12/30/2016 - 01/01/2017
NA had put us up at the beautiful colonial Hotel Cacique Adiact in León, just a few blocks north of the main square and the market. Soon after we arrived, we were tearing out of the hotel in a quest for lunch at the market. On the north side of León Cathedral the street was filled with vendors mostly selling fruit and souvenirs. A block further east we encountered the market itself, although renovation had displaced the businesses from the covered building to the surrounding streets. That left only narrow alleys to pass through on the streets and congested sidewalks. There were several stalls selling varieties of queso blanco, the crumbly and salty Nicaraguan cheese. It's famous for the little squeak it makes when you cut it or chew it.
Eventually we found a small grouping of comedores and had a good lunch of grilled meat and stewed plantains.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the small area around the market and the cathedral. I also finally picked up a SIM card for Nicaragua, which was very inexpensive for a week of data.
Eventually it grew dark and we started seeing some Gigantonas, which are men wearing giant costumes of brightly dressed women followed by bands of drummers. They make a huge noise and if you get up close to take pictures they'll ask you for money. Gigantonas represent the wives of the conquistadors, and apparently there's a whole set piece that is supposed to accompany them although we didn't see any of that.
When we were ready to eat again, we headed back to the market and saw a couple of large grills had been set up with comfortable tables to eat at. The food was mouthwatering. We made our selections and had our second meal of the day at the market.
The next morning a local guide picked us up at the hotel to take us back to the market. The plan was for us to collect the ingredients for a Nicaraguan specialty called Indio Viejo and then bring them to the home of a local family where we would cook together. However, our guide told us we had the option to make iguana soup instead. Of course, there was no question which one we would choose. Mei Ling took care of buying the iguanas and some fish, while I worked through the long list of vegetables at another stall.
Once we had our ingredients, we jumped into a colectivo which was no small task with the kids and a stroller. We drove to a residential neighborhood far from the center, and then took a seemingly endless walk to our next destination.
We found ourselves in the dirt yard of a home where a group of women were making tortillas while their kids played on the ground nearby. Everyone got a chance to make tortillas except for Spenser.
Tortillas in hand, we walked to another family home to make the soup. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat, or the requisite butchering of animals, click here immediately. We eat meat almost every day, occasionally from animals that Westerners find unusual or troublesome, and we have absolutely no second thoughts about it. Preparing animals to be eaten is bloody and messy work as well, especially if you're new to the game.
The hardest parts of butchering an iguana seem to be decapitating and skinning it. They are tough animals. Unfortunately there weren't any guys around to show me how to make a wallet out of the skin.
I didn't get to document much of the cooking because I was busy keeping the kids away from the ant holes and other hazards around the property, but the iguana soup and deep-fried fish turned out to be delicious.
There was too much food just for us so the extended family all joined in for the meal. We never did learn how to make Indio Viejo, but there's lots of recipes online so maybe we'll try it here in Miami sometime.
We didn't have enough time to make it back to the hotel before our next activity, so our guide coordinated with the new group to pick us up nearby. They drove us to the small fishing village of Las Peñitas, where we got on a little boat for a tour of the Juan Venado Nature Reserve.
The island is formed by a small river that empties into the Pacific at two spots fourteen miles apart. It's really more of a wide delta than a true island. The river is lined with mangroves reminiscent of the Everglades or the Louisiana Bayou. We had fun spotting birds with the kids, predominantly snowy egrets and blue herons. At one point we docked the boat and walked across the island to the ocean, where Ian promptly let himself get knocked over by a wave and got covered with wet sand.
We had a rather typical, average restaurant dinner near the center and then headed back over to the main square since it was New Year's Eve. There were trampolines and rides set up for the kids and a lot of people out, although it wasn't crowded. We took another walk through the tourist market, which was bustling with activity, so I could make a video. There was absolutely no way we were going to stick around until midnight, so we walked back to the hotel and I took the kids for a late evening swim. We'd be moving on to Granada the next morning.