The first place I visited in Guatemala was Antigua. To get there,I flew from San José, (the capital of Costa Rica) to Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. I had been told by everyone to get out of Guatemala City as soon as possible because it is unsafe, so my plan was to head straight to Antigua. This was actually really easy to do, as there are plenty of minibus shuttles at the airport waiting to take you straight there! I am going to split my time in Antigua up into three blog posts because I ended up spending nearly two weeks there alone, which is more time than I spent in either Panama or Costa Rica! So this first post will be on the main reason I spent so long there – because I spent a week in a Spanish school.
I had signed up to ‘Antiguena Spanish School’ upon a recommendation from a friend, and for one week’s worth of lessons and can not recommend this school enough. I had sent them an introductory email, and the owner of the school had replied immediately with the prices of lessons, along with the price of a week’s accommodation in a homestay. I went with the cheapest option which seemed like a bargain- $100 for five mornings of school and $85 for a seven night homestay which including three meals a day! I will write more about my experience in the homestay in the my next post.
The lessons at school took place from 8am til 12pm, Monday to Friday and then each afternoon from 2pm to 4pm, the school also held cultural activities but these were optional. There was also the option to take your lessons in the afternoon, but I and most others thought it would be nicer to get them out of the way in the morning. I started lessons on the Monday, where I was to meet my teacher Martha at the school office. She then escorted me to the huge garden nearby where lessons took place every day. The garden was beautiful, it meant you had no idea how many other students were in the school at the same time!
The lessons mostly consisted of Martha asking me questions/ describing things in Spanish, which reminded me of my lessons in school- it encourages you to pick it up quickly because you have no choice. The lessons are 1 to 1 which is the best way to learn, because you can really go for it without embarrassment! But it meant I felt pretty isolated especially when Fuego erupted (I will explain more in my next blog post). Around 10am each day there was a half an hour break where you can buy really cheap food, have a coffee and chat with other pupils. There was a roof area where most backpackers sat together- it had an amazing view of the volcanos! Generally at the end of each lesson we played a game in Spanish which was pretty fun- on my first day we played scrabble!
On two occasions, I went to the cultural activities in the afternoons ran by the school. On the Monday afternoon I took part in a city tour around Antigua. The only downside for me was that the tour was entirely in Spanish (which makes sense being run by a Spanish school) but a bit annoying after only having had one lesson- I struggled to understand the history. However it was still interesting as we visited a factory where they were making jade, which had always been an integral part of Mayan culture, and then visited a chocolate factory, because growing cacao is very important to Guatemala. Both were good – the chocolate factory had a load of tasters! But it was very full on, trying to understand the Spanish! It was really nice to see more of Antigua, because it’s a really beautiful city and also to become acquainted with other people at the school.
Then on the Wednesday afternoon, I went on a tour to see the Ciudad Viejo or ‘Old City’. We went via chicken bus – my first time travelling on one! The Ciudad Viejo was actually the capital before Antigua but the city was destroyed by Agua Volcano centuries ago- an eruption triggered a huge landslide and the city was completely buried. Later, everything was rebuilt on top of the original city, but you can still see the very top of the church spires. Bit creepy! The capital had been transferred over to Antigua, and later after some huge earthquakes, was then transferred to Guatemala City. The Cuidad Viejo was a very small low key town now, with hardly any tourists compared to Antigua but a similar looking, very pretty place. That tour was also in Spanish, but after a few lessons and more time with the family it was becoming slightly more manageable to understand- and I asked more people for translations so I got a better understanding.
The last thing the school put on is salsa classes on Monday and Tuesday nights for free in a local dance school. I went to the free class on Tuesday and then paid £2.50 to go back on the Wednesday because I enjoyed it so much. We got taught the basic steps and went over them with different partners until we got them nailed. The teacher was a very flamboyant Guatemalan man who was a fab dancer! It was so much fun and a good way to meet other pupils.
One week in a school was nowhere near enough, if anything it just highlighted how much I still need to learn! It was a really good experience though and I’m really happy I did it. It took me a little while getting used to the routine, as it’s all a different backpacker culture to the hostel/ bar/ moving on quickly culture I’m used to but it was so good to be using my brain! I look forward to the next opportunity to learn more.