After our short stay in Managua, I wondered what the rest of Nicaragua would bring. Our next stop would be León, a very old Colonial city, but first a stop at the hot, dusty ruins of León Viejo, the even older city that came first. Founded in 1524, it was destroyed by earthquake in 1610 and moved to the current location.
20 miles further on, León is a charming, well-preserved Colonial city.
We arrived at our hotel, an inconspicuous white-washed Adobe building with a modest sign out front, tired and hot from the day of travel and exploration of the old city ruins.
As we stepped inside to the interior courtyard garden and surrounding tiled gallery, we were greeted by a lovely girl bearing a tray of tall, cold glasses of refreshing fruit tea to welcome us.
It was a step into the past, where the Convent of San Francisco, first stood in the year 1639. The current hotel is a faithful reconstruction of the old building that was destroyed by a combination of earthquake and the civil war of the 1980s. Filled with antiques and artwork of the early Colonial period, the hotel is a refuge of beauty, peace and history.
I especially loved the early morning breakfasts in the elegant dining room at the back of the photo above—platters, piled high with fresh, local fruits, fried cheese, fried plantain, eggs, bacon, Gallo pinto (the rice and beans served with every meal) and wonderful, fragrant café con leche. All, with a view of the courtyard flowers and birds.
A Latin American art form that I am in love with are the hand-carved Santos, especially the old, much-loved ones. In the years of the Spanish colonization of the Americas the Catholic Church established many churches and missions with the goal of "Christianizing" the native, indigenous populations. It was impractical and expensive to furnish these churches with the kinds of elegant statuary found in the Spanish churches, so they engaged local, indigenous artisans to create figures of saints (Santos) for the churches and religious residences. For me they have a wonderful, naïveté and heartfelt spirit. El Convento has some beautiful examples, that never failed to engage me as I encountered them.
This one, above, just outside the door to our room was my favorite. That face...
Most of these would have been dressed, originally, in fine velvet clothing and jeweled accessories, but I love the simplicity of the plain, wooden carvings.
Our stay in El Convento was a highlight of our trip for me. The quiet peace is something that will stay with me. I arrived feeling unsettled by Managua's sadness, and found what I hoped was a deeper, more authentic Nicaragua.