Studying and Playing
13 December 2012 | La Antigua, Guatemala
Beth / 80's daytimes -cool nights
What a treat it has been to spend over a week here in La Antigua. We exercised our brains in the mornings, our legs in the afternoons, and our elbows and jaws in the evenings.
We chose the PLFM Spanish school for a couple of reasons – it gets good reviews generally and it is one of the oldest language schools in Antigua, teaching Spanish and supporting Mayan languages. Jim and I each had our own teacher, one on one from 8 to 12 for 6 mornings (Wed to Fri and Mon to Wed) and we chose a homestay to gain extra practice and to save money. Jim had a good match with his teacher right from the start. Although I was hesitant to do so, I asked for a change after 3 days because it didn’t seem like I was getting the most from the experience, and that turned out to be the right thing to do. The director of the school had no problems making a switch and my new teacher was both more skilled and easier to understand. A number of other students had been there for several weeks, and while we admired their dedication, a week was enough for us right now. The homestay was interesting and I’m glad we did it, but it was not totally successful and we ended up eating several meals elsewhere.
The tutoring cubicles at PLFM are scattered through a lovely garden and it was a pleasing place to study. Both staff and students enjoyed conversation and typical treats at “recess”. Local women came with their baskets of tortillas, tamales, tostadas, tacos (which in Guatemala are crispy cylindrical tortillas). My favourite snack was a crispy tortilla topped with guacamole, shredded cabbage, cheese and a dab of salsa. Mmmmm. A jeweller was there one day to sell his work, and we bought beautiful sterling silver quetzal earrings for Mary Beth. On another day, Raphaela displayed exquisitely woven and embroidered textiles. I spent some more money that day! But oh – her work was beautiful! And she was so dignified and gracious – not pushing me to buy anything, but clearly proud of her work and pleased to see it appreciated.
Carmen, my teacher, and I strolled up and down the pathways and pored over the books on our table as I plucked words from my overstuffed brain and strung together awkward sentences. She was so good at gentle corrections, and we laughed a lot – so much that Jim and his tutor, Marina, had to move farther up the garden because they said we made too much noise! We bought ourselves the Rosetta Stone program for Christmas and will continue to study over the winter – as well as talk with the locals during our travels and market excursions.
On the weekend, we left town to go to Lago Atitlan and Chichicastenango, which I have written about in other posts, but we made good use of our afternoons and evenings in Antigua. Another couple of hours were spent each day on homework, often back at the school where we could combine it with internet connections, yet we found time to wander through the cobblestone streets, past the many ruins for which Antigua is famous, poking our heads through open doors to see lovely courtyards and discovering a great bar and a fine restaurant thanks to new school friends. We joined Allison and Garry (from Vancouver) and a number of other folks at the Ocelot down near the main square. It was a fun place – with a photo of cigar smoking Maximon among other celebrities on the wall – and a good happy hour from 5 to 6. (Somehow or other, our footsteps led us back there more than once!) On their recommendation, we ate dinner at Hector’s – on the corner just across from La Merced church – in our own neighbourhood. This fascinating little space is marked only by a small H on the door – created from a knife, fork and spoon, and a sign inside that says, “Yes, this is Hector’s”! The menu is short and fabulous – we had chicken one night and beef bourguignon another night and we enjoyed a lively dinner with Amy and Bruce whom we’d met on the lancha in Lake Atitlan. (I still absolutely love the ease with which new friendships are made in this travelling life.) We ducked our spoons into fragrant and delicious caldo real (chicken soup that makes a whole meal) at La Fonda de la Calle Real on 3a Calle Poniente, and we sat in a window seat sipping a cool white wine at an elegant little wine store near the square. (Oh gee – I seem to have gone on and on about food once more – I wonder why that is!!)
A highlight of the week was the opportunity to meet up with Marianne and Wyllys again. We met them last year when we were scooped off the street for lunch at Meson Panza Verde with Santiago and his friends. As former cruisers, they keep up the same pattern of exclaiming, “Be sure to call when you are in town!” So of course we did, and were treated to a most wonderful evening in their lovely home. We sat on the roof to watch the end of the sunset, enjoyed dinner on the patio by their lush green courtyard, and admired the beautiful workmanship of the local artisans who built their home.
Along with all this fine dining, we joined the throngs of people up by the service station for Quema del Diablo – huge crowds gathered to watch as the giant devil topping a bonfire was set alight. Apparently it is a time for houses to be cleaned and waste gathered together into fires. If the crowd there was anything like the Samana Santa crowds that are all over the city at Easter, it is no place for the claustrophobic. It was a happy throng of families, loud music and lines of stalls with street food, but I like such places better in the daylight and when I’m not being crushed on all sides. The Parque Central remains a lovely place to stroll or sit on a bench and watch the comings and goings. We like it in the evenings when there are not so many hawkers and shoeshine boys looking for business – so many shoeshine boys that Jim made sure he wore sandals whenever we went there.
The day before we left, there was yet another festival. This was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the grounds of La Merced Church. Dozens of children were dressed in typical costumes, the girls with embroidered dresses and the boys in little suits with red trim and straw hats – and oddly, moustaches painted on their faces! Many little photo stations were set up with pictures and statues of the Lady, and offerings of food and animals. Photographers were ready to take pictures of the children in much the same way as Canadian children pose for photos with Santa.
Soon enough, our week was over and we took a taxi back to Guatemala City, staying at Villas Toscana once more, before catching an early morning flight home to Nova Scotia for the Christmas season with our families.