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Tue Mar 05 2013: Learning in Quetzaltenango

Quetzeltenango is quite a mouthful, but the town is also known as Xela (Shay-La), its indigenous name. It's the second largest city in Guatemala, and it's where we're going to stay for the next week learning more Spanish. As in most Latin American towns, the main square, called Parque Central is where most of the people congregate, day and night, and after classes we take the opportunity to walk around and people-watch.

This church is called Iglesia del Espiritu Santu

Candles vendor outside the church

Intense lunch break at Parque Central

More leisurely lunch break, man's best friend in tow

Neda's Spanish teacher, Susanne. Hours of fun dialog everyday!

Our Spanish school has tables scattered all over the building,
with teachers and students paired off one-on-one

Xela is quite a popular place for Spanish classes. Since it's a university town, there's an air of scholarliness everywhere, and it's not uncommon to see coffee shops and diners filled with students deep in study in a textbook. And the tuition fees are a fraction of what we paid in La Paz! We are amazed at the disparity in prices between the two countries. Mexico now seems like a such first-world country compared to Guatemala in terms of the modernity but also how expensive everything was!

Shopping in the market after classes, schoolbooks in hand

Street vendors having a yak and a laugh

Waiting for a bus

A couple of fellow students took us to their favorite Mennonite bakery
Yummy pastries here!

Spanish is still coming very slowly for me. The accent is a little different from Mexico (they say Guatemalans speak a purer form of Spanish, closer to Spain), and some words are bit different here. Plus I'm not a very scholarly person to begin with... I barely scraped by in school and had (still have) trouble sitting still for long periods of time and concentrating on a single task. Neda is the complete opposite and if she had her wish, she'd be a student for life.

What I really enjoyed about our Spanish school was that every evening, they had extra-curricular activities planned. One night we took some Salsa lessons, and another day, Mario, my Spanish teacher, took us sightseeing. We hiked to the top of a lava dome called El Baul, overlooking Xela to get a better view of the city.

The view was nice, but these slides at the top were way more fun!
Neda may be a bright Spanish student, but she's a little slow at slides...

March beneath our school windows for International Women's Day

Another trivial comparison between Mexico and Guatemala are the size of the food portions. Both our homestay and restaurant meals were very modest-sized and made our Mexican meals seem Texas-Super-Sized. Because I lack self-control when it comes to eating, I'm very glad that the portions here are normal-size and I can feel myself losing the Taco-Gut I gained in Mexico.

Night-time brings out amazing colours in the old city

We passed by this vendor's stall every day on the way home from school

Buildings around Parque Central

Our school is located inside a beautiful colonial building called Pasaje Enriquez,
right in the Parque Central. On the ground floor are several bars and restaurants

On another evening, our school organized a dinner for all the staff and students, and we spent the evening getting to know each other. This was such an amazing opportunity to hear stories very similar to our own. Travellers to Guatemala seem to share that very rare sense of adventure and we all nodded our heads to the familiar questions from back home: "Why on earth do you want to go to Guatemala/Central America/etc?" It was a question that none of us needed to answer, as we already knew.

Birds of a feather, flocking together over dinner

After dinner, we went out to enjoy Xela's very vibrant nightlife

Students and teachers mingle in a nightclub

Peruvian pan flute provides a soundtrack to our lively evening

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