Our final days in Leon January 29-February 2

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I have been very easily distracted the last few days so I’ll do my best to catch everyone up.  Tuesday was actually a nothing day.  We had a late breakfast at Desayunazo then hung out at Siesta Perdida until dinner time playing crib and relaxing.  For dinner though, we went to a nice Caribbean restaurant where service was slow even by Nica standards.  Our food was great though and I felt like it was worth the wait.  We weren’t in a rush anyways.  We met the owner there, a Jamaican with an American accent named Greg.  He opened up about 2 months ago and is working on more promotion.  I think if people hear about it, they will really enjoy it.  So if you’re in Leon, Nicaragua you need to check out Caribbean Leon.  3.5 Blocks north of Inglesias Recollecion on the west side of the street.  Don’t be afraid of the name “Brown Stewed Chicken”, it’s actually delicious.

On Wednesday we did a Silver Ring Workshop with Harrie and NicAsi Tours.  It was really cool, we each made our own custom rings.  Actually, we kind of helped a professional and by “helped” I mean he let us do a couple of tasks and then fixed everything we did wrong which was pretty much everything.  It’s a lot of fun, we got to melt the silver, flatten it out, hammer it into a circle and fuse it.  It took a little over 3 hours for our rings to be made and we got to walk through the newly opened Parque Central which is a beautiful open space right now but we were told that the city has approved 86 kiosks to move in there which is really going to destroy the beauty of the park.  It will be much more like a market than anything.  I’m glad that we were able to see it beforehand.

Afterwards, Harrie asked us if we had been to the top of the Cathedral.  When we said no, he shook his head in disappointment and sold us on why we should go.  We grabbed lunch and walked over after 2pm when it reopened (a lot of places close from 12pm-2pm for lunch).  The church is beautiful inside.  We found where we buy our tickets ($2 each) and went up the tiny staircase with the simple intstructions of “Don’t ring the bell” and “Don’t walk on the bubbles”  which when you get to the top you understand.  The “bubbles” are big cement domes on the roof.  You can’t walk on them because the building is colonial and they are still intact with old cement and are fragile.  From the west end where all the bells are, you get a nice view overlooking Central Park.  Because they tell you not to ring the bells, it is way more tempting to ring the bells.  We avoided temptation and walked over to the east side of the roof where you get a beautiful view of the volcanos, Momotombo, Asososca, Las Pilas, Cerro Negro, Telica and San Cristobal.  There is supposed to be a way to walk around the roof and down to the bishops garden, but because the building was recently declaired as a Colonial Building by UNESCO, there is some money being put into perserving it and the route to the garden is currently closed.   It ended up being a great way to spend our afternoon.  We were invited to Quetzaltrekkers for dinner that night as it was one of the guides last night.   We had massive burgers cooked on a volcano board over a fire or “a la plancha” as the director Sam called it.  We hung out and had some drinks and made the guide give a speach hanging upside down from the pull up bar in the house.  Then poured a shot of aguardiente in his mouth while still upside down.  A previous guide did this and now they are trying to make it a tradition.  We’ll see how long that keeps up.

On Thursday, we woke up early as we were going volcano boarding one last time because if you read about my first volcano boarding experience, you may remember that when I got to the top and turned on the GoPro the words “NO SD” appeared on the screen.  This time I was armed and ready to go.  We had a small group totalling 8 with our guide.  For the first time since I’ve been here, I think I was in better hiking shape than anyone else in the group.  Kristi and I knew the way so we hiked ahead of the guide who had to stay with everyone.  I felt like Rocky every time I made it to each checkpoint and waited with Kristi for the rest of the group.  When we got to the peak, the guide gave everyone a simple demonstration as to how ride the board.  As I suited up, Kristi laughed at me because I picked a small suit instead of a large so it looked like I was wearing flood pants.  Then, since I am an experienced veteran with my one previous run, I was asked to go first.  My board was prepped well and I got some great speed heading down before kicking sideways and flying off the board.  I got it all on the GoPro for your enjoyment when I get home on a stable internet connection.  When everyone got to the bottom, one girl leaned a little too far back on her board while going fast and burned through her coveralls, her shorts and her underwear and skinned her ass.  And yes, it was as hilarious as it sounds.  We headed back to the ranger station for a snack and when the rest of the group went up for a 2nd time, Kristi and I stayed back to relax in a hammock.  I got my GoPro footage and was happy with that.   When we got back to the hostel, we relaxed until dinner where we went back to Barbaro.  Dinner was as delicious as we anticipated so we went back to Siesta Perdida happy and met up with Harrie and a former Quetzal Playa volunteer for a beer.  We were pretty pooped so we watched a tv show online and went to bed early.

Friday morning and our final full day in Leon.  We woke up early and walked to Chavaladas which is one of the projects that Quetzaltrekkers funds goes towards.  They focus on getting street kids off of the street, off drugs and get them active and being kids again.  They are also a safe house for kids who have abusive parents and will go there until things are better at home.  When we walked in, a kid no older than 6 saw us and gave both Kristi and I a big hug.  We sat in the front room talking with the kid and showed him on a big map where Canada is.  A couple other kids came in and when they were able to see on the map, they thought it was so cool how far we had traveled.

We went out with the guy running the house along with 2 other kids and a soccer ball.  Into the market we were told to follow the 2 kids to the basketball court which is where they play.  The director then goes into the market to find kids high on glue, offers them lunch, a shower and clean clothes under the circumstances that they give him any drugs they have and stay clean for the next few hours.  We started out with a 3 on 3 game and by the time we finished we were playing 6 on 6 with spares.  I foolishly wore flipflops thinking I’m better than children at sports.  Wrong.  I was deked out of my underwear so many times I could have been arrested for exposing myself in public to minors.  In my defense, these kids play everyday and most of them were teenagers.

The basketball court was slippery with flipflops so I took mine off and played barefoot the same way most of the kids play.  I decided I was too uncoordinated to score goals or be useful so I eventually moved into the net.  The older kids decided to test me, kicking the ball much harder and celebrating hard when they scored.  One fell in love with Kristi and showed off everytime he scored.  When I was in net, I thought the slipperyness of my flipflops could work to my advantage so I put them back on.  The ball came across to Kristi, who was on the other team, and I moved across as fast as I could to make the save.  I did but my flipflops decided my feet weren’t done moving and my feet continued to slip out from under me.  I fell hard and flat on my ass which caused everyone to laugh at me.  I manned up and continued to play.

At the end of soccer, we had juice and bread.  Then we walked back to Chavaladas so see the other kids and have lunch.  Kristi walked back with her new boyfriend holding hands.  I’m pretty sure everyone in the market was jealous of that 16 year old.  It’s a pretty big deal if a Nica guy lands himself a Chelita.

Back at Chavaladas, we watched the kids play a variation of baseball where they use a softer ball, they hit it with their hand in a closed fist as if it was the bat and they have 2 bases and home plate.  It looked like a lot of fun.

One thing Kristi pointed out was the new kids from the basketball court would go and shower, then wash their clothes as they were given new ones.  They are responsible to wash their own clothes and they have to do some chores and show some responsibility.  When all the kids finished their game, they all grabbed brooms and mops and started cleaning the yard.  We had lunch… rice and chicken liver with a tortilla and some juice.  Eating as an orphan sucks.  After lunch, everyone is responsible to wash their own dishes and brush their teeth.

We ended up leaving shortly after, saying goodbye and thank you to everyone.  Usually they will do some schooling after lunch where they talk about how to make the world a better place by doing things like throwing their trash in garbage cans and not stealing.  It seems so simple but where you’re not taught any better then it’s not as basic as it is to us.  This project is really cool in the sense that they want to help kids but they only help them if they want to be helped.  If the kids want help, they prove it by doing some chores and pulling their weight around the house.  They are rewarded by playing sports in the yard, clean clothes, food, showers, education and a safe place to sleep.  I guess a couple weeks ago they had someone teach them how to make bracelets as all of the kids were wearing ones that they made.  One kid was very good at it and made 3-4 while we were there.  This is a skill that he may be able to make a living with in the future.

This is a reminder as to why we joined QT to begin with and a special thank you to everyone who donated so we could buy proper equipment for Quetzaltrekkers so they can continue leading tours and making money for projects like Chavaladas.  This was such a cool experience, I only wish we could have done this more.  Probably the best way for us to wrap up our stay in Leon.

When we left Chavaladas, we met the 2 new guides starting with QT today.  We were eager to eat a proper lunch as I did not enjoy my chicken liver as much as the hungry children did.  We took the 2 new guides to shoe street for a good meal and chatted with them before heading back to the hostel to relax.

Once it was dark, we went for a late dinner around 8pm at the Mexican Restaurant we enjoyed in the past.  Then we walked down to Quetzaltrekkers where we began drinking copious amounts of alcohol. From there we went to Via Via where service is so slow that I was running across the street to Bigfoot and doing shots.  When I returned there still were not drinks there.  I sent Carlos a text and he came to join us shortly after 11pm.  Him and I talked a lot and when Via Via closed we all went to Cama Leon for one final big party.  Kristi got her dance on with the other Quetzaltrekkers while I drank more with Carlos.  I was really happy to have Carlos there because I am a terrible dancer and he just wanted to hang out and drink.  We have decided that we are going to help each other out on skype.  He is going to help me learn Spanish and I will help him with his English.  I definitely got the better deal on this trade because his English is great.

Everything went great during the night, we danced, we cried, we laughed and had a really, really, really good time.  We actually didn’t cry and I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up our stay in Leon.  This city really has captured a soft spot in my heart.  I look forward to returning one day.

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