We think our decision to jump ahead and study for a month in Guatemala was a good one. Although not fluent, we are a little more at ease with the Spanish language and can at least converse with people a bit more and definitely understand a lot more. “Poco a Poco” has become a common mantra for us in more than one way.
Mike and I chose a small school in Quetzaltenango (Xela) called Sol Latino. There are many schools to choose from in this area as Xela is known for its Spanish programs and schools, all of which offer one-on-one lessons and various activities such as excursions, salsa, movies, cooking and other cultural activities. In addition to school, Mike and I also chose to stay in home stays and decided to stay with separate families with the hope of learning more Spanish and fully immersing ourselves.
Our Classmates and Instructors at Sol Latino
Our teachers, Kenia and Irina, are amazing and professional with a lot of patience to put up with us for a month. They worked our brains and kept us busy with heaps of homework but we didn’t mind as that is what we came to Xela to do.
Mike and his teacher Irina
Karen, Kenia (her teacher) and beautiful family!
As for the home stay, there were positives and negatives. Overall I think we both expected a more authentic experience from it.
We had the impression that each student is matched up with a family and is taken in by that family. However, understandably with many of the families in Xela, taking in foreign language students is a long surviving way of life and a business. At least in our experience, and it differed from other students in our school, but we ate separately from our host families and in my case I was one of 4-5 students living in the same house at a time so it was hardly an intimate experience. My host family, however was very gracious and if it were not for staying with them we wouldn’t have made some of the great friends like we did in Xela.
Karen’s Room for the month she was in Xela.
Our great group of friends in Xela. It was nice to have a social life again for a while. (Missing our good friend Sarah)
Study is all we seemed to do in Xela but we did get the opportunity for a few weekend jaunts which included a day ride up to El Baúl, a weekend excursion to Lago de Atitilan close to Santa Cruz and finally to the Sunday market in Chichicastenango in addition to spending lots of time with the new friends we had met during our time there.
Cultivated hills outside of Quetzaltenengo (Xela). Unfortunately there is still a lot of slash and burn happening here.
Municipal park of El Baúl.
View of Xela
LAGO DE ATITLAN
Upon arriving in Xela, within moments of the first steps Mike and I took exploring the city a girl approached us and asked us if we were the “Two Wheeled Wanderers”! Turns out she stayed at a WarmShower’s hosts house, Neil Branson, in Seaside Oregon. Sarah and her sister, along with Yogi Peter were with Neil at his bunkhouse in the bush when Mike and I arrived at his place. So only stories had preceded her.
We missed each other again in San Francisco and had finally met up in Xela, Guatemala. We became quick friends and she swept us away to a beautiful little EcoLodge, Isla Verde, close to Santa Cruz on Lago de Atitlan. We were also joined by my housemate Luke, the four of us spent the weekend just hanging out, hiking and swimming.
A view of inside our apartment for the weekend.
Luke and Sarah on the terrace.
Luke, Karen, Mike and Sarah enjoying morning coffee over looking Lago de Atitlan
La comida es muy rica!
San Marcos Volcano
The last weekend in Xela a group ventured by an early morning Chicken Bus to the famous Sunday market at Chichicastenango. Known for for its textiles, goods from several surrounding villages and ancient Mayan traditions we figured we’d try the tourist route for a weekend. The market was full with people, goods and tourists. It was overwhelming for a day and I left with only a few scarves, limited by what we can carry on the bikes, budget and no need for many of the wears being sold.
Pimped out Chicken Buses… a regular form of transportation across the country. Old US school buses meant to seat about 32 people but here easily filled with double the capacity, complete with chickens on the roof and pumping tunes and crazy drivers..
Mike strolling through the regular Sunday Market in Chichicastenango.
Colorful vendors all throughout the market and church steps. Here many of the traditional Mayan ceremonies are still performed.
After a month in Xela, we set off to cycle the Guatemalan Highlands …