Ready to start Spanish Classes - LONG ENTRY
Trip Start Dec 11, 2008
27Trip End Mar 30, 2009
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Where I stayed
Chris and I came to Quetzaltenango (Xela) to meet up with our friends Pat and Gail who are staying here for 4 months in order to help out a special organization that sponsors about 100 poor kids who show promise to do well. The children get a chance to go to a private school so that they get a better education, every child gets a pair of shoes and a backpack, a daily bath, a hot lunch and dinner and help with their homework. It is a wonderful organization and if we had more time here, we would offer to help out also. They want people to help with a good command of Spanish and we are not there yet.
Xela is the second largest city in Guatemala and is about 8000 feel above sea level. It took us a couple of days to acclimatize to the high altitude but we made the adjustments quickly and were able to function quite nicely. What we were not ready for was the cold!!! The coldest morning got to -2 and there were reports of snow on the ground in a neighbouring town. We only had limited clothes so we had to go out to the used clothing stores which are ALL over and buy some warm brandname clothes that had been sent from the U.S. and Canada. They were a real bargain for us as each article cost about 75 cents whether it was Landsend, Gap or Nike. We are much bigger than Guatemalans so there were lots of large clothes for us to choose from. During the day it is warm but as soon as the sun goes down it is cold and the houses have no insulation or heaters. Our school didnīt have heat either so at 8 am we were pretty weleed bundled up as you will see in the photos - gloves, scarves and all.
Chris and I had planned on taking Spanish lessons for a week and after good reviews about the school where Pat and Gail had taken lessons, we signed up for 25 hours a week of one on one lessons at Escuela Proyecto Liguistico Quetzalteco. Part of our tuition included a homestay with a local family so Chris and I 'split up' in order to maximize the time that we had to talk Spanish. We didnīt live very far from each other though. It was a learning experience - the way of family life, the food, the language used at home, the rules, etc. I had a little room with a toilet and shower off of the garage and a concrete floor. My bed was a board with a thin mat on it but lots of blankets for warmth. I ate meals with the family. Breakfast was 'Mush', or a watery oatmeal. Lunch was big - usually chicken, vegetables, rice. Dinner was my least favourite - a plate of black beans and 3 slices of banana on the side.
School was great. In fact we stayed for 2 weeks. They offered a lot - our one on one Spanish lessons; lectures that were translated into English regarding the sad situation in Guatemala, past and present; short trips to neighbouring villages; movies; salsa dance lessons; and a dinner and singing every Friday night celebrating the graduation of students. On the first Friday that we were there, we helped Pat and Gail with their graduation presentation (a requirement) by doing a funny puppet show while they played the guitar and accordian and sang a Guatemalan song with some of the words changed to honour the teachers. The second week, we graduated so Pat and Gail accompanied us on ukelele and guitar as we did a puppet play spoof on Bush's leaving as it was the week of Obama's inaugeration. It was all fun.
Our teachers were very serious about their jobs. Chris chose to have a different teacher, Esuardo and Paty, each week in order to learn things a little differently. Domingo, my teacher, was perfect for me so I asked to have him for the 2 weeks. We both made great gains learning all of those darn irregular verbs in the various tenses. Now, we have to try to use them as we continue our travels!
During the first week here, I got Chris' head cold and thankfully after 3 days of a runny nose and stuffiness it went away. It's easy to get medicine here so it was more of an inconvenience than a problem.
One of our trips was to a village, called Chiquilaja (sp) that had an interesting fair going on. It was related to a black Christ figure that had come into the village. The people celebrated by dancing with really outlandish costumes that were supposed to represent the devil and devilish animals. A 13 piece band played outside of the church while they danced. A few of the younger people with us ate some of the fair food and were quite sick the next few days. We knew better, thank heavens.
Earlier, Pat and Gail had found a lovely old colonial house with furnished rooms for rent.After their schooling, they moved in and invited us to move in with them for the 2 more weeks that we were going to stay in Xela. This worked out well for us as we had time to spend with them, playing music or games in the evening, shopping at the market, making dinners and going out on daytrips together.
Our first trip out of Xela was to the huge Sunday market at Momostenango, where they make wonderfully warm blankets, called chamarras. The guide book hinted at this town was just outside of Xela but after a 2 and a half hour, bone jarring ride on a very rough road we arrived at this town in the mountains. We were the only gringos there but as usual in Guatemala we were treated very well. Close to Momo, there are some very unusual crags called Los Riscos that look like stalagtites. We saw a few of them but there was a big area that was full of these strange geological formations. Then we had the ride home. There was some complaining and ibuprofin afterwards...
Another day, we headed out of the city again and went to a great little town called Zunil. There is a women's cooperative there that is trying to keep the art of traditional weaving alive. Everything was beautiful and we wanted to spend lots of money here but ... we have small backpacks... I did buy a lovely vest though. From here, we negotiated a truck ride up the mountain road to Georginas Fuentes. What a spot!!! Huge natural hot tubs in the cool mountains with the clouds moving in on us. The water coming from the volcanic fissure was so hot that it took a lot of nerve or being a male to get close to the mountain. The steam rising from the water was magical and we all loved our swim at this place. We rode down in the back of a pickup, caught a bus and then another bus and then walked home. After a quick dinner we went to bed and slept well!!!
Note - Best rum in world - Guatemalan Zacapa Centenario rum 23 years old