Several months ago, I prepared to leave León without plans to return. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years of this beautiful life, it’s that plans change. And it turns out I was meant to be here for a bit longer, to discover some more beauty and new things within this magical city before leaving. As the days get hotter, I’m more and more ready to escape the heat – but I’m also less ready to leave some other things behind. I’ve realized that I initially discounted León a bit for being a “concrete jungle,” with pockets of nature only to be found within courtyards of houses. The truth is that nature surrounds León, and there are plenty of opportunities to escape the city and get in touch with it.
Thanks to my job, I’ve recently had the chance to revisit and discover many of these places, as well as spend a lot of time at the beach. With the students, we visited Cerro Negro, León Viego and Laguna de Tigre, all places I had been to before, but this time I was able to shed some new light on the history and experiences that weave them together. I joined a field trip to Quinta Yolanda, an eco-farm just outside of the city that recycles water and solar energy, participates in reforestation efforts and grows farm-raised tilapia. We drank homemade lemonade and swam in the healing water of the river that runs through the farm. I visited Salinas Grandes, which is a small fishing village where some students are doing field research about the salt and shrimp industries. The village is connected to Las Peñitas, the beach that I frequent, by a 20 kilometer long nature reserve called Isla Juan Venado. Along the barrier island, there is a lot of wildlife like many types of birds, some crocodiles, and often times sea turtles. This is an issue in Nicaragua because they are an endangered species, but their eggs are often poached and sold as a delicacy. Another issue in the nature reserve is the deforestation of the mangrove trees; and there is debate about whether the wood that is taken from within the island is actually from trees that are already dead. We do our best to combat this problem by taking students on mangrove reforestation trips. We took small motor boats into the nature reserve, stopping along the way to climb through the delicate branches of the trees before refreshing ourselves with a swim in the water. Then we found a spot to plant some baby red mangroves – to do so we were up to our thighs in slick mud which made trekking through it difficult and hilarious. After planting the trees, we kayaked back to the main beach, taking short rests along the way to soak up the sunshine and contemplate the surrounding beauty. It’s experiences like these that remind me how grateful I am for the chance to stay here longer.
Being in León for a few extra months means I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, and have experiences that sprinkle my days with newness and wonder. Taking walks on the property behind our house and greeting a stray horse that’s come to graze. Getting a natural sugar rush from the tamarind seeds found in the yard. Stopping in a store I’ve never seen before, only to find newborn kittens to play with as the kind women mend a blouse to fit me perfectly. Trading in old books for new at Marthe’s bookstore. Walking down the street at such a perfectly synchronized time that my friend is pulling in on his motorcycle, and he’s just been with the friend I am going to meet. Being squeezed into the back of a bus destined for the beach, tighter than ever before, so much so that I am breathing in a girl’s ponytail. Working on my computer at the beach house and looking up to find that the lifeguard has brought me a fresh coconut to sip on. Actually having a legitimate reason to use walky-talkies. Teaching a Norwegian and a Nicaraguan how to play cutthroat pool. Getting ready for bed on a “normal” night only to find Rigo bringing two beautiful iguanas through the kitchen (backstory: he rescued them from poachers who sell them to be killed and eaten). Riding through the city in the front seat of a taxi at dusk, watching people go about their daily lives and wondering where they’re going. Walking to get a smoothie and running into four people I know along the way. These are the things I’m going to miss, especially all of the friends and acquaintances I’ve made here, and especially the family that I’ve grown to be apart of in my home and work life. There is something special about sitting down to a special home-cooked meal with two Nicas and two Norwegians, in a country that is not my own, and truly feeling like I am a part of the family. This is what I will miss the most.
And then there are the details of León, the city itself. The siren that goes off at 7am and 12pm every day without fail, for reasons that all Leonese will explain differently. The uneven sidewalks, no two the same, some with beautiful mosaics and some with loose tiles, accented by holes such that you must always be on guard when walking down the street. The streets that have no street signs and the houses that have no real addresses. The bustling feeling that the streets have come alive at 9pm on a Friday or Saturday when everyone is out, no matter their age. Old couples taking over the sidewalks with their rocking chairs in the late afternoon. The peaceful, quiet, deserted feeling that falls over the city on Sunday afternoons (my personal favorite time to be out). The incessant noise that happens at all other times of life, even at midnight: dogs barking, music playing, gospel churches singing, fireworks blasting, parrots squawking, babies crying, buses honking, children playing, women screaming “tortiiiiiillas!” The women balancing bowls on their heads with an admirable precision that even holds steady a tray of loose baked goods. The knowing look they give me as they pass with a wink or a smile.
I’m not as ready to leave León as I was before. Yes, these experiences and qualities that I’ve detailed may not all be unique to this city, and I’m sure to find similar things wherever I end up next. But I know some of them are pure Leonese, cien por ciento, and that there’s something special about this town. I also know that I wouldn’t find so much beauty in all of these characteristics if I hadn’t stayed here for so long, and for that, I am grateful. I’m not as ready to leave León as I was before, but it’s time.
It’s time, so I will embrace change with an open mind and an open heart. I will pack up my belongings, say my goodbyes and set off without dwelling on what I am leaving behind. I will be back to visit; it’s not like I’m leaving Nicaragua just yet. And I will arrive, once again, in a new corner of the country, where I know barely anyone, where I’m uncomfortable, and do it all over again. I will say yes to change.
besos ~ chels