Sunday, March 18, 2012

León and Granada

Well, the internship is over and I'm on the road. My most recent stops were Leon and Granada -- both colonial towns with very rich histories.
Leon's cathedral
Believe it or not, this was not my first time to León. As a matter of fact, it was my third. My first visit was early on in my internship when I brought a water sample to the University located in town. That trip ended up with my debit card not working and my having to more or less pawn off my computer at the hostel My second visit was to come back, pay the hostel, and get my computer back. During that trip, however, I discovered that someone had robbed literally all of my money via internet fraud thanks to an insecure connection in one of these internet cafés. The bank recuperated the money, but as you can imagine I left town with pretty bitter (albeit misdirected) feelings toward León. I decided to return early last week and give it one more shot. And I'm glad I did. I spent four days eating, drinking, sleeping and, after months of not being able to enjoy modern amenities like flushing toilets, watching some TV. That doesn't mean spent the entire time in my hostel room, though. I got a pretty good feel for life in León by going to the market, hanging out in the park, and chatting with the kids that frequent the food stands. It's a university town, which gives the place a palpable youth-y vibe. The students are very, very Sandinista (Danielista, that is) -- to the point where they are almost completely blind to the problems that surround them -- and even though their political leanings frustrate me, I can appreciate their energy.

León's history has been long and hard (as has that of all Nicaragua). The castillian colonial buildings themselves practically say everything -- destroyed cathedrals and bullet holes in the walls tell a story of violence and war and a continuing inability to move on and rebuild a united country. If you walk through the central park at night you can see sleeping on benches both a legless war vet and a parentless 10-year-old -- one scarred by a past, the other afraid of the future.

León's liberals and Granada's conservatives fought for a number of years for power -- both wanted to be the capital of Nicaragua. During the revolution in 1979, the Sandinistas (del alma) took over León, but Somoza heartlessly bombed his own people in order to clear the Sandinistas out of the city. The Sandinistas eventually re-took the city and held it until Somoza fell.

Part of Granada's central plaza, the cathedral, and a few colonial buildings
Granada is the first European city in mainland America (founded in 1524) and Nicaragua's best-maintained colonial town -- my friend Eva, who is from Spain and has been traveling with me, says that there are a number of parts of the city that are almost exactly like the Granada in Andalusia, Spain. It was in this city where American (Tennessean, in fact) William Walker took up residence and began his campaign to make himself the ruling monarch of Nicaragua and to make Nicaragua itself a slave state of the United States. Yeah, he was kind of crazy. Upon leaving with his private army, Walker set the city ablaze, leaving much of it destroyed, and left the words "here was Granada" printed in ash. Walker ended up placing himself as the President of Nicaraguan in 1856, but was soon defeated by a coalition of Central American armies and was executed in 1860 in Honduras. Granada rebuilt quickly and managed to avoid damage during the violence in the 1980s.

As with any well-kept colonial city, Granada is pretty touristy, so I only stayed one night and managed to enjoy myself despite the throngs of camera-wielding elderly Germans and hippie backpackers.

Right now I'm on Ometepe Island, a volcanic island on Lake Nicaragua. Post to come.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Cull. The paragraph that begins "León's history has been long and hard..." is both insightful and eloquent. Well done. Like the two photos, too.