So after being in Leon a month, and not leaving the city except a quick trip to the beach a few days ago (nice, some drama when a girl almost got swept out into the ocean permanently), I realize that I need to renew my bike import permit. They only issue permits here for a month at a time, and the only place to renew is at the aduana (customs) in the capital, Managua. Although Managua is supposed to be far from the nicest place to visit, I am looking forwards to seeing the hub of the country and stepping out of Leon for the day. Also, after a month straight of Spanish lessons every single day, I need the break.
I wake up later than I planned to, as usual and start my day in the 90 degree Leon daytime heat at around 10:00. Take a cab a couple of kilometers to the busy bus terminal, 15 cordobas, about 70 cents. Get in the line for the express microbus (like an airport shuttle van, but brokedown like a mofo, and don’t even think about air conditioning) to Managua and hop in with 15 other people and pay about $1.70 for the 1.5 hour ride to Managua. The ride is hot and uneventful, scenery flat, boring and scrubby. Arrive in the heart of the city at the UCA (National University) terminal, and take an 80 cent cab ride to the customs office. It has AC, and although the process is relatively quick and painless, it costs more than I expected (30 bucks, a dollar a day), and can only be extended for 30 more days before I need another renewal. The worst part though is that the paperwork won’t be ready for 24 hours, meaning I’ll have to come back the next day, or so the cute girl behind the counter says. It’s not so bad though, as I can actually come at my convenience at any time to pick it up, and theoretically, since I won’t be riding around for the next month, (this whole thing is just a formality to keep my bike legal in the country) could just come back in a month to renew. She suggests I come back in a few days if I want, and I decide on that. Exciting stuff.
So now I have the day free to check out the city. Managua is not built for walking. The war and a devastating earthquake in the 70’s caused extensive damage which was never really attended to and the city has been patched together in a haphazard way, with unrelated neighborhoods and business areas separated by big empty parcels of land. Plus, did I mention that it is hot as shit here year round? Cabs are the way to go, cheap and they get the job done. Directions here are not given by street addresses, but rather by distances from landmarks, including ones that are no longer there! For instance, someone might tell you that to get to the church, you have to go 2 blocks towards the lake, 1 block left of the Coke factory. And the factory might have been demolished 20 years ago
Anyway, I take a cab to the old main square, where the old cathedral stands but is unopened to visitors. Destroyed by the 72 earthquake, it is still impressive to look at. The square is strangely completely empty except for a security guard at the cathedral, and a couple of random folks, adding to the eeriness that is the former center of the town. The cathedral is flanked by the National Palace, and some other offices and surrounded on all four corners by huge billboards promoting the re-election of President and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Elections are in November, and the constitution has been changed to allow him to run again. Same old shit. And the billboards are in PINK, signifying a kindler, gentler Sandinista party! I make my way to the malecon (lakeside boardwalk) and pass by the tomb of Sandinista founder Carlos Fonseca, yet another monument to poet and national hero Ruben Dario, the Ruben Dario theater, huge ass plaza and tower dedicated to Pope John Paul 2 (he came here twice in the 80’s and I guess they love him for that) and reach the malecon. It is really really hot now, and I’m exhausted. The malecon is quite a sorry pile of shit. Completely dead and Lake Managua is not even visible from the street. You have to enter one of the restaurants lining the side to see the water. There is nobody here and every restaurant has huge speakers set up outside, having a contest to see who can play the shittiest Latin party music at the loudest volume possible. I’m getting pretty done here, and decide to just beat the heat for a couple of hours and see a movie at one of the 3 modern malls in the city.
So a 10 minute and $1.80 cab ride later I’m at the Metrocenter Mall. Its still pretty hot even inside the mall and I hit the food court to do the touristy, comfort, fast food thing. End up getting a shitty overpriced plate of chicken at a takeout place and immediately head upstairs to a nice coffee shop I saw on the way in. I finally get the AC I have been craving and order up a nice up of coffee and a huge slice of black forest cake. And they have my beloved free wifi, so I’m all good for the moment. I cool off for a while, eat half the cake get another cup of coffee and after an hour and a half, go check out movie times. Looks like nothing is playing early enough that I want to see and will still give me time to catch a shuttle back to Leon, so I pass on that idea and take a walk (its around 5 and has cooled off a lot by now) to the Cathedral Metropolitana, built to take the place of the bombed out older one I saw earlier. I leave the mall and walk across the busy street and across an empty field, in the middle of which sits the cathedral. It is hard to describe, but Ill try. Its really really ugly. Its done in concrete, in a weird post modern style with 30 or 40 half domes on top that look like hand grenades. They are supposed to represent each of the churches in the city or something like that. The inside is marginally better. I have an hour or so left of daylight, so I spend the rest of the time walking aimlessly towards what I think is a restaurant district, but ends up just being a random jumble of sights and traffic, with a lot of American fast food chains and a randomly placed Egyptian themed casino. I take another cheap cab back to the UCA terminal and catch a shuttle back to Leon. It takes longer than it should, perhaps because it is dark, and the ventilation sucks and Im boiling up again. At the bus terminal I take my last cab back to the central park, which is bustling with energy for some reason, which I finally realize is Valentine’s Day which apparently is celebrated as stupidly down here as it is in the States. Oh well, c’est la vie as my Spanish teacher likes to say. Indeed.