Driving in Leon

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(see FisherCigarman's blog "Driving Tips")

Driving in Leon, jodido, is a great guessing game. Those who drive well here simply know the place; many were born here. You see, most streets are one-way, but try to find a sign that indicates that. Rare indeed is a visible "una via" with arrow, and rarer yet a universal 'do not enter' circle with horizontal line in the middle. (So rare, I can't even remember if those, not international, say 'no entrar' or 'no entra' in Spanish. Are signs used to repair roof leaks? What‘s the deal?) One way, which way? Don't try to judge by parked cars; they'll fool ya! Just remember the saying, "When everything is coming at you, you're going the wrong way." A few roads are two-way in the midst of the great crisscross of one-ways, but don't try to judge them by their width. Intersections are dangerous because many stop signs are missing or difficult to see or papered over with some politician's head labeled 'ladron'. And everybody else knows who has the right of way so those that do drive all out, full speed, sometimes without lights in the dark. There is one traffic light in downtown that sometimes works, and is obeyed when a traffic cop is standing nearby. The other is in Subtiava, on the way to the beach. The rule of thumb is that traffic only slows for potholes or major dips in the road, not for pedestrians, or any neophyte (to Leon) drivers.

Gas is close to $4/gal (usually $1 more per gal than USA prices) and a common laborer is doing well to earn more than $5/day. So there are lots of bicyclists here. On a raw percentage basis, Leon may better Beijing for bikes/population. It's a university town. Bicyclists drive all out with no regard for 'rules of the road'; they'll zip in front of you going the wrong way. No stop sign applies to them. Despite a bike being a nearly two-dimensional vehicle, it's 'public transportation', used to carry two or more friends. No circus trick, this is daily life. See Momma sitting on the crossbar holding groceries and balancing baby on the handlebars with Papa peddling all out. At night they have no lights and the riders usually wear dark clothes, but that doesn't slow them down. The slow ones are usually drunk. Anyone who has driven defensively for squirrels is well practiced. (Most people I knew simply kept it straight while the indecisive animal made up its mind in time or got squashed or whished.) Taxi drivers keep the bicyclists somewhat in check, cause they rarely yield to anyone. Most of those on wheels on the street are stars in their own drag strip movies (going on in their heads, thanks to Hollywood examples).

A street address is meaningless; all is located by being so many blocks or yards (baras or meters) from a landmark. (Never you mind that that landmark no longer exists. Everyone knows where it once was. Just ask.) In Leon, there is North and South and up (East) and down (West, toward the sea). Knowledge, it seems to me, in Nicaragua falls into the category of art more so than science; it is something practiced, experienced, lived, and related by word of mouth. It's simple: you know or you don't.

I drove down here three times from Philly. Hauled lots of junk. I've also rented cars here twice. At times it was nice having my own independent wheels. Nicaragua has some beautiful off-the-beaten-track places to see and gorgeous terrain to cruise through. But visiting another city or family, it's actually cheaper to use public transportation than just the price of gas consumed alone (27mpg), and that calculation held true until 6 or more of us went together. Of course, it takes longer. So now I'm here without wheels. A cross-town taxi costs 15 cords (some 70 cents) per person. Let the driver worry about traffic, I'll be looking around. It costs less than $2 to ride a van into Managua from here. (I've driven many times in & through Managua; it was always tense, not incidentally for the traffic cops taking a bite out of my wallet. A foreigner with foreign plates is a target.) A taxi taking all 5 of us to Poneloya (beach, ca. 20k) cost 200 cords ($9.52), allowing me & the Mrs. to enjoy FdC set-ups and fresh fried snapper fillets at sunset, and just relax on the return.

Furthermore I confess I don't believe accident insurance is worth anything in Latin America. It's Napoleonic law. If you're in an accident you're going to jail, guilty o not, and 'they' will get about as much money out of you as they think they can. Little fender-benders can be easily settled on the spot without the police if someone accepts blame. I was in one - no sweat. And many car repairs are relatively cheap. You have to go to the seedy side of town, but some of these mechanics working on dirt lots can do miracles. Give them a chance.

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  1. bradley40550's Avatar
    How long does it take to drive from Philly to Leon?
  2. Daddy-YO's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by bradley40550
    How long does it take to drive from Philly to Leon?
    I took ten days, relaxed. Always stayed in a nice, inexpensive hotel at night plus ate a good sit-down meal with plenty of suds. I only drove during the day. And tried to stop in interesting places for a good walk-about.

    Border crossings were barely tolerable hassles.
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