as ¨sugar daddy¨ when talking about its pecuniary contributions to Hue City. At any rate, due to this exalted status I figured it must be worth a look, so I took myself to the nearby town Puerto Momotombo, located on the lakefront with Lake Managua. The trip out involved several different bus rides on the ole school bus. Most of the buses in Nicaragua are former school buses from the States. Not sure if they shift the seats around to get more rows in there, but the seats are a little tighter than I remember from fact, it seems the farther north I go in Latin America the less legroom I have on the bus. I also managed to crack my skull on the low opening when entering the bus from the backdoor. Some things never change.

Got to Puerto Momotombo around 6 in the evening to find that the town has no hotels of any kind. A bar owner on the beach offered me a hammock, but with the high winds I demurred and he was nice enough to find a woman that would rent me a room for a night, which she apparently does with some regularity. As I turned off the light in my cave-like room (I should mention the house had no running water, and was constructed more or less like a barn) I decided to test out my flashlight...and shined my light on two ´bats´circling around in the room. I use the quotes around bats because I was convinced at first that they were bats, and thus ran out of the room, opened the doors and turned on the lights to get rid of them. I then proceeded to get my first use of my mosquito net as I reckoned it was worth the 10 minutes to set up the net rather than a bat-bite and rabies treatment. Slept ok beneath my safety shield of a net. The next day when I told the landlady about the bats she laughed and said they had to be butterflies, not bats. And on second-thought, they probably were butterflies. But they were really big butterflies. Scared half to death by two butterflies.

As for Leon Viejo, I had hoped to see a working excavation site, but it was not to be...nothing to see but a few concrete and brick walls. The photo is a sculpture demonstrating a killing and torture technique the Spanish used on the natives...sic the dogs on them. The sculpture was done in 2001; it´s typical of the construction here in Nicaragua in that it´s falling apart already...or more likely they wanted it to look old...

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