Thursday, December 12, 2013

Leon, Nicaragua

At Bigfoot Hostel

Things I would definitely do:

Eat at Via Via (and maybe stay there). The street with the Bigfoot Hostel and the Via Via hostel is a good street to stay on, centrality-wise, and also because there are good options right on it. The Via Via hostel had better, more authentic food and a more extensive menu. As a hostel, it's a bit less of a party hostel than Bigfoot, without being tame or underpopulated at all. Also on that street is an even quieter Hostal Guardabarranco for the so inclined, which I was told by a girl who was staying there was clean and comfortable. But Via Via:

As I said earlier, I was into the rum setup. I decided to start with the cheaper stuff and work my way up, like I did to convert myself to and teach myself about whiskey.

The front room at Via Via is cutely decorated, has a foosball table, some board games and books, lots of tables, and open doors to the street for people watching. There's a good crowd, friendly but not drunken. Everything's cheap here. There's a whole back room with even more tables from tiny to large, with plants and open air. One issue is they stop serving food at 8pm. Options can get pretty limited past 8pm in Leon. If it's really late, you'll pretty much have to eat at Bigfoot (see below, in Maybes).

Tostones with everything: Yummy! Great refried beans, more of that salty, spongey cuajada cheese, great tostones, meatballs, shredded lettuce and tomatoes

Tacos con Carne de Res: We weren't expecting fried hard taco shells with pulled beef, shredded cabbage and tons of cream, but that's why you travel to third world countries and order dinner at a hostel from a page that purports to offer authentic local cuisine, to surprise yourself one way or another. They weren't bad, these Guatemalan tacos, but I'd much rather have what I think of as tacos.


The Cathedral:

You can pay $2 to go to the roof of the cathedral. To get in we asked a lady in one door who said to come back at dos in the tarde, which we did. Then that door was closed and locked, so we started walking around and after circling half the building, found an entrance. The door guy said something about tres. And we were like What? We heard dos. But so he pointed around the corner, so we circled the rest of the building, having to ask some guy for la entrada, who did point us toward it, a little bit further down, then started in on bella bella blah blah blah. So we found the entrance:

Which we probably and, I would argue, understandably missed the first time around. So at the end of that little tunnel was a woman behind bars in a room with a bunch of Catholic torture chamber-looking shit, and we paid her tres USD a piece to go up to the roof. She gave us tickets, and then we headed out of the tunnel and circled half the building again until we got back to the man who'd told us tres tres. The whole process felt like trying to conjure Bloody Mary.

It's worth a quick visit just for the creepy, also bloody, Catholic shit.





This picture isn't doing justice to the difficulty of the stairs that lead to the roof.


I was hoping it'd be higher up, but it was pretty cool, I guess.

And I do look like a bad ass here, so.


Drinks at El Mirador:

My Footprints guidebook (blargh!) said to go to Jack's, a rooftop bar popular with travelers and the locals. First, Shana and I walked 12 minutes or so (my volcanic injuries included a twisted ankling, which caused us to go at 75% speed) to where I thought I'd remembered seeing the bar. It
wasn't there, so we wandered around the nearby blocks, hoping to find it and sometimes asking people for directions. But no one had heard of it. Then some boys had, but the directions they gave were for Don Jack's (See: Things I wish we'd done). By the point we figured that out, we were close to the hostel again, so I looked it up on the computer, at which point I realized Jack's was also called El Alamo or, possibly, La Terraza. I found where it was on the two different maps, to be certain this time, and we set out.

When we arrived in the right spot, there was no Jack's. No Alamo. No Terraza. We circled around. I found the building that was supposed to be next to it, Don Senor, which was eerie because earlier when we had passed by Don Senor on our way to what would turn out to be Don Jack's, I had looked into Don Senor and thought, "You know, I wonder if it's actually this place. It would be funny if this were it, and we were right here and didn't know it." And apparently I was just about right. But then where was Jack's or Alamo or Terraza? Next to Don Senor's was just some skate park.

I asked a couple of girls in the park, and they pointed to a door behind the skate park. It was unmarked. We walked in anyway. There was a staircase. We went up the staircase. A waiter opened a door and greeted us and there we were, at El Mirador, according to the menu, which was clearly the rooftop bar we'd been looking for for the past hour or so, having hoped to watch the sunrise from the roof while sipping rum.


The view and the breeze were nice. At about 7pm, two chicks came up and started playing live music, saying something between songs about going from Mexico to Argentina or Brazil or something. 

I got my rum setup, with better (noticeably less blech tasting) rum this time.

After a bit, I approached a group of people, having recognized one among them who'd asked after the nature of the secret entrance to the Cathedral earlier that day, and thus whom I must have saved five to seven minutes of confusion. One of the group was from a young woman from Germany, two guys from Ashboro, NC, a guy from near San Juan del Sur, and one who lives on the coast of NC for eight months of the year and spend the other four on the beach about an hour north of San Juan del Sur. Shana distracted the others so that I could have a nice asperger's speed   one on one convo with a 60ish former middle school (technology) teacher to discuss the fact that we're all one and shit like that.

Open every day from 5pm to 12pm (1am on Fridays and Saturdays) with a happy hour Monday to Friday from 5-7.

After walking around town in one of our twenty-thirty minute sessions of trying to find a restaurant that would turn out to not be located where any of the maps indicated, not be open at the time, and/or no longer exist, we stumbled upon El Chile Picante Taqueria Mexicana, which was fortuitous.



Super Nachos: Shana and I have been in some kind of nachos mood lately. These were made right in front of us in a little kitchen and were pretty good. The sour cream in Nicaragua can taste a little too sour, to the point of spoiled almost, but the meats and jalapeƱos and thick tortilla chips were nice. Still I think we should have ordered tacos. 

Ask for or say yes to the offer of salsa verde, which is nice and hot but also flavorful. 


Pan y Paz:

Some French chick moved to Leon and opened up a bakery. There's often some French chick doing this in cities all over the world. It's a rock solid business plan. There's lots of space at PyP, especially in the beautiful courtyard out back, but it still fills up by 10am, thanks to great wifi and delicious French pastries. One sad thing is they don't have an espresso machine. Your best bet is the iced coffee (cafe helado (18c)), which comes automatically with just a perfect French little amount of cream and sugar. It's refreshing but not enough caffeine.


A good, soft, eggy raisin bun

Chocolate Almond Croissant: A flaky and buttery almond croissant with the right kind of almond filling(!) and yummy chocolate.


The sandwiches looked amazing, so we came back and had them another day. 
Pollo on baguette to which we added some gouda (64c or $2.62 USD): Pretty good but nothing special

Much better was the Vegetales y pesto on croissant: (64c)

La Mexicana:

Though on the map we found at the lavanderia, this restaurant was just called "Mexican Food." There was lots of seating, the decor was very cute, and there was an open patio in the back. I enjoyed the restroom, so spacious after Bigfoot's tiny space. There was a tub in there, and there was a sign in Spanish that requested that you not take a shower.







Beef Tacos: 5 freshly made little corn tortillas with beef chunks and more of that cuajada cheese, though melted this time. It came with chopped onions and cilantro as well as salsa roja and salsa verde that were very similar to what you get as your complimentary chips and salsa at my favorite Tex Mex restaurant in Houston. It was here, at Mexican Food, that we finally had an epiphany that what we really like... is Mexican food. Nicaraguans don't seem to be spicing food much or doing anything too interesting past the cuteness of the desayuno Nica.

Pork Leg Torta: I finally got Shana a yummy torta! Soft buttered bun, perfectly ripe avocado, tasty pork shreds... nom nom nom nom nom.


We ordered frijolitos in order to get chips to eat the rest of our salsas and onions. 
The lady said they couldn't do guacamole because the avocados weren't good that day.


Volcano Boarding:

Shana and I went ash surfing through the Bigfoot Hostel (see below, in the Maybes section), which costs $25 through them, plus a $5 park entrance. Later we learned that if we'd done it through Quetzal Trekkers, it's $30. They, however, pay the park entrance for everyone, so the price is the same, but they also give you a snack and lunch, and they allow you to go down twice if you want, and, on top of the protective suit and goggles, they give you gloves, which would've been quite useful for me.

Though the cuts all over my right hand and forearm were the least of my injuries

After Volcano Boarding, you'll need a Massage:

Right across the street from Bigfoot is the Seeing Hands Blind Massage, where you may or may not be massaged by a blind person. When our volcano boarding guide told us about this, I didn't hear him properly, so I thought he said there was one masseuse here who had lost his legs and gave a flying massage. I was like What?! I'm doin' that shit! So I was a little disappointed that it was a blind massage. And then further disappointment ensued when I got the non-blind masseuse, and then she answered the phone three times and massaged me with only one hand while talking on it for about half of my 15 minute massage. Oh, Nicaragua.

Also, after Volcano Boarding, if you do go with Bigfoot, you can take a shuttle if you want to Las Penitas, the nearby beach, and stay for about four hours, or you can also stay at their hostel there if you want.


Maybes:

Staying at Bigfoot:



We got one the private rooms, which have two bunk beds, a ceiling fan and a standing fan. The tiny, restroom's toilet is so close to the wall that I had to take off my shorts (and put my flip flops on) before squatting on it. It was hot in there too, so that after pushing poop out for a few minutes, it becomes a sort of poop sauna. If you're really tall (I'm 5'8") I imagine it takes sophisticated yoga poses, maybe bird of paradise, in what'll feel like a Bikram class. There's no door to the restroom, so only room with someone with whom you need no privacy. There's no hot water in the shower, though you hardly need it.



The Bigfoot footprint shaped pool seems to never be in usable condition, and it's about the size of a hot tub anyway, perhaps there only for cuteness and so that they can advertise or that they have one.



They do have great decorations with a wonderful sense of humor, youth and adventure. Only the bar and cafe areas have wifi, and then only sometimes and slowly.

Volcano Boarding:
As I said, you don't have to do it here, and the jury is out about whether you should.



Eating at Bigfoot Hostel:

Coffee:
The espresso here was bitter as hell. A 3/10 on my scale, a rare worse than Starbucks rating.

Cafe Nica - It was great one day, an americano just like those places in Matagalpa. The next day, when I asked the bartender (you always place your order with one of the bartenders and then take the slip of paper she gives you to the Nicaraguan women cooking in the little kitchen) for two Cafe Nicas, she said, "Uh... so two coffees?"
"Right, well, two... Cafe Nicas..." said I.
What we got were two coffee that tasted like they'd come from packets. We got the same crappy stuff when we tried to order "americanos" from the menu.
Breakfast:

Most of the town is closed or open's late on Sundays, so Bigfoot may be your only option for breakfast before 9am.

The Queen's Breakfast; a McDonalds-like hash brown patty, some very fatty bacon, a delicious puddle of pan fried tomatoes, 2 over medium (sigh) eggs, white bread with a little pad of butter, and two random and overcooked cocktail wieners

Banana Pancakes: Great, fluffy pancakes, served to us with white pineapple and almost flavorless papaya 


Lunch:
Salami Mami: An S(alami)LT (with cheese and mayo), like a BLT's Italian cousin, on a baguette that was probably from Pan y Paz. It was aight.


Dinner (Pizzas are only served after 6pm):

A medium Nacho Libre: Ground beef, corn, onions and jalapeƱo: I wasn't into the dough, but I figured that'd be the case considering how far away from New York this was. The toppings were tasty, so if you need to sop up some alcohol at 10pm, when everywhere else is closed, you could do worse.

El Caprese: I loved the broccoli and loads of cheese on this, while my girlfriend thought it was gross.

Things I wish we'd done:

For one thing, we decided we need at least 5 days in any city. You get your bearings for 1-2 days, do 2-3 tours, then relax and enjoy for 1-2 days. Then again, you have my guide, so maybe you can do it 2 days there better than I did.



At El Mirador, which had originally been referred to us as "Jack's", we were recommended a place (by a German girl who'd lived here for two months) across from Pan y Paz called Don Jacks, ironically one of the places we were originally led to by people from whom we asked for directions to "Jack's." And it smelled so good at Don Jack's, and the owner of Pan y Paz was eating there with a group of friends, which seemed like a great sign, but we got there at 9:20, which was too late. They close at ten and there are only two large-ish tables, both of which were full. Sad sad sad.


Menus:

El Chile Picante:



La Mexicana or Mexican Food:





El Mirador: