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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day at Playa Las Peñitas

Pop. Pop. Pop. Like gunshots, the noise of fireworks somewhere in the vicinity made its way to my ears. My eyes opened to the morning light shining through the open widows.  After a few minutes, I made my way to the barstools out in the courtyard. The sky was ominous, with a promise of rain in the air. However, from my observation over the past few days, that promise was rarely fulfilled. Thus, I figured it was as good a day as any other to make my way to the Playa Las Peñitas, a beach just 20km outside of Leon. 

After eating breakfast (pancake, banana, and coffee), I asked Silvio for directions. 

A block to the left of the bakery I've been frequenting, in front of a couple food stands, was where I hopped on a cambio. A modified delivery truck with tarp covering the top and two sides, the cambio had metal benches lining its two long edges and bars at the top for those standing. For 4 Cordobas, ~20 cents, I jumped onboard and grabbed hold of a bar as the truck jerked its way through the city, picking up and dropping off its wearied morning cargo. We passed by a small procession on the street, with men, women, and children dressed in white gowns overlaid on top of another red one. Just as I was wondering how much longer I had to endure the noxious car exhaust that blew my way, we arrived at El Mercandito, where a dozen stands selling bananas, juices, and other goods surrounded my next ride.

Sitting idle, the former school bus, its yellow paint still recognizable, had its back doors opened and ready for passengers. Known endearingly as the chicken bus, the vehicle slowly absorbed its passengers one by one as they returned from the market. I found myself a seat next to a woman who had the unfortunate seat right above the wheels, which butted out into the bus and took up most of her leg space.  The heat was sweltering, with the bus acting as an oven and us its soon to be baked goods. If any of the locals (everyone else) felt uncomfortable by the heat, it wasn't obvious from their demeanor.  When the bus started moving, a much welcomed wind rushed through the windows. 

For about 40 minutes, the bus made its way out of town. A man eventually came down the aisle to collect the fare, 12 Cordobas. After a couple stops on the outskirts of the city, we halted at Poneloya, a beach that was within a stone's throw of Las Peñitas. After 15 minutes, the cranky old bus pushed forward in the direction we came, but then turned right to drop off the Las Peñitas bound passengers. 

Hopping off the bus, I followed the familiar sounds of waves crashing onto the beach. Within 15 seconds I found my toes in sand that was dark brown, with white specks of what once were presumably seashells. 

It was a long stretch of beach, trailing around a bend to my left and looming into the distance on my right. At least where I was there were only a handful of folks there with me, stubborn enough to ignore the hovering dark clouds and occasional thunder. 

The beaches around Leon are famous for their waves for surfing.  Noting the strength with which the water receded and recognizing my own limitations, I stuck to the beach. There was a noticeable downward slope to the beach that made it nearly impossible to rinse off my sandals and feet of the sand sticking to them. 

Around the bend to my left formed an inlet where the waves were calmer and the beach more populated. Seashells and wood debris had collected themselves neatly into a short trail that led me in the direction of a row of boats. 

Drops of rain, accompanied by a cool breeze off the coast, made their way onto my skin. I had walked by the Oasis hostel, which Silvio had mentioned earlier for its good food. With an outdoor cafe facing the ocean, Oasis lived up to its name. I washed up, ordered an omelette with cheese and ham, and sat myself on the deck with a 180 degree view of the grand Pacific before me.  The rhythmic beating of the waves against the shore, the cool breeze that found its way past me, and the perfect 75 degree weather made it a moment impossible to capture in words or image. 

After a couple hours, I reluctantly paid my bill and waited outside on the same street where I was dropped off for the next chicken bus. It was rather quiet, with the occasional pedestrian, truck, dog, and cattle walking past me. 

With a brief stop at Poneloya, the return bus arrived back in Leon more quickly than the arriving one. It wasn't long until the "bus attendant" ushered me off, leaving me a little surprised as I could hardly believe we were back already. 

Rather than wait for the next cambio, I hailed a taxi, the driver of which claimed he could not see the address I showed him, yet took me to exactly the right location. He was a jolly fellow, one who thought I was Korean until I told him otherwise. 

Back at Latina, the two non-Kentucky Americans had left. In their place were a New Zealand and Australian couple who were in month eight of a 2-3 year trip, with the U.S. as their next stop. Two other women also arrived, making the room of six a full house. 

The four new arrivals had taken the liberty of washing their clothes and hanging them on the bed frames to dry. Given the high humidity and low air circulation in the room, the result was a smell reminiscent of a pair of sweaty gym clothes that have been in the locker for far too long. I was hoping they would eventually realize there's a whole other yard designated for such purpose. 

I retreated out to the courtyard. Though the sun was still hidden behind the clouds, it remained comfortable outside. Hammock swinging and Kindle in hand, it was within the serenity of the courtyard's four walls where I spent the latter part of the afternoon. 

By the time I headed back out, it was only early evening, but most places had already closed, and the streets were eerily quiet. No honking, no cars, and barely a person in sight. 

It wasn't until I got to the Cathedral square did I see where all the people were. Set up at the front of the Cathedral was a band tuning up, with rows of occupied chairs in front. Red, green, and blue lights flashed from the makeshift stage and sound streamed through speakers set up on either side. I would had stayed a little longer but my stomach was growling. 

I went in search of El Cafe La Rosita, famous among travelers for its coffee, desserts, and view of the sunset. That was the intention anyway. Despite having street names, inertia has resulted in addresses still being written relative to major landmarks. I knew La Rosita was near the Cathedral, but even after asking a fellow gentleman on a bike, who nearly flipped over for braking too quickly, my search was in vain.  

Most hostels and hotels have their own cafes or restaurants, but there seemed to be  relatively few standalone restaurants, even street food vendors, in Leon.  The street food vendors, now all packed up, were selling pre-pealed fruits, bananas, pork rinds (I think), hot dogs, and hamburgers. 

With dusk already upon me, I ventured into an open courtyard near La Union, the Wal-Mart I had previously stumbled upon. To my surprise, there was a Burger King. Next to it was Tip Top, a Central American fast food chain not unlike KFC or McDonalds. With little other options, I headed into Tip Top, which was secured by an armed guard. At least getting robbed while eating dinner tonight wasn't an option. 


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