Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Antigua's architecture is surprisingly beautiful. We walked around all morning to get a sense of the city and were welcomed on every block with another amazing building. Antigua was the capital until the government decided to move after a major earthquake in the mid-1800s. Therefore the buildings are old, built when Antigua was still the capital, and in a massive state of disrepair due to the numerous earthquakes and lack of maintenance. However, it is easy to sense the majesty the city used to hold, even though only a shadow of it still remains. Antigua is a weekend city and Sunday is particularly festive, which made the streets rather crowded.
We found a terrific restaurant for lunch. Somehow we navigated the all-Spanish menu and dined well on typical Guatemalan entrees. The morning's walk and delicious lunch made us more mellow, so we returned to the hotel. Upon entering the key into the door to our room, it broke off in the lock. Tom used his basic Spanish to explain the situation and had it resolved within minutes.
Later in the afternoon, we returned to one of Antigua's dozen or so Internet cafes. Conexion is lovely. It is one shop around a beautiful courtyard. while one waits for a computer, you can enjoy a frothy cappuccino or limonada. It is bizarre to recognize the juxtaposition of the centuries - an Internet cafe located in an historic building of the 18th century.
We continued to wander until we found a book store with used novels in English and a cafe. We browsed for awhile and decided on a sci-fi for Tom and Clancy's Without Remorse for Louisa. The Rainbow Reading Room served edible, albeit small portions of food for dinner. Tom braved the ludicrous Guatemalan phone system to call home and find out that his Dad made it through his brain surgery and is recovering in the hospital. Bed called early tonight.
The school delivers full service. After the orientation a driver took us to pick up our bags and deliver us to our family, Gladys with two daughters around 15 and 13 and a son who is 3. Our room was tiny and undecorated, with the primitive bathroom directly across the hall. While not the cheeriest home. we are getting the Guatemalan experience.
School was wild. The teachers only speak Spanish, so they talked at us for 5 hours. Wow! What a way to get a headache. Tom's Spanish cassettes seemed to help him our greatly. Theresa, his teacher, earned a masters degree in Education here in Guatemala and has been teaching Spanish for 11 years. She gave Tom homework for the first night.
At the end of the school, Tom turned turned the corner and accidentally bumped into a woman only to look down and realize that it was Sophia Vicent! What a terrific surprise to find her at the same Spanish school. She looks great (as usual) and has enjoyed her first month of traveling.
Four other students, from Germany, Holland, Japan and Germany, are staying with the same family. The six of us share the same table for meals, so both lunch and dinner were quiet affairs for us since the common language is Spanish. After dinner we closed ourselves in our room and savored our English-written novels.
School filled the day. Louisa's frustration level was so high at times, that she decided to change teachers for the rest of the week. Periodically, the school offers field trips to various locations around Guatemala. Students go on the trip with their instructors and learn about the town in Spanish. We signed up for a trip tomorrow to a finca de Cafe (Coffee Plantation) near Antigua.
We tried out on of the lavandera in town and are excited to have truly clean clothes that don't smell like sea water! Somehow we managed to request all of the details, understand the price and when to pick it up. It was rather ugly and encouraged us to study after dinner. We were exhausted fairly early and called it a night. We feel like old fogeys, but perhaps once our minds adjust to the new language, it won:t be so exhausting.
This morning we met a minibus from the school to go to Los Nietos, a small coffee farm about 25 minutes from Antigua. Louisa met her new teacher, Ana, and they chatted a bit on the way up. Meanwhile, Tom asked Teresa for Spanish names for local crops as we passed by them, and promptly forgot all of them.
The farm is actually only 1.5 acres, a retirement home for an American educator who loved Guatemala since he came on a Fulbright years ago. Al and his wife bought the land to build a house on, and decided to keep the coffee plants as decoration. They couldn't let the coffee go to waste, though, so they started to harvest it. This turned into a hobby that is fast approaching a business.
Coffee starts as red beans that are picked by hand. One tree produces thousands of beans, and they ripen separately over a period of months. The "rojos" are run through a machine that removes the outer skin and leaves a hard inner bean covered with sticky stuff. The beans are then soaked in water for several days to remove the sticky stuff - they're done when they feel like gravel. Then these "oro" are laid out in the sun to dry for several more days at least. Once dry, the inner husk is removed, and what remains is an unroasted coffee bean. This is then roasted to taste (dark, light, etc) and ground to make coffee. 100lbs of "reds" makes less than 20lbs of coffee.
Los Nietos has all the equipment necessary to process coffee from beginning to end. They pick about 800lbs of beans on their property, and last year bought 2000lbs from local growers to process. They are trying to market it as pure Antiguan coffee, but because there are no labeling rules for coffee in the States, are having trouble differentiating themselves.
When they bought the land, they dug a well, so they have running water. Since then, they have planted beautiful flowers and put in a fountain. They also grow avocados, bananas, and lemons. They built a dream house, and later a wonderfully decorated guest house. The view of the volcanoes from their rooftop patio is fantastic. They really have created a beautiful oasis.
On the way back, we stopped at a local market, but didn't buy anything. We did try to learn as many new words for things as possible, but we find them tough to remember without writing them down. We got back to Antigua at 11:30, so we took an early break for lunch.
In the afternoon, there was a bit of confusion between Louisa's old teacher and her new one, but Teresa helped us straighten it out with a minimum of embarrassment. We learned lots of irregular verbs, and finally left school with our heads spinning.
Sophia had been taking some salsa lessons, and we were excited to learn, so we went with her to a group lesson. We picked up the basic moves, but it took us nearly an hour just to get the basic steps nailed. The instructor wasn't that great, though.
We then headed home, exhausted, for dinner. We mustered the energy to go out again after dinner, to call MomC for her birthday. We didn't reach her, but left a long message, and sent some email.
School passed like the previous few days with our teachers giving us more information than our minds can hold. Sophia provided the most important learning of the day - how to get hot water in the Guatemalan showers! Since the puny electric heater can only heat a little water on the fly, turning the flow to a trickle makes the water much hotter. Oh what joy this will bring!
During the afternoon break (lunch runs from 12:00 to 2:00) we relaxed at a cafe where we had time to reflect on our experience here... Guatemala, or at least Antigua, appears to be a wonderful and peaceful place. The architecture of Antigua is impressive reflecting the European background of the people who conquered Guatemala. The main difference with Antigua and European cities is the decay of the buildings. The city centers around Parque Central, a rather funny name since no grass grows three. It is a major gathering place for gringos, locals and merchants, especially on Sundays.
Right now we are sitting in the courtyard of a cafe (Cafe Sol on the corner across from La Merced) basking in the warm sun and writing in the journal. The pace of life is quite relaxed and peaceful. The street vendors enter the courtyard occasionally to peddle their goods -nuts, or woven items in bright colors. Most of the cafes play America music circa the 1960's and 1970's (think Beatles, America). Overall, a wonderful place to sit in quaint buildings with flower filled courtyards and relax.
Today Louisa's teacher to her to the beautiful church on the corner, La Merced. Her teacher, an avid Catholic, is a parishioner of La Merced. During their visit, Louisa asked many questions about the church and the icons. However, these questions caused her teacher great concern. Upon leaving, her teacher, who only speaks Spanish, turned pale and asked Louisa if she is an Evangelist! Louisa tried to assure her teacher that she is neither a pagan nor an evangelist which is rather difficult with only a few days of Spanish and a microscopic vocabulary. It turns out that her teacher was not familiar with the Protestant church or Episcopalianism. So, Louisa explained the origins with the King of England, his disagreement with the Pope over divorce, etc... As Sophia says, it is rather strange to have adult conversations in toddler sentences.
After the grueling day, we headed off to a second salsa school with Sophia and Will, another student at school from Pennsylvania. This school had two teachers who focused on giving individual instruction. Tom and I learned a few basic turns. We are enjoying learning another dance, and it is great to get some activity after sitting in a chair all day at school. We turned in early with the prospect of our early awakening tomorrow and the excitement of exploring Tikal.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:54 2008 on