Welcome to my Place . . . Leon, Nicaragua

‘Leon has been at the epicentre of Nicaragua’s recent turbulent past’

Noreen Lucey and her friend Anne in Leon, Nicaragua.

Noreen Lucey and her friend Anne in Leon, Nicaragua.

 

Now living in Ireland after spending years abroad including time working in Leon, Nicaragua, Noreen Lucey maintains a strong connection with the country she calls her second home.

A revolt against current leader, former revolutionary hero Daniel Ortega, has claimed more than 500 lives, according to reports, and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs is advising Irish citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the country. But Lucey hopes “the day when tourists once again fill the streets of Leon will return”.

Where do you always bring people to when they visit?  
Leon is the one of the best cities to experience Nicaraguan culture, and the passion of its people for music and dancing is evident in the city’s night life. The best place to bring visitors is to one of the many bars to watch locals display their incredible dancing and singing skills. The Nicaraguans share our love for music and singing but are undoubtedly much better dancers than the Irish.

The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are . . . 
Spending time at Las Penitas and Poneloya beach, 20 minutes from the city and timing your visit for the “arrivada” when turtles arrive to lay their eggs. After two months, the eggs hatch and baby turtles make the most difficult journey of their lives from the beach to the Pacific Ocean.

A visit to the cathedral, Basilica de la Asuncion, the largest in Central America, cannot be missed. The tomb of Ruben Dario, Leon’s famous poet, is in the cathedral and guarded by a lion with the inscription, “Nicaragua is created of vigour and glory, Nicaragua is made for freedom”. A fact not lost in the current political climate.

Sit and people watch in Parque Central or visit Subtiava, a suburb of Leon. Subtiava predates Leon and is home to the oldest church in Nicaragua.

Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Leon? 
There are many local markets that look basic with stalls run by one woman, with one stove and one pot but which can produce some of the best food you will taste in Central America. No trip to Leon will be complete without having a plate of Gallo Pinto from any of the stalls located in the city’s markets. Gallo Pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with fresh salad on the side and is a staple for locals and visitors who stay long enough.

Where is the best place to get a sense of Leon’s place in history? 
Leon has been at the epicentre of Nicaragua’s recent turbulent past and was central to the revolution that brought the Sandinista party to power in 1979. Up until the current conflict, which started in April this year, Sandinistas still had considerable support in the city which was evident in the revolutionary murals adorning walls of buildings. Unfortunately the city’s streets are again at the centre of history in the making, but this time instead of fighting for their revolutionary hero, the Nicaraguans are fighting against him.

Leon also has many unique and interesting museums which will hopefully survive this conflict, my favourite being the Museum of Traditions and Legends.

What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Leon? 
Nicaragua is famous for its coffee and rum and whatever your beverage choice, you won’t be disappointed in either. Local artisan coffee can be purchased in most cafes in Leon and a bottle of Flor de Cana, for the discerning rum connoisseur, can be purchased in various sizes, depending on your rucksack or suitcase size.

If you’d like to share your little black book of places to visit where you live overseas, please email your answers to the five questions above to abroad@irishtimes.com, including a brief description of what you do there and a photograph of yourself. We would love to hear from you.

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