I'm about to spend my 2nd night at Managua Backpackers' Hostel and tomorrow leave to take the "chicken" bus to Leon. I had a marathon journey here with a 19-hr layover in Mexico City airport, alleviated by taking transit into the centre and looking around. On the plane I enjoyed a clear view of Mt St. Helen's crater, Mt. Rainier and all the ridges, canyons and dry plains of the southwestern states and Mexico.
Last time I was in Mexico City was in '72 when it had 12 million people. I think it is up to 20 million now and the infrastructure hasn't improved. Had some tacos and chorros from a safe-looking cafe and 4 hours later a bit of regret in the washroom, but seem OK now. While trying to doze curled around armrests of lightly padded chairs I was adapted by a Japanese woman who lost her flight when she turned up at the gate only 20 minutes before. I tried to help as interpreter but in the end she faced having to buy another ticket to Tokyo for USD$2500+.
Today Brian (Toronto) and I walked a long way from the hostel down to badly polluted Lake Managua. We passed by countless "Trees of Life"; towering curlicue sculptures of metal, the personal project of Nicaragua's Vice-president coincidentally married to the President. A US aid worker on the plane told me they coast USD$30,000 each + ongoing costs of illumination and personal guards (everything is guarded in Nicaragua). Brian and I made a good team; he had a cell phone with gps and I speak Spanish.
At the airport I bought USD$20 of Cordobas @ 20C/1USD (the official govt rate) and then at the hostel another 50USD at 30C/1USD (the unofficial, but still legal rate). Most places will happily accept USD as well as Cordobas, a bad sign for the local economy. It is very poor here, with an unsettling juxtaposition of fast food chains / street vendors, modern supermarkets / hovels, fancy new cars / garbage & broken sidewalks.
Will write again a bit further down the road....