Guatemala Travel Blog› entry 1 of 7 › view all entries
I wanted to immerse myself in Spanish so I stayed with Guatemalan families, which was roughing it a bit, especially the last week where I stayed on the side of Lake Petén Itza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Pet%C3%A9n_Itz%C3%A1) in an indigenous (Indian) village of 3000. It was almost like camping. The family had a non-flush, genuine out-house, and an outdoor camp shower--where you could see the person's head and feet while they're showering. No indoor bathroom. The chickens would come running in and out of the kitchen, and grandma cooked on a wood fire. Of course, the two grandkids were always in the front room watching cartoons on TV. I decided after a month of Guatemala that I'd had enough of trying to relive my rugged youth, so I went running back to comfortable Mexico.
Some of the places of Guatemala are really lush and beautiful. Here's a link to Lake Atitlan, where I went for a while. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lago_de_Atitl%C3%A1n. I hope you can see the picture at the bottom--beautiful. Then partly to save money and partly for the adventure, on my return to Mexico I took chicken buses (http://www.atitlan.com/chickenbus/) from Antigua, Guatemala to the Mexican border, an 8 hour ride, transferring about 3 times. Some of the guidebooks recommend these local chicken buses for the experience. Most of them are old Blue Bird American school buses. Of course, they used to be yellow, but the locals customize them. They still have the bench seats made for children. The favorite part of my trip was listening to two indigenous men speak loudly for about 2 hours. They were sitting near me, but were about 4 seats apart from each other. They were speaking in a Mayan language with a few Spanish words thrown in. Very interesting--to me at least. There are 21 Mayan languages in Guatemala; 40-60% of the people are Mayan; and for a large percentage of them Spanish is their second language after Mayan.
I stayed more than 2 weeks in Antigua, which means "old", because it was the old capital of Guatemala prior to 1773 when a big earthquake destroyed much of the town. Since then a lot of the colonial buildings have been restored, so it is a charming and safe city of about 35,000. It has volcanoes on the South and West, one or two of which are active. One of the main industries of Antigua seems to be its Spanish schools. Almost all of the Spanish instruction in Guatemala is one-on-one, with teachers earning about $3-5 per hour. I paid $100/week for 5 hours of instruction daily, $4/hour, which was pretty good for my teacher, because I paid her directly, and not through a school. She had 24 years experience, was very competent, and we hit it off well. However, in San Jose, the indigenous village where I spent my last week in the country, I had a young indigenous chick, who was kind of cute, and who knew how to teach by the book, but couldn't teach very well at my level. So we spent lesson time mostly talking about her boyfriends, her life, and occasionally some more significant cultural aspects of the village. On the third day she produced a Spanish Scrabble board. We played (totally in Spanish) and I beat her. In her defense, I really took my time. The final, fifth, day she wanted a rematch, and she announced that the winner would be the champion of all time. I realized from her attitude that the relationship of all white men with all indigenous women was on the line, so I lost. Actually she won fair and square. And on that day, June 26, she told me Michael Jackson had died the previous day.