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León (pronounced lay-OHN) means "lion," and the lion is the symbol of this Mexican city. The arch with the lion in the photo above is found on a traffic circle near the downtown area of León. León is the ninth largest city in Mexico with a population of 1.1 million. It is also the host of an annual international hot air balloon festival. Located in the central part of Mexico near the colonial cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, this area is rich in history since many of the battles of the Mexican Revolution took place here. The city is at an altitude of over 6,000 feet, and the weather there is beautiful year-round. Temperatures range in the 70's-80's during the day, and the nights are cool enough for a light jacket or sweater.
Known as the shoe-making capital of Mexico, León has tons of stores with shoes, purses, jackets, belts, furniture, and other leather products. You can literally go into one particular section of downtown León and find blocks of nothing but leather shops, all practically side-by-side. And yes, you can get some great deals. I bought a couple pairs of 100% leather shoes for $20-$25 per pair, and a great quality leather jacket for around $125 (USD). I also passed down one of the streets where they skin the cows to make the leather one day... not a very pleasant smell. I guess it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!
A lot of folks in Mexico have to make money any way they can. Jobs are not plentiful, and there are no social programs there as there are in the U.S. to support the elderly and the disabled. It was not uncommon to see the elderly and people with physical disabilities or deformities begging outside the churches, at intersections, or in other high-traffic people areas. When you are traveling by car and you stop at a light, there is always somebody at the stoplight trying to sell you something. Sometimes it's food, flowers, T-shirts, or other items, or they may offer to clean your windshield for you. At some stoplights, however, they sometimes hand out coupons and sale flyers for stores.
There is also a beautiful mall in León, with a Wal-mart and a movie theater inside. I have to say it was probably the cleanest mall I have ever been in. And the movie theater was very nice too. We went to see Disney's "Wall-E" one night. It was funny to see a Disney movie in Spanish! When we returned to the car after the movie, my friend tipped a guy who was out in the parking lot. He was evidently watching everybody's cars to make sure no one broke into them. I learned that you have to tip a lot of people in Mexico. At gas stations, they have attendants who pump your gas for you and clean your windshield. So you tip them on top of paying for your gas. In some parking garages, they have people who will park your car for you so you don't have to hunt for a spot. Then when you come back to pick up your car, they bring your car to you. So you tip them, as well as pay for the parking fee. One night we went to a grocery store. We had to tip the person who bagged the groceries in the store. And then when we got to the car, there was an old man who put your groceries in your trunk for you. And you tipped him too. So if folks don't have a job, they figure out things they can do to make some money.
Restrooms in Mexico ranged from one extreme to the other. In nice shopping areas and restaurants, the restrooms were usually clean and well-stocked. One restroom I went into that was in a furniture store was gorgeous, with marble countertops and round mirrors above the sinks. But if you stopped at a gas station or a convenience store, there was never any paper (of any description), no soap, and on one occasion, no water from the faucet! Thank goodness for hand sanitizer and purse-sized Kleenex packets! I think the icing on the cake was the last day I was in Mexico when we stopped at a gas station and I needed to use the facilities. There was an old man sitting outside the restrooms with a table set up, handing out paper towels. I told him I had my own paper, so I didn't need any. When I came out, he said, "Dos pesos, por favor." (Two pesos, please.) I thought to myself, "For what? I used my own paper, and my own hand sanitizer. Was it for the flush?" At any rate, I didn't protest and just gave him the two pesos (which is about 20¢ in USD). My friend told me afterwards that he just wanted my money.
Below are a couple of videos from YouTube about the city of León. The first one is a slide show of photos that someone took during their visit there. You will see some areas I didn't capture in my photos, as well as some that I did. The second video is a tourist video made by the city of León, which is on the León website (in Spanish).
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All photos on this site copyright 2008 by Tara Guthrie.