Thanks to our friends and family for waiting impatiently for us to resume blogging! Once we immersed ourselves in Spanish learning, well, we immersed ourselves.
Quetzaltenango is much less touristy than Antigua, and beautiful. Parque Central, below, where I spent much of my time. Check the method: buy Prensa Libre, the best newspaper in Guatemala, buy heated milk with whisky, and these delicious mini-tacos, sit in the sun in the Parque, and you are in heaven for 20 minutes. Then you get another milk with whisky.
Joe on El Quetzal Spanish School
Tim found the school, El Quetzal, and we started our immersion that afternoon. Five days a week, we both enjoyed five hours of one-on-one tutoring in Spanish. The teachers at El Quetzal do not speak in English at all, although most understand it to some degree. Tim’s teacher, Linda, is getting her degree to be a teacher, and Joe’s teacher Byron is a lawyer. Tim’s Spanish improved greatly, but I think that I benefited the most, as I went from barely understanding Spanish to being able to hold a basic conversation.
Actually Tim thinks he benefited more, since he went from being able to survive to holding conversations and reading the newspaper. Agree to disagree…San Diahgo…
Everyday, for me, started with about 30 minutes of conversation, then went to correcting my homework. By the end of the three weeks, my final test comprised of a 2 page essay describing our journey in the past, and how it would be in the future, and 15 minutes of impromptu storytelling about two pictures my teacher showed me. It wound up being about how the Navy is helping the rebels in Libya… nice.
We both whole-heartedly recommend El Quetzal to anyone considering immersion school. The teachers are all excellent, and we thoroughly enjoyed our three weeks there.
Joe at Fuentas Georginas
A different weekend, I went to the Fuentas Georginas, some natural hot springs. Hot was one way to put it. I hopped into what I thought was the least hot pool, and yelped. It turns out it was the coolest. The next one wasn’t really much different, but the third. Holy Cow. Me and my friend Matt stepped in and immediately jumped out, our feet scalded. We eventually got all the way in, and the locals filmed us. They couldn’t believe their luck! We were the first tourists that weekend that had gotten in. We sat there for about 5 minutes, but it only got more painful… there was no getting used to it. After I returned to the first pool, a local swam up.
“Did you get in the hot pool?”
“I saw that. You are very strong.”
It seems that the locals actually have a contest of manly strength and toughness, using the hot pool to separate the men from the boys. 5 minutes was evidently more than acceptable. Having sat in there for 5 minutes, I can say with authority that is the dumbest and most painful contest of manliness out there. Except for maybe David’s belly flop competitions. Those are pretty dumb too.
On Fridays, the school offers free English lessons, using volunteer students. The class usually runs about 2 hours. The first time I went, I was the only teacher there. “Well, time to learn to teach English!” Below, a class with more teachers, so I could teach one-on-one. Herman is a really good student.
Tim climbs a volcano
One week, we climbed a local extinct volcano. At the top, I decided to do some rock-climbing to the very peak. Unfortunately I went up the hard way. All the way up, I heard Eber and Joe: “Cuidado, amigo! Cuidado!” “Don’t do it, man! Seriously, bad idea!” Joe was mentally drafting letters of notification for my death. Afterward, I told Eber, “You know, there was all this graffitti up there. I think other people climbed up there too.” “Well, yeah,” he said, “but with cords!” My bad.
Other than school, one week we went to school every night for Salsa. Tim took a few private lessons as well. The dance teachers here assume that if you can perform a step correctly, you can always do it correctly and move on to the next one, so we learned rather quickly. The week ended with us both able to toss a girl in the air and catch her, upside down, on our leg, then toss her back up and keep going. Why our teachers trusted us to do this without killing them, I don’t know, but we both pulled it off pretty well.
Tim tells you about visiting the school in the mountains
One Friday everyone in the school loaded up in the back of a pickup and drove up into the mountains to visit a small school and work with the kids. For the record, putting 19 people in an 1990 Ford Ranger is possible, though perhaps not advisable. I was one of the six people standing up in the bed of the truck as we roared down the road. “We’re totally going to die, ” I said to Eber. “Ah,” he smiled, “but with dignity.”
Then the truck couldn’t go up the mountains with all of us, so four of us had to get out and walk for a while, before we hitched a ride with someone else. Finally we got there.
The kids drawing (one of us gringo students bought all the materials). The little fellow on the right will be president of Guatemala someday; after each step he jabbed my arm with his finger to show off his work. Assertive little guy. The little girl just sat and stared at the paper at first. I took a yellow crayon and demonstrated. She shyly began scribbling with the yellow crayon in the precise area I had just colored. Slowly she branched out…more colors were brought in…and colored like a pro.
Cap’n, we got a Cling-On!!
So, we met this cool Australian person we like to call our wallaby mascot.
We gave her a ride from Chichicastenango (biggest market in Guatemala) back to Quetzaltenango, went to salsa classes together, and just hung out. She’s brought us luck so far, so she’s clearly doing her job as mascot.
Okay, maybe that’s not how the psalm goes. We tagged along with Rachel to Lake Atitlan, which is a pretty sweet place. Since she’d been there before, it was like having a guide, but cheaper! We stayed for a few days in San Pedro.
Ah, Antigua, the biggest tourist draw in Guatemala. Really gorgeous, but full of gringos.
Today we start making tracks in earnest for El Salvador. Onward Christian soldiers…that’s all for now folks, stay tuned!