Farewell to Leon

January 4, 2010

I don’t understand how I’ve gotten so attached to a place, a single city so quickly as I have, but there it is – I’m leaving Leon, Nicaragua in a couple of hours, and I actually ache with the realization that I might not be back any time soon.  What is it that ties people to locations so tightly, drags them in and wraps them up and makes it hurt – physically, mentally, emotionally all – to leave again?

I never intended to come to Leon, never even heard of it before I met a random traveling acquaintance on the Honduras-Nicaragua border.  Sjoerd, this crazy Dutch fucker, and I were hitchhiking south on a whim when we crossed paths with Mike.  “If you end up in Leon,” he said, “I’m staying there at the Tortuga Booluda.”  We had no intention of visiting, but hey, information is always appreciated to those of us who travel without plans.  A few hours later, after being chased around by drug dealers in Chichigalpa, we skidded into Leon after dark and without many other options, stayed the night.  And another.  And another.  We walked around town every day, did some drunken Michael Jackson karaoke, made friends, had a blast, and when we did finally leave it was only by tearing ourselves away from the sweet, easy, addiction of Leon.

It happened again, returning from Costa Rica to my life in Honduras.  And again two days later , chasing a beautiful Belgian woman.  A week later, looking for tattoo parlors and ending up in a part of town so run-down and gringo-unfriendly that a local man actually marched us out of the neighborhood to the nearest bus stop, and the gang-affiliated tattoo artist wouldn’t even let us talk to him.  It was so strange – every time I came to town it was “just for the night” yet I stayed a few, or a week, maybe two. Each time I left it was for good.  There’s a magnetism to this place, that much is certain – consistently good times don’t hurt, fun-loving and humorous people either.  The hoards of Scandinavians are an added bonus.  Perhaps it is just the memories that draw me back so consistently.

Still, when I left in August I wasn’t coming back – Leon had been great, but I was off to bigger and better things – or so I told myself until I found myself here again a month later, smellier, with more holes in my clothes, but welcomed with open arms nonetheless.  We’re dysfunctional lovers, Leon and I, always parting ways, pretending it is for real, but never meaning it in our hearts.  I left again, chasing a girl of course, went south to Granada, Ometepe, hitchhiked Costa Rica for a while, and when all of that ended, I crawled broken-hearted back to Leon, hoping she’d be so forgiving as to take me in again.

Of course she did – in her mercy she even gave me a new family at Hostal Sonati – sent an Irish lass to fetch me from the bus station and dumped me shell-shocked and exhausted into a big dorm room full of sinners, saints, artists, prophets, adventurers, lovers, and Dengue-fever victims.  Leon knows just how to heal me – one night turned into ten, we dabbled in debauchery as high art, flung minds, bodies, souls into the practice, spent nights in a blur, nights in a haze, forged lifetime friendships and love affairs timeless.

It was all I could do to get out, to flee before Leon consumed me and carried me off struggling into the night, to break me of my adventuring ways until I started a restaurant and a magazine and lived my life contented and happy – who would want that anyhow?  I fled to Guatemala, wrote a poem about it all, and again thought I’d gotten away from this dangerous siren.

It was not to be – another life ended abruptly, another love affair collapsed, and Christmas fast approaching – what else was I to do but come back to Leon, tail between my legs, to see if there was anything left here for me?  There was, of course, there always is if you’re willing to ask, but the pull was so strong that I’m still here fifteen days after I showed up.  I’ve canceled a boat cruise, pushed back paragliding, flirted with giving up the whole hitchhiking adventurer life just to stay here and hang out at the beach with Norwegian metalheads all day.  Today is the absolute last day I can possibly leave if I’m going to make it to Columbia on time, and I just don’t know if my heart is in it.

I guess I just don’t know how to treat a city like this.  My friends back home used to say that we weren’t allowed to have nice things, the reason being that we’d always do something stupid with them, but what about a nice city, a contented life?  Am I allowed to have one of those?  Something inside tells me no – it isn’t time yet – and so once more I shoulder my pack and prepare to head out of town.  I’m not kidding myself this time – I’ll be back to Leon – there’s no way I can stay away from the city that has brought me so many friends, laughs, good times and bad, love, tears, cheap drinks, live bands, great bars, stray dogs, street parties, and magnificently dangerous fireworks displays.  How could I?  Once this bitch gets hold of you, sinks her claws into you, there’s no escaping – I might as well admit that I like it.  So farewell Leon, you’re the best city in Central America, a hitchhikers’ oasis in a cruel, confusing life – don’t ever change!  I won’t know what to do with you otherwise.  To all you Leonites, I’ll pour one out for you if you’ll do the same, and when I get back, you’d better bet the first bottle is on me! -k


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