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Here we present unique adventures from the modern society and lifestyle.

Learning Spanish in Xela, Guatemala! Part 2 of 2!

2007-05-29
Once in Antigua I heard the terrible news: Luke failed to get signed up and was only starting. I did want to go to El Salvador with Luke, though, and I was beginning to think that my Spanish could do with some classes too, so with a heavy heart I decided to stay and look for classes in the morning.
atitlan,xela,Guatemala

Photo. Atitlan in Guatemala. © Alex Welsh.

Later at night I was drowning my sorrows in Guinness, at the local command & control unit of the Irish Empire. This is when God heard my pain. He sent me a bunch of jolly Americans who were awfully nice to spill the beans about Xela.

Next morning, carefully avoiding to dirty anyone’s designer fashion with my backpack, I walked to the bus station and caught a GuateGuate!!!!! to Xela.

Quetzaltenango, aka Xela, is the second largest city of Guatemala, I think. As soon as I got off the locals began looking at me with curiosity, like what the hell is he doing here? Good sign. I like Xela a lot. It’s a big city but it had this warm sunny vibe on the streets by day, really mellow and totally authentic. The people just went about their business, but courteous and nice. A little too dark by night though.

It turned out Xela is the underdog for Spanish classes in Guatemala. Staying here is a real cultural submersion, schools are numerous and the number of foreigners is just about perfect – not too many to invade and enough to have a drink with if you fancy. The prices were lower than in Antigua – 100 bucks for a week (6-7 hours a day, one-to-one) with a very good school and about half of that with private teachers or less established schools.

I had been recommended a school, and I was already a day late for that week, so I was just going to go with that one, although I got a bit freaked out by the fact it had a school bell for lunch etc. My assigned teacher was an easy-going and giggly young lady. The beauty of having such a private on-to-one is that you can call the shots if you know what your language needs. She tried to drag me through the thorns of the grammar but, with so little time, I wanted it more conversational. She would keep trying to get me talking on the-book-is-on-the-table kind of topics like family, my country, my hobbies. I kept diverting it to sex, drugs and tips on catching Cuatemalan women: since I was in school in the middle of a backpacking trip, I did have to at least keep myself entertained. Piously perplexed at first, she eventually surrendered and even showed a cute curiosity for those topics. Which was much more merciful than Luke's fate: his teacher was a feisty evangelist and she would not let the conversation stray away from the Lord.

I stayed in a nearby hostel Argentina, where most travellers tend to stay. There was a bizarre neighbourhood watch arrangement: at 9 o’clock a group of 10-14 youths would come out in balaclavas and ski masks, with baseball bats and all other kinds of close-quarter combat melee weaponry, and…well...keep the neighbourhood safe, very actively. One of the guys in the hostel wasn’t aware of it and had to take a lengthy detour on his way home one night when he saw them outside the hostel. Too right, you’re not gonna think they are security, are you?

Word of warning if you think those guys look cool: don’t take photos! Many Guatemaltekas believe that photos steal your spirit, and you really don’t want to be informed of this by a bunch of youths in ski-masks and with baseball bats.

There are a few nice mellow bars to go to for a drink at night, and salsa nights for foreigners. While you are learning to speak you may as well learn to walk, again not very expensive and salsa teachers are abundant. You can’t take your guns to the bars though, unfortunately, as the signs in the venues tell you, so people have to resort to breaking bottles over each other’s heads.

Walking around the tombstone shops of Xela one afternoon (there are lots of them, business must be good…) I met Sary on the central Plaza. She is a sweetest little thing and I wish I had met her before signing-up. She has her own school, at lower price, complete with accommodation, breakfast and an art gallery. Us and her friend went for some salsa and had a fantastic night. Her site appears to be down right now, but if you do go to Xela to learn Spanish do try to sign up with her, she’s such a sweetie. I hope the webmaster won’t mind: www.learn2speakspanish.com.

All in all I was happy with this turn of events. Go to Atitlan if you want peace of mind, “peace” in the pipe, tranquillity, lake, mountains and an international village. Go to Antigua if you want an international hangout with all amenities. But if you’d rather not stop cultural immersion and / or don’t want to get sucked into an over-developed location just because you can’t say “Cuanto cuesta…?”, Xela is the answer.

Alex Welsh, 29 May 2007

Additional information
Alex is the webmaster of Valencia Tourist Information - an independent resource on travelling in Valencia, Spain - www.valenciavalencia.com.

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