Town of Catarina
After a thirty minute drive, we arrived in Catarina, a small town of 8,300 people located near the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve. Catarina is known for its countless nurseries and art workshops. We arrived to the city quite early as we planned to hike down an extinct volcano for a swim in the Apoyo Lagoon, so we didn’t see many open businesses. But we did walk along one of its quaint streets to reach the trailhead at the top of the crater.
Bajadero El Caballito
According to the sign, the Bajadero El Caballito is considered hard. Maybe if we were going uphill, it would have been difficult, but it was a nice stroll downhill. We followed a dusty path beneath a canopy of trees with a few open views toward the lagoon. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower while birds chirped and cawed overhead.
Along the way, we stopped at a pool fed by a natural spring. Before potable water service came to the town, this natural spring supplied water to the locals. Now it is used for recreation purposes only.
The highlight of the hike, however, was the Howler monkeys. The trailing part of the group got to see two different monkeys. The first monkey we spotted was very well endowed with large white testicles. He sat on the branch staring at us while dropping some vegetation our way. The second monkey was more entertaining as he leaped from one tree to another.
The Monkey Hut Resort
After our short hike, our driver picked us up at the bottom and took us to The Monkey Hut Resort where we enjoyed lunch and a relaxing afternoon. Some of our group took a nice swim in the choppy waters of the mineral laden lagoon. I just took a short dip before stretching out on a colorful hammock beneath the warm sun.
Much to my dismay, a cat came over to visit and periodically meowed. I wondered if I pet it for a minute if it would stop or if it would keep meowing for more attention when I stopped. Not being a cat lover, I have to say this cat was awesome. I pet it once which was satisfying enough to the green-eyed feline that just curled up next to my stuff like a dog!
The Cathedral of Leon
Around 2pm, we finally set out for Leon, one of the oldest colonial cities in Central America. We arrived in Leon around 4:30 just in time to walk to a small market, the plaza and old cathedral before night set. The Cathedral of Leon was built over two centuries ago with money from the wealthy who purchased tombs below the floor. The most famous tomb is that of Ruben Dario, a Nicaraguan poet.
We entered the cathedral just as mass was ending and the doors were closing. We learned we could climb the tower for a small fee or see some of the underground chambers that were once used to hide treasures from pirates. The chambers also lead to underground tunnels that provide access to other churches!
La Gigantona and El Enano Cabezon
The plaza, active with vendors and locals, also displayed La Gigantona and El Enano Cabezon. La Gigantona is a giant doll constructed of light wood adorned in a colorful dress which represents a big, white Spanish woman with elegance and power. El Enano Cabezon is a small figure that represents the underestimated mestizo by the Spanish domination. These costumes are used in a traditional dance to drums while a narrator tells a story.
Where to Eat in Leon
After strolling around the plaza for a bit, we opted for an early dinner at a recommended restaurant, El Taquezal. I can’t say it was amazing or anything, but it was food! Maybe we should have tried the Longhorn Sports Bar.
Where to Stay in Leon
We retired to our hotel, El Convento, which was an old convent. I have to say, this hotel, despite a few things that didn’t work, was lovely. Our rooms opened onto open-air, tile hallways that wrapped around a square courtyard. The hallways were adorned with magnificent art and antique furniture. The courtyard featured a fountain that doves frequently visited for water. A manicured lawn with koi ponds tucked in the corners surrounded the fountain as Bougainvillea draped the railing. Another lobby area as well as the pool area included religious features that provided a reminder of the convent. It was a neat spot despite pesky ants, a broken safe, and low water pressure for toilet flushing in the mornings!
I’m looking forward to tomorrow..a 600 meter hike up a volcanic cinder cone 600 meters on volcanic rock to sand board down its slope. ETB