A Travellerspoint blog

Español (W6): The Cold from Hell

Japanese lunch, baños calientes, lots of hot chocolate and pan, a night of sangria and music, a story from the war, a shopping spree and a trip to Momostenango (how did I have time to have a Cold with all the going on? Who knows!!)

This week both started and ended well, but there was a little hiccup in the middle with a bad cold, but we will skim over that and talk about the more interesting parts of life!

My teacher this week was Ana, a lovely teacher-come-lawyer; she is a very good teacher and is studying law in her spare time.

Me and Ana enjoying our lessons.

This week, Monday’s documentary was excellent, Grain of Sand written by an America documentary film maker about the court case against the man who was the leader of Guatemala during the war; an exceptionally moving Documentary.

Tuesday I went to lunch with two girls from my house at a very tasty Japenese restaurant near to the large Market of Xela. I also went out in the evening, as a girl from the school got a gig in a local coffee-shop-come-bar and had a very nice time, speaking spanish (after a couple of Sangria’s) with two Guatemalteco friends-of-friends.

Wednesday I went on a trip with the school to some naturally hot baths in Chicovix, lovely large and warm swimming pool, and some very hot individual baths, just big enough to squeeze three and there being 6 of us on the trip from the school we split three and three (boys and girls) to bath in the super hot (and really relaxing water).

We will quickly skim Wednesday night through Friday … and say only that I drank lots of hot chocolate, and had three very early nights.

By Saturday I was thankfully feeling rather more spritely, thankfully, as I would have hated to have missed the amazing trip we went on with the school on Saturday. We to a local mountain, where during the war there was a Guerrilla Encampment, we were led there by an ex-Guerrilla, at a half run, which felt like part of the experience. He told various stories about his time there and about trips to and from there on the road, and when we got there, he spoke to us about a normal day in the life of a Guerrilla (who wasn’t in combat). It was truly fascinating.

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Us on the path there...

Saturday afternoon, I managed to find time to buy my Xela earrings, cannot believe it took me so long! And to go on a book-buying shopping spree; buying 5 new books! It was definitely worth it…

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My lovely new Earings (left), the book buying spree (right)

Then on Sunday, after walking round the town square and staring at the locals making fascinating pictures on the ground for the last weekend in the festivities of the month of the Virgin (which virgin I am not quite sure, but an important one seemingly), I went with Derek to Momostenango, a small town about an hour outside of Xela, with a lovely church, a huge market, some fascinating rock formations and some hot baths … which I unfortunately had to skip – they were a very local affair, actually for washing rather than for relaxing and all the women went in fully clothed and I decided walking around totally soaked so soon after having such a bad cold wasn’t exactly the smartest thing to do… And finally on the way back, I was introduced to a new bread shop! I am looking fwd to some english muffins for breakfast...

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The town square preparations for the festival

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The sandstone formations

…and that was my week, I got back just in time for Sunday dinner (a wonderful veggie chill), and am looking forward to an early night reading one of my new books.

Posted by marajade1_200 20:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Español (W5): The Week of Chocolate and Cake

Two packages from home, six chocolate bars, a key lime pie, a chocolate cake, and Belgium chocolate mouse. A good week for desert, but a bad week for calories…

My teacher this week was Doris, and together we practised more subjunctive (the dreaded Spanish “extra” tense), and we practised my listening skills using the old fashioned method (cassettes and video tapes).

Me and Doris, me looking studious as ever...

There were also various activities this week with the school, I watched the documentary Voices of the Mountain, about a Guatemalan community I have visited, and I saw the film La Otra Casa on Wednesday, a very interesting film about a business man in a Guatemalan prison.

I went to two conferences. The first from Ceipa a charity organisation supporting child labourers in Gautemala (legally and educationally), we went to their offices for the talk and received a tour of the facilities afterward. The second conference was with Codisra the organisation against discrimination and racism in Guatemala. Both were very interesting subjects and hopefully bit by bit these things are improving my Spanish listening skills.

On Friday (as well as making the key lime pie for the internation dinner at school) I went on a trip to Salcaja, a small Guatemalan town very famous for making fabric and for making the traditional skirts all the indigenous women in Guatemala wear.

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...we saw all parts of the process, from making the thread

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... to making the material ...

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...to the skirts and the threads sold in the shops...

...we also tasted a traditional local drink...

...and visited a very famous church, the oldest church in Central America built in 1524!

Outside of school activities, I have been out to dinner with some of the girls from school, trying a rather nice French restaurant and sampling some wine whist spending the evening speaking Spanish. I also went to coffee and cake again with my friend Derek on Saturday (again good Spanish speaking practise) and I helped cook dinner at the house on Sunday, we had mousakka, pasta salad, potato cakes, and a broccoli / cauliflower mix. I was in charge of making the pasta salad, so obviously I decided to make “The Best Macaroni Pasta Salad Ever", and I even learnt how to roast pepers!

Posted by marajade1_200 19:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Español (W4): La Escuela de la Montaña

Beautiful surroundings, local food, studying in a “ranchito” and making empanadas the “real” way; this is what the mountain school is about.

It is officially the end of my fourth week of Spanish study, and this week has been an eventful week both in the activities I’ve taken part in and academically as well. I have been moved into C1 the “advanced” level of Spanish, and I have pretty much finished the Spanish grammar; well the first pass of it anyway!!

My study plan for this week with "advanced" written at the top!!

As mentioned previously I left the town of Xela for the week to visit the mountain school, situated within the small communities of Fatima, Nuevo San Jose and Santa Domingo.

The local villages were very poor and the streets and sourrounding housing was in disrepear but the school was in a lovely setting, and you could see why they have it there the rural community is in need of the extra work and the extra money that the school and the students provide.

It felt very remote there was literally nowhere to go but the school grounds and the local villages to go during the day and but for a few small shops, a church, an internet café and the candle workshop there were nothing much to do apart from our homework. But the school building and the gardens were a very nice place to both relax and study, the coffee was miles better than the coffee in Xela and the bedrooms were very cosy, with lots of blankets, needed to keep out the chill of the evenings!

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The sign welcoming us "home" (left) and the school entrance (right)

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My bedroom and the classrooms or “ranchitos”, as they called them

And there were many other little nocks and craneys of the school perfect for studying, not forgetting…

…the hammoks…

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…the kitchen, the library and the little back room…

Me hard at work!!

My teacher this week was Tito, a very lovely 30 year old man with a love of talking about his son, and his strong opinions on almost every topic! It was a very interesting week and despite spending a lot of time talking we also covered a lot of Spanish grammar.

Me and Tito

We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with a local family and mine were lovely; they were small but house of twelve (or 13 including me as the mum said). There was mum and Dad and 5 children, then two of the girls were married (with both partners living with the family as well) and then the older girl had 2 children of her own and the younger girl had one child. A very family; thankfully they were never all their at once!! But life was always intersting with them; the kids were always there, either entertaining me or getting me to entertain them (I was never quite sure), the older girl they took me on a trip to the corn grinder one day and the mum taught me to make tortillas another day; one day they were selling corm on the cob through their front room and another day they had 18 really cute baby chicks in their front room... as I said never a dull day!

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Me with the women of the family (left), the tortialla making (right)

One of the dinners they made me

The school also put on lots of other activities to fill the afternoons; I went on a guided walk of a local abandoned coffee finca; we made empanadas the real way (moulding the tortilla dough in our hands), and with the fresh maiz they were delicious; we had two different presentations from locals about the history of the local area; we had “graduation” dinner on Friday where I had to say something in Spanish in front of the students and families (my first time speaking Spanish in front of a crowd) and then we had a trip on Saturday to the La Florida coffee finca, a community owned farm that grow coffee, bananas and plantain and produce honey; we were given a tour of the farm, a talk about the history of the community and how they came to own their own farm (a rare occurrence in Guatemala).

The walk through the abandoned coffee finca

My cirtificate from "graduation" on Friday

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Honey, coffee plants and coffee beans from La Florida

All in all a lovely week, and a relaxing Saturday evening reading in the hammok and then in bed to top it off before coming back to Xela on Sunday! And now another week of city life to look forward to!

Posted by marajade1_200 19:52 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Español (W3): A Very Studious Week

Breakfast, classes, lunch, study, dinner, study, sleep…


This week has been very different from the first two weeks, I have actually knuckled down this week and done some study. My teacher Ailsa this week has been the best so far; I’ve read lots of Ann Frank, read some other short stories (ledgands from different countries in Central America infact), we've chatted lots, done lots of grammar (including more of the scary "subjunctive"), I've written three letters, and I've even read the newspaper. Ailsa gave me loads of homework and (being the little swat that I am) I loved it, and the more she gave me the harder I worked; meaning I was working 8-10hr a day every day this week.

Me and Ailsa, again pretending to study but what can you do? It is a photo after all!!

So whilst I was a little busy (studious) bee, I did still manage to get quite a few other things in... during the week I didn’t go on any of the excursions with the school, choosing instead to spend my afternoons working, but I did watch the documentary on Monday (after a famous Costa Rican man who was a soldier in the U.S. Army, deserted and then became a famous figure in the anti-war campagin) and I watched the film (a very cheesy Cuban love story). I also went out to dinner with another student on Wednesday (a chance to eat and speak Spanish at the same time – how could I refuse… I also suggested it, but that isn’t the point); we went to “Sabor de India”; a very nice Indian restaurant, and the first Indian food I’ve eaten since I left London, so quite a treat! And finally I went to the International and Graduation Dinner on Friday at the school; and the other students LOVED my banoffee pie... I never actually realised Bannoffee Pie was English, but turns out I actually cooked something English this week!!

Saturday, I went out for lunch and tried the food at cafe RED which was quite good. I also visited another two very nice cafés. I went to the &café after lunch (studying and chatting in spanglish with fellow PLQ students); &café is right on the main square and looks very swish and modern; I had avoided it until now because it is quite expensive but now I’ve tried it I am hooked, the coffee is delicious, the staff are absolutely lovely and the chairs are comfy (what more could you need?). Then in the late afternoon I went to “Dos Lobos” (with Derek), a very cute, cheap and out of the way café run by a lovely foreign couple, where (surprise, surprise) I drank some more coffee and ate a delicious chocolate and courgette muffin (a strange combination, but perfect all the same). On the way back home I walked through the main square of Xela, which has been totally converted (for the festival of some virgin or the other) into what I can only describe as a fairground-slash-christmas-market type affair; where I managed to get lost (an impressive feat in such a small space), and to buy a the local version of mulled wine, a hot fruity cocktail style drink with some unknown liquored added; it wasn’t quite as good an mulled wine, but still, a nice end to a nice day.

And Sunday; tomorrow, I am going to “la Escuela en la Montana” to spend a week relaxing, studying and enjoying the Guatemalan countryside. I’ll let you know how the rural life goes.

Posted by marajade1_200 20:33 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Español (W2): More Fun and More Spanish

Another adventurous week of school, excursions, yoga, hot chocolate and all you can eat dim-sum-dumplings (obviously).

semi-overcast 15 °C

This week has been just as crazy as last week, but with a little bit more studying outside of class; I am a good girl and I do my homework (even if it means getting up an hour earlier and doing it just before class…) !!

Outside of school, I’ve been to an all you can eat dim-sum-dumpling party to celebrate the Birthday of one of my flatmates; I’ve been to another movie-night and two more yoga sessions; I’ve found two awesome places to drink hot chocolate and a shop that sells the most delicious dark chocolates you can imagine…

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...one of the amazing hot-chocolate shops...

...the amazing chocolate shop...

...I’ve had Taiwanese take-out twice (on the recommendation of a Guatemalan); I’ve been out for breakfast at one of my favourite coffee shops from last week; and I’ve been introduced to another cute little coffee shop slash hostel called "Nim Sut" that an amazing view of Xela from it's roof top cafe and has the cheapest cup of ground coffee that I have found so far in Xela (6.5Q; about 50p). I will definitely be going back). I was taken there by an America guy (called Derek; who I met at all-you-can-eat-dim-sum-dumpling-night) and who, refreshingly, is the first foreigner I’ve met here who is more than happy to speak Spanish with me non-stop! Not even my school friends (who I would have thought would all want to speak spanish) seem up for that.

Monday was my first lesson with my new teacher; Ruth (as I read on the board). We got off to a bad start however, when I excitedly told her that my mum is also called Ruth! She shook her head sadly and told me very firmly that a lot of other students have also made this mistake, but whilst my mother might indeed be called Ruth, she is most definitely called “Root”. But, after resolving this small misunderstanding we seemed to get on well, bonding over a common love of mildly scandalous gossip or “chisme” as they call it here.

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Root's very organised desk (left) and me and Root studying (right)

I again spent the majority of the week revising topics I’ve done already, whilst chatting a lot and on the urgings of my new teacher making a better start on “El Diaro de Ana Frank” (which I purchased about 4 months ago in Antigua and had barely started until now). We also started studying “the subjunctive tense” a new tense for me; and one that is both very complex and that we don’t have in English … wish me luck with that!!

Throughout the week I again have done various activities with the school, as with last week and with every week here, they seem to strive to keep us thoroughly entertained …

On Monday, I watched an inspiring documentary on a football team of Guatemalan prostitutes called “The Railroad All Stars” or “Estrellas de La Linea”. It was exceptionally interesting, both in getting an insight into these peoples lives and in seeing the publicity and support they got for this endeavour.

On Wednesday we went to Los Vahos, a natural sauna house built over the seam vent of one of the local volcanoes. It was a lovely walk there and in a beautiful setting. We had our own private this “bath house” where there was a changing room, an entry room with a shower and then two steam rooms; one “warm” room, where you sweated a lot but didn’t feel too hot and then one “hot” room where I felt like I was being cooked alive and had to vacate after less than a minute! Despite the chilly air of Xela the cold shower was welcome after that! I left feeling surprisingly refreshed and alive; I think it might be the first time I’ve really felt better after a suna!

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Views on the walk up

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Us on the walk (left) and the steam coming out of our suna room (right)

Then Wednesday evening we watched the film Frida, about the life of the Mexican artist. It was a very good film, but unfortunately in English not Spanish, and I was too lazy to try and read the Spanish subtitles… but the company and the hot chocolate were good even if it wasn’t a very productive Spanish learning evening.

On Friday we went on another trip, this one to Zunil (a vegetable growing town); where we saw San Simon again (the Mayan spirit in puppet form) this time he was being danced around as part of a festival, which was different;

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...we also went to a weavers co-operative to view (and buy) some local products...

...we saw the very pretty local church...

...and we visited the local bulk-buy market...
Where shop keepers and stall holders from other towns to buy there good.
Quite a different feel to a regular market.

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...we also saw some nice views...

...and got a lift back in a pickup.

Friday evening, we had a Cena Tipica (a typical local dinner), and we went out afterwards to a near-by bar owned by one of the ladies who works at the school.

On Saturday we went to Santa Anita, a (not-as-local) community of ex-war-combatants with links to the school, which was approximately 3hrs away on the bus.

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Some of the murials for the war effort.

The community own a coffee farm, which we were given a tour of; we then ate a very nice lunch during which we were given a talk about the community.

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A local girl picking coffee (left) and a small waterfall within the finca (right)

Unfortunately it wasn’t the best day out for me; whilst is was a beautiful place (as you can see from the pictures) and there was gorgeous food (two things that would normally, together, more than satisfy me); the roads were terribly windy and I got really rather travel sick (both on the way there and the way back). On top of this I managed to fall over face-first down a little hill, hitting the funny bone in my knee so hard that not only did I nearly faint with the pain (as I always do when I hit that point of my knee). I was also hobbling around the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday! I decided to make it up to myself when I got home with take-out dinner and a quick visit to my newly found chocolate supplier, before curling up in bed watching some West Wing, starting a new book and having an early night.

Posted by marajade1_200 20:34 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

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