Nicaragua Day 1: Leon

Nica car seat

Our cab to the bus station with our Nicaraguan-style car seat 😉

Our first morning in Nicaragua we enjoyed breakfast at our hotel, chatted some more with the Spanish family we’d met the night before, converted some currency and bought a local cell phone at the airport, then took a long cab ride to the bus station.

The first city on our itinerary was the colonial city of Leon. There are two kinds of public transit in Nicaragua, express buses and chicken buses. Express buses cost a little more than a chicken bus, but you get a seat, and they travel directly between cities. They are 12-15 passenger vans that leave when they’re full, and as soon as one bus leaves another one is ready to take its place at the bus station and start filling up with passengers.

Chicken buses are extremely cheap to ride, and they make frequent stops all along the route. They are often retired school buses or commercial buses that have been sold to Nicaragua after aging out of North American safety/comfort standards. They are often painted outlandish colours or given vibrant designs, and they are called chicken buses because they run with passengers packed in like a truck load of chickens. There were no chickens on the chicken bus we took, but more on that later!

Our (express) bus ride was relatively uneventful apart from crazy drivers on the highway passing each other at crazy speeds with questionable timing (think oncoming buses and huge trucks). Our taxi driver to the bus station had told us we’d probably not need a taxi to the hostel because Leon is small, but when we disembarked from the bus we were swarmed by hopeful bicycle taxi drivers, and it was in fact too far to walk.

bicycle taxi

A typical Nicaraguan bicycle taxi.

The bike taxi was an interesting experience – it was strange to be so on display as we made our way through the streets, and I felt very foreign, out of place and vulnerable. Our driver looked young enough to be a high school student, and he had to pedal the three of us plus our backpacks, so we didn’t move much faster than walking pace, but his stamina was amazing, and his fare was well earned. It was a great way to see this city we had arrived in, although the streets looked all very much the same, and I did not get any sense of what was where, although later when we explored on foot I remembered seeing certain landmarks. We had a brief rainstorm near the end of our 15 minute cab ride, and the fat, cold drops were a relief from the heat and sweat of taxi 1bike taxi 2

After settling in at our hostel, we walked to the cathedral (Latin American cities are generally organized around a central church that has a town square/park adjacent to it) and bought some bananas at the central market. I noticed all the stray dogs – they are everywhere! – and I was struck by how disinterested they seem in what the humans are up to. They don’t both with passersby, they just trot to where they are going or lay in the shade of a bench as if they were the only ones there and all the people bustling around are just scenery.

On our way back to the hostel we heard a parade that ended up to be a protest march. There were people on stilts and in giant costumes, blaring upbeat music, and then a large group of people walking behind a long banner about men and women being equal and a group against domestic violence.IMG_20141118_155315 IMG_20141118_155408 IMG_20141118_155247

We went to a restaurant for supper and panicked over having ice in our juice (ordered new juice without ice, then wondered whether the juice itself was made with tap water and stressed over that – it was whole juice, so we should have just enjoyed it, but oh well). Then we ordered too much food, went home (for our trip, I just called wherever we were staying “home.” Roll with it) and put Torre to bed, then had some down time in the common area of our hostel where I wrote in my journal:

“Other than worrying about the ice at the restaurant we have had such a nice day, and I’m so excited to have a few more days to explore and get comfortable, to be touristy but also take it easy at the hostel.

I do love that in Latin America you’re always outside, there are bold, bright colours, and there is so much simpler standard of living – Casa Ivana feels deluxe to me (don’t even mention the Best Western with its air conditioning!) for a double bed, table, chair and fan. Why do I have so many clothes at home? Sure, we have four seasons, but I love the no-clutter simplicity of traveling. We’ll see if that feeling lasts all 3 weeks in Nica 🙂

Torre has been a CHAMP! He takes every new experience in stride. He loved our airplane trips, laughing with delight after we took off from Toronto and when we landed in Panama. We had a lot of turbulence between Panama and Costa Rica but Torre just threw his hands in the air and rocked in his seat like it was a roller coaster. He napped most of our bus trip today and has been very patient in the carrier and with some long stretches between eating. He is nursing a lot, which I’m trying to enjoy and focus on extra snuggle time and being sure he’s getting lots of goodness in his belly.”

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Susan 12-12-2014, 11:27

I love hearing the story of your trip! I’m also impressed by how often Torre is smiling in these photos – even when he looks pretty hot and sweaty. I can just imagine him on that airplane… I’d love to be more like that in this adventure of life.

alyssa 13-12-2014, 08:47

Yup, he had a few moments of crankiness and misery, but overall he just rolled with the punches, took each new experience in stride, and when in doubt passed out asleep 🙂


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