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Back to School in San Pedro

Our time in San Pedro La Laguna where we did a crash course in Spanish and became a part of another family.

View The Gap Year on Lewis_E's travel map.

Lets rewind a bit.. So when we planned this trip we thought our Spanish would be good enough to travel so long as we could keep learning phrases and use the smartphone app Duolingo. As we had gone through Spain and the rest of Europe we thought how hard can it really be? We received a swift reality check when we arrived in Mexico. This made us realise how difficult, although possible it was going to be travelling with very minimal Spanish. Our problem was for us to engage in conversation with the locals or even to understand the people we needed a good grasp of the language ASAP. So we booked a week at Orbita Spanish school in San Pedro La Laguna and departed Lanquin at 6am in another uncomfortable shuttle!


It was pretty much a 15 hour rollercoaster ride with hundreds of speed bumps, gravel roads and many stops to get to our destination. No aircon, a couple slurping over each other in the back and the road works all made for an uneventful day. So essentially we wasted a whole day in a van thanks to the lack of infrastructure invested in this beautiful country. Fast forward 15 hours and we arrived in San Pedro a semi-large town that sat on Lake Atitlan. The town really has two parts…Gringo lane and the rest of town. When we arrived at 7pm we made our way to the school to meet the headmaster and meet our host family we would be staying with. We were briefly introduced to our hosts Dominic and Linda and his parents Juan and Elena. We were really lucky that Dominic could speak a little English as most other host families cannot speak English at all. We got placed in nice room with en-suite bathroom. Linda and Elena would be cooking all the meals for the week. We rushed out for a quick Italian dinner of pasta and pizza before catching up with the host family and getting prepared for the first day of school in a long time. First day we arrived at school and meet our teachers, Michelle's teacher, Manuel was great and could handle how fast she wanted to learn and understand the Spanish language. I had Maria, she was lovely but spoke no English.


The week flew by with Michelle cooking dinner with the family and showing her expert chopping skills. She also got used to cooking on a wood-fired oven. The following morning Dominic took us up Indian Nose for sunrise. We awoke at 3.30am and jumped on the 4am chicken bus. The chicken bus is a decorated ex-American school bus that usually overflowing with people. Michelle sat with 4 people on one seat and I had no seat. The bus was crazy! This is how people get to work and school here in Guatemala to the city or the towns on the way. It imprinted on to us even more how hard the Guatemalan people work to get by and look after their families. We jumped off the bus after an hour and started the long hike up the mountain. At this point Michelle died of exhaustion but pushed herself to the end as we were some 2500m above sea level so the altitude made our lungs burn. When we got our seat at the top it was all worth it. The sun rose and the lake glimmered. It was spectacular and worth the early wake up. We headed back on a collectivo (a van full of people and produce for the market in the village for San Pedro). The van struggled up and down the hills. When we arrived in San Marcos. All of the produce being offloaded from the top explained the problem. There was chicken, sacks of corn, flowers, sacks of vegetables, fruits, leaves, sticks...pretty much anything you could think of. The day at class went surprisingly well but when we got home we slept the whole afternoon. On Thursday afternoon the school set up a Teachers vs Students game of football, we didn’t think it would go down well as football is the national sport in Latin American countries but it was the results that counted and we whipped them good until they tweaked the rules as I don't think they appreciated losing! We arrived home on Friday to Linda and her nieces making Chocolates for the Festival. They were to be sold off to the neighbours for the festival so hot chocolates could be made. It was cool to watch the process and see how raw this version of hot chocolate was. We even got to drink hot chocolate with our breakfast the next morning. Needless to say it was potent and delicious. Not too sweet which to me was perfect. Hot chocolate here is made with water rather than milk and they have a cool stick they rub between there palms to mix the chocolate in and make the mixture froth.


During the week of class we focused on learning how to speak in present tense and steadily improved our Spanish to the point where we were able to understand our host family and have a basic conversation with them. Because we were enjoying our first week so much and our Spanish was rapidly improving we opted to stay an extra week. This also meant we were able to stay for the San Pedro festival week. After discussing how classes were going with Renee, I opted for a teacher with more English for my second week. Michelle pushed for it as she explained that there was no way I could learn if I couldn't be taught the principles. I felt bad as Maria was a lovely person and was a great teacher, I just needed that English seen as my Spanish was so poor.


We started the weekend by going to Panajachel for some zip lining in the mountains. I made sure Michelle went first so she didn’t know what to expect as she doesn't enjoy heights. Before you knew she was first down the zip line loving flying through the trees looking over the lake. The park had monkeys and a butterfly garden which we explored before returning across the lake back to San Pedro. The sound of bombs would echo around the town almost hourly to signal the upcoming festival (it got a bit ridiculous).


On Sunday morning we had class as the school was closed on Monday due to the festival. I met my new teacher, Juan Carlos, an awesome guy who knew his stuff and was great fun to hang out with. He was correcting all of the things I was having trouble with before I knew it and had me learning Spanish and the concepts through the week. After class we headed over to San Marcos for more exploring. San Marco was a nice small town with a lot of organic stores and a hippy vibe. It is all about yoga, mediation, energies and organic food in this town. I have to say we preferred it more then Panajachel. We ate the renowned falafels from MoonFish before heading back to watch the latest Mad Max movie at a local cafe with rum spiked hot chocolates and pizza.


On Festival day our family was having a big lunch. Michelle helped the family prepare the feast which included tamalitos and chicken soup. Dominic then took us out to the Festival where we played some games and took a ferris wheel ride. It was a huge carnival atmosphere unlike anything we have seen before. Women showed up in their brightest outfits, men dressed sharp, excited children lined up for rides, young couples dated, the smell of food came from all directions and many games were being played by older locals. It was a gathering of many people and families throughout the Atitlan region and the party will go on until the early hours of the morning.


During the week between classes we managed to still fit in plenty of things. Dominic took us up the mountain to show us the coffee plantations and explained his family history along the way, We felt privileged to hear his story so far and enjoyed the experience immensely. Between the talking we saw all of the workers working in the fields, collecting avocados or wood. It was a really humbling experience seeing how hard these people worked to make a living. We took in the wonderful views during the day from the lookout overlooking the lake. We also managed to watch a local football game at the newly opened stadium that uses an artificial grass surface. The locals here love football and the new stadium is impressive!


We were dreading the weekend approaching as San Pedro began to feel like another home... It would mean we would have the sad and difficult moment where we had to leave and say goodbye to our host family. We learnt so much during our two week stay, including another language but more importantly was the connection we had made with our new family. This is something we will never forget. We can't wait to come back to visit them again.


Posted by Lewis_E 20:01 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake san spanish school marco pedro atitlan traditions fiesta chocolates orbita Comments (1)

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