For anyone who knows me or has gotten to know me by reading my blog, it is obvious that I am one who doesn’t like to sit around. I have boundless energy at points that tends to get a little out of whack if I am not moving. I am not good at sitting still. This can be both good and bad. The good is that I’m not a couch potato; instead I am an extremely active and energetic person who can get things done at breakneck speed. The bad is that I really don’t know how to relax and tend to wear myself out to the bones.
Someday, when I’m not so busy raising a family and doing a million things in a day, I will work on gaining more balance in my life. I will take up yoga, learn to sit still and sleep better without jumping out of my bed each morning. But until then, I must deal with the cards I’ve been dealt with and face the facts: I’m kind of hyper.
Given my spirited temperament, you can only imagine how difficult it was for me to be in a new country sitting in a one on one spanish class for five straight hours. I absolutely love to learn but five intense hours holed up in a small room, seated at a desk is not my cup of tea. Thus, when my dedicated and loyal teacher Lili told me about her approach to learning on the road, I was thrilled. This is how it worked.
Leaving Casa Xelaju and taking our class on a road trip…
We would do a good hour or two of straight instruction in the classroom first thing in the morning. During our lesson time, we would cover all the dry, boring yet essential parts of a language, such as grammar, structure, vocabulary and rules. It was intense, difficult and exhausting yet at least we got the hard stuff done. Next, we would hit the road taking our spanish class all around Xela, exploring the ordinary and extraordinary parts of life in a Guatemalan Highland town. This ended up being my favorite part of the class and the main rule was we could only speak in Spanish.
Here are some of the highlights of our classes on the road:
My daily cup of cappuccino which Lili called “mi gasolina” was an absolute must. Guatemala produces huge amounts of delicious coffee however ironically enough all the good coffee gets exported to wealthier countries like the US. Thus finding a good cup of Joe in Guatemala was not easy and most Guatemalans drink instant coffee such as Santa. (I’m sorry but it is undrinkable to me). The best place for coffee in Xela was by far the small local cafe. Lili and I would get a nice table, spread out our books and do our lessons while drinking up “mi gasolina”. The dark, strong flavor was wonderful and the near instant caffeine buzz gave me the pick me up I needed to speak the local lingo (well, sort of).
Another place we explored was the local farmer’s market in Xela. All the nearby farmers brought in their fresh produce and it was a photographer’s dream, had I the time to explore. Besides fruits and vegetables, you can also buy meats, goods and lots of junk. I enjoyed capturing a few photos of the beautiful, colorful veggies.
I could have spend an afternoon at the market trying to capture all its beauty and color. But Spanish class was waiting as well as a stop at the nearby treasure, the well-known Mennonite bakery which is only open two days a week. It was filled with fresh pastries, donuts, breads and pies as well as homemade goat cheese, milk and honey. After munching on a cream puff and buying a dessert for my host family, we continued our exploration of the different districts of Xela.
On Thursday during our class on the road we came across the International Women’s Day Parade (“El Dia de la Mujer”) festivities which I wrote about in an earlier post. I could have hardly believed my luck to witness such a fantastic, beautiful day! I was so inspired by the celebration that I ran home that night writing away so I could post my thoughts and impressions.
A few of my favorite pictures from the celebration are these ones:
The local women watching the parade.
My little adorable friend buying some ice cream.
Finally, Lili and I did some local shopping together on Friday for some treasures for my family and friends. It was my last day in Xela and I had to get some “regalos” for my loved ones. Like many places, all prices were negotiable meaning about 20% off the first price given. I bought handwoven table runners, a Mayan doll for my daughter, a chicken bus t-shirt for my son and a pretty piece of pottery for my husband. I tried to keep my treasure buying to a minimum as I knew that per my husband everything I buy is “subject to the basement”. (This is a running joke between us since I love to buy stuff while traveling which sometimes in my husband’s mind is junk meaning must go downstairs in the basement).
I left Xela on the three o’clock shuttle to Antigua. It was hard to say goodbye because I felt like I was finally getting used to it all. My Spanish had improved at an amazing speed and I was finally feeling adjusted to my surroundings. Then just like that, it was time to go. I hate that part about traveling but what is the alternative? Not going at all?
As the shuttle drove out of town, I pinched myself in disbelief at what a remarkable week it had been. All that I had learned and experienced in such a short while. It confirmed my belief that the best way to travel is to not travel meaning to just blend in. To live in a place, immerse yourself in the language, the food and the culture, and to live like a local. Now that is how to really travel and experience the world.
Stay tuned…Antigua is next! You are in for a real treat!