After a long day of traveling on Sunday (almost a 5 hour layover in Mexico City), I arrived in Guatemala. Things went smoothly as the director of the Spanish language school I will be taking classes through was there to greet me and take me to Antigua, which is about 45 mins-1hr from Guatemala City. We had a nice discussion about Guatemala, the cities, the classes, my homestay, and all sorts of other things – all in Spanish of course! My host family only speaks Spanish as well, so I’m getting LOTS of Spanish practice and also practice with charades:)
My host family is wonderful – the mother is the one I interact with the most and we have been having great conversations over breakfast, lunch, and dinner which she kindly prepares for me everyday (except the weekends) about everything from the current situation in Guatemala, about organic food, eating healthily, and our families. She is definitely helping me learn new words and proper grammar in Spanish. She also has a beautiful garden in the courtyard of the house full of interesting plants, cacti, flowers etc. It’s very tranquil and refreshing.
I have a big private room and my own bathroom. She keeps everything incredibly clean – it looks brand new although it’s not. Her husband works in construction, and she has two sons. The older one is 14 and the younger one, who is very shy, is 9. There will be another student from my program joining our house on Friday. A full house!
Yesterday was a great day of exploring Antigua. It’s very small (only about 40,000 habitants) and everywhere in the city is very walkable. There’s lots of history as it was the first capital of Centroamerica under the Spanish colonial rule around the 1700’s sometime. All the buildings and cobblestone streets are very ancient, which in Spanish is “antigua.” So it’s not just a clever name hehe. There’s a beautiful central park, lined with lots of trees, a fountain, cathedrals and government buildings. Antigua is full of cool cafes, restaurants, all sorts of shops, and just lots of history with a Spanish colonial/baroque style and flair. The city is also surrounded by 3 volcanoes. The closest to the south is Volcan de Agua and serves as a great landmark if you are lost. The other two are further out and are like siamese twins –Volcan Fuego (which I’m hiking in a couple weeks to raise money for Ecofiltro) and Volcan Acatenango. I went on a walking tour around the city with some students from the language school. Saw cathedrals, the famous Santa Catalina Arch, a jade museum, and an old-fashioned fancy restaurant/hotel called La Posada de Don Rodrigo with pretty courtyards and gardens. One of the students said we had to go in the McDonald’s cause he said it was so nice…and so it was with a beautiful patio overlooking Volcan de Agua and even a pretty fountain. Ronald and I had a nice chat there about Antigua too:)
Highlights so far: my host mother served some cutting edge Chinese/Guatemalan fusion for lunch and dinner yesterday with chow mein wrapped in tortillas/on tostadas with hot sauce. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. She cooks with all sorts of fresh veggies and fruits (delicious papaya this morning with pancakes for breakfast!). I’m also being reintroduced to Tang and Tang-like drinks. I am loving this one green veggie called güisquil, which I think is like a type of squash. I learned that Antigüeños (people from Antigua) call themselves panzas verde – which means “green bellies” – because of all the green vegetables (avocados, güisquil, spinach, etc.) that they eat. Yesterday after the walking tour, one of the students and his friends from his hostel and I went to a free salsa dance class. It was really fun and a good workout too. We learned basic bachata moves and then basic salsa moves. It was a tiny studio, with little wiggle room, but bachata/salsa are all in the hips, so you don’t need so much room.
Today I hung out at a local coffee shop called Cafe Rainbow which has comfy Adirondack chairs to sit in. Every Tuesday night they have a cultural lecture or visit from a local NGO that is working to support different things in Guatemala. This evening they had a group of indigenous Mayan girls from San Andres Itzapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala doing traditional dances. They were raising money for an NGO project called Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn) that is trying to help the Kaqchikel culture’s children get educations as a means for peaceful change in the country, since now it’s hard for indigenous groups to even have access to basic education at any level. It was a great show, and they were so gracious. Manuel was the leader of the group from that village and when I talked to him he was very adamant about having volunteers to help them. He told me there were cheap buses that go there and they have program a few times a week, so perhaps I can arrange to go visit while I’m here or convince some of the others from the field school to join me!
I also did a cooking class today at the language school – we made dobladas, which are like empanadas. We had to first make small tortillas, then fill them with a mixture of vegetables. They fried them up in a pan for us, and topped them with cabbage and salsa – muy deliciosas! My host mother said she’ll show me how to cook some other typical Guatemalan dishes too:)