Leon on a Spoon

Great breakfast place – The Desayunazo. Located down the street on a corner from Lazy Bones, The Desayunazo serves up one of the best, if not the best, breakfast food in Leon.

The place specializes in breakfast food ranging from Huevos Rancheros to mouth-watering banana and strawberry pancakes that will probably be the most fluffy pancakes you’ll taste in Central America.

If you’re looking for something more along the lines of what the locals eat, order the Huevos Rancheros, a simple plate serving eggs covered in a home-made salsa-esque sauce accompanied by rice and beans.

You can also check out the Nicaraguan Breakfast, which are 2 eggs, and tortilla, served with rice and beans.

You can always try the simple choices such as breakfast burrito, breakfast sandwich, or a nice and easy English breakfast. Regardles of which option you choose, the food will not disappoint.

Order the fruit salad containing freshly cut and cold bananas, pineapple, melon, papaya, and watermelon, served with a side of yogurt and granola. This fruit salad was by far the freshest fruit dish I have had so far in my travels through Central America.

The interior decor is simple, yet true to its Nicaraguan roots. The place feels breezy and open thanks to the high-ceilings and long, spacious windows that look out onto the street. On most days, the owner himself will come out to take your order and serve you your food.

The Desayunazo doesn’t simply serve the best breakfast food. It also boasts extremely reasonable prices. On one occasion, Jon and I ordered eggs, home fries, and bacon; a fruit salad with granola and yogurt; a glass of orange juice, and an order of banana and strawberry pancakes, each! We were’t sure exactly how much food we were ordering, but decided to take the risk. We ended up gorging ourselves with fresh, homemade food, and after all was said and done, the total bill came out to be about 285 Cordobas, which is approximately $12 for the both of us.

This place is, hands down, the best breakfast place in Leon. But don’t take my word for it. Go to Desayunazo, and see for yourself.

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Things to Do in Leon

Leon is home to one of the most active volcanos in Central America. So it’s no wonder that a lot of the available and popular activities involve stuff to do pertaining to volcanos.

Of such activities, one of the more popular things to do is to hike one of the volcanic mountains near Leon. They range from simple, day excursions to overnight hiking trips that take several days to complete.

We opted for a 2 day hike up Mount Telica. Standing at about 1,061 meters or 3,481 feet, Telica is one of the several active volcanos in Leon, Nicaragua. Its ease of accessibility and its close proximity to the city (about a 40 minute bus ride from Leon’s main bus station) makes Telica a popular choice for tourists looking for a day hike up the mountain or avid hikers seeking a fun camping trip.

The day started at the tour office at 8AM when we met with our tour guide, Carlos, and our two other fellow hikers, two French men. We gathered our belongings and made our way down to the main bus station, which lies about 15 minutes north of the center of the city.

Once at the main terminal, we followed Carlos and boarded a yellow school bus. (Most public buses are old school buses that have been converted into public transports). The bus filled up quickly, and felt crowded. The stifling heat and the humidity didn’t help the situation either.

Once the bus started moving, however, things felt much more bearable. The breeze from the outside brought the interior temperature to a comfortable level, and more and more people got off the bus, reducing the claustrophobia and stiflingness.

The bus dropped us off right in front of the trail head. Admission into the park was 20 Cordobas, or about $1 US.

The trail started off nice and easy with mostly gradual slopes and flat terrains marking the initial part of the hike. At the head of the trail was a pool of boiling mud. It must’ve been about 8-9 meters in diameter. It wasn’t anything too exciting. Nothing more than a shallow pool of steaming, hot mud.  But it was enough of a precursor to get everyone excited.

Thus far the weather was in our favor. No sign of rain.
About a half hour into the trail, the narrow and shaded path that we were on opened up into an expansive clearing

To my surprise, the trail weaved through a dirt field that had been recently tilled and planted. According to our guide, the Nicaraguan farmers, in an attempt to cultivate as much land as possible, utilize the dry, yet somewhat arable land of the volcanic mountains to plant basic crops such as beans and corn. And in order to do so, they clear the forest by cutting down the trees. Way to go deforestation…

Anyway, we spent a good portion of the morning trekking across vast acres of farmland.

We stopped at around 1PM for lunch on a flat clearing. Taking refuge under a huge mango tree, we devoured our lunch (bread, cheese, and bananas) and rested our sore legs.

The area under the tree must’ve been a gathering area for butterflies as they were found in groups of small patches all over the soft, moist ground.

With our strengths renewed, we mustered up our remaining energy to complete the second part of the hike. This portion of the trail was by far the most challenging. The path up the mountain was quite steep and narrow. Extremely narrow. Overgrown with plants and covered in branches and gravel, some parts of the trail were almost impossible to discern.

I don’t think I’ve sweated as much as I did during the second portion of the trek. This winding path lasted about an hour before clearing into a flat trail.

The worst was over. The rest of the journey, save for the last leg of the trail, would be relatively flat and easy.

We reached the camp ground at around 3:45 PM.

Soon after we pitched our tent, it began to rain. The rain was a nuisance, but it was the wind that was a killer. According to Carlos, the tents were made to withstand the rain, but not the wind. I half expected the tent to fly off with each blow of the wind. Luckily, we managed through the night.

After a restless night, we were woken up at 5AM. According to Carlos, “This was the best time to see the lava.”

So we forced our damp and heavy bodies out of the tent and up the last 10 minutes of the trail leading up to the crater of the volcano. The first thing you notice is the smell of sulfur. Then, comes the inevitable smoke.

Leaning over the vast crater, I could almost feel my stomach fall. In the far distance, we glimpsed the faint, but distinct orange glow of the lava. As one who is terrified of heights, I hugged the edge of the crater without venturing too far over it while the brave lads leaned forward in an attempt to get the perfect shot of the glowing lava.

After spending about 40 minutes up at the top, we were ready to head down.

We went back to camp, ate our breakfast, packed our gear, and set out again. During the first half of the morning’s hike, we retraced our steps from the previous afternoon. It wasn’t until we were about half-way through the trail that it broke off into a separate path that led us all the way down the mountain, out onto the main highway where we caught a bus to head home.

Would I recommend this 2 day trip up to Mount Telica? Absolutely. The chance to see the boiling lava of an active volcano outweighed the backbreaking hike up the trail.

But do take heed. This trek is not to be taken lightly.  Although advertised as an easy 1.5-2 day hike, it does require a lot of stamina and endurance. Do keep in mind that you have to carry your own supplies, including 2 days worth of water (about 6-7 liters), which can be extremely taxing.

If, however, you are open to self-sufficienct backpacking in the truest sense of the word, I would strongly recommend doing this hike. The view from the top is an unforgettable one!

Leon, Nicaragua

Reached Leon, Nicaragua yesterday night. Took a taxi into town and made it to Emma’s place. It was a bit surreal seeing her in Nicaragua, but great nonetheless to see a familiar face.

The bus ride out of San Pedro Sula down to Nicaragua took a grueling 13 hours, but did not seem as bad as I thought it would be. Got stopped by the police for a random security check. Stood in line outside our bus for about 10 minutes before the local police motioned for me and Jon to go back in the bus. It seems that the Honduran police are guilty of racial profiling their own people. They immediately asked anyone who looked like a tourist to go back on the bus. A similar thing happened when we were at the Honduran Nicaraguan border. They spent a good amount of time going through the  belongings of people who looked Central American and barely spent anytime looking through the tourists’ bags.

In fact, they asked us to just take our bags and leave. Didn’t even bother looking through our stuff.

Anyway, checked into Lazy Bones, a decent and clean hostel in the middle of downtown Leon. Explored a bit of the town today. The Cathedral, market place, and the various ins and outs of this quaint town. Grabbed lunch at Bueno Gusto, a small hole-in-the-wall kinda place that served a whopping full plate – fish, rice, salad, plantains, and fried cheese, The smoke from the grill almost blinded me but I survived. The food was worth the tears.

Leon reminds me of Cusco, Peru. The ways the streets are set up, the food, the people, the buildings, and the general vibe and atmosphere feel very familiar.

Hoping to book a hiking trip to the Volcanoes that Leon is so famously known for, we stopped by a few tour places. Quitzel Trekkers offered decent options, and had a very friendly vibe. Later in the day, we stopped in another place whose name escapes me. Offered us a better, more economic deal so I think we’ll be going with that. The package is a 2 day, 1 night hiking trip to one of the active volcanoes nearby. The company provides everything from the tour guide, entrance fees, equipment, save for food and water. Jon and I are going to bring our own water and food.

Anyway, after a long day’s wondering, I am ready for some food and a good night’s rest. Looking forward to checking out the beaches tomorrow!

Traversing Central America

After leaving Boston back in March 2011, I ended up spending close to 6 months in a place called Utila, which is part of the Bay Islands in Honduras.

Little did I realize what I was getting into before I boarded that flight that took me away from everything that was familiar and safe down to an island that will forever be known, at least to me, for its eccentricities and odd uniqueness.

Situated about 30km from the mainland Honduras, Utila is one of a series of islands including Roatan and Guanaja, that makes up what is known as the BayIslands.

Utila is probably most famous for its diving. For its cheap, cheap diving. You can walk into any dive shop on the island, and jump on an Open Water course, a course that usually costs at least $450 in the US, for less than $300. Don’t be fooled by the economic price as there is nothing cheap about the quality of instruction you will receive.

Utila suffers from an over supply of qualified, or should I say overly qualified dive instructors, who saturate the island’s dive shops. As such, prices for hiring a well-qualified instructor are low, while the quality of training received remains high.

So, if you’re looking into doing anything dive-related ranging from enrolling in an Open Water course to getting your divemaster, Utila is the place to be!

That said, I must now tell you the other side of things…the marginal side note (warning label) that should be given to anyone interested in heading down to Utila.

Utila is a diving island. That much is certain and clear. Everything revolves around diving. There is not much to do other than dive. The other activities center around drinking, drinking, and more drinking. So there are basically two things people do on this island: dive and drink or drink or dive.

Sounds like any diver’s dream, right? Dive all day, party all night.

That’s where you are wrong, my friend. When the sole other activity besides diving involves going to one of the few bars on the island to get plastered, not just one night, but EVERY night of the week, things can get old very quickly.

Not to mention the plethora of drugs, namely cocaine and weed, makes a night out seem like a never ending line of debauchery.

Mind you, the first few days, even the first few weeks are fun. Everything feels like a novelty. You’re getting used to the island. The people.

But after a month of the same old party scene, over and over again, you quickly realize that Utila is nothing more than a cesspool.

While the turover rate through the island is quite high thanks to the number of backpackers who travel through the island, the residents aka ex pats, who have decided to call Utila their home, do add some sense of permanence to the otherwise transient island.

But having stayed on the island for close to half a year, I had to endure saying goodbye to quite a few good friends.

Utila is a small island. So when you  meet people who think on the same wavelength as you do, it is quite easy to form  close friendships with such people. And because Utila is such a small place, you end up spending a lot of time with these friends.

But in the back of your mind, you know that the inevitable goodbye is close ahead. I’ve had to say goodbye to a few amazing people, and it gets old. Before long, you start to envy the people who are leaving the island. Waving goodbye to your friends on the dock of the ferry , you soon realize that Utila never does quite feel like home.

Which is why decided that enough was enough and that it was time to leave the island. I’ve had many kick ass moments in Utila, but also not so great ones as well. Overall, the decision to leave was a wise one.

This is all based on my experiences. Some people end up falling in love with the place and end up staying, but I must question their sanity.

That being said, to anyone thinking about traveling to Utila, you have been warned. Utila is a great place to stay for a few days. But leave before its addictive and debauched lifestyle claws you in and decides never to let you go.