Posted by: vlbyers | January 22, 2012

Antigua Spanish School

Garden area outside house

Larry enjoying our room

Annamarias house

View from our window, must be noisy when it rains

View of Agua volcano from Picaya

Some terrain on the way to the top

Me and the girls at the volcano

Our first night in Antigua found us without a homestay family because we arrived after nine at night. We were able to find a hotel for the night without much problem that was near the school. The hotel was comfortable with 2, little more than twin but not as big as double beds, a refrigerator and a bathroom, we slept well.
Before heading to the school in the morning our first agenda item would be to get some coffee. The hotel served a breakfast but not until 8 o’clock, what? we were supposed to be at the school at 8. We walked around confident we would be able to find something, after about 15 minutes we found one open coffee shop. In the states we would have found at least half a dozen starbucks in that same time right.
At the school we talked with the owner/boss of the school and arranged for our instruction and our homestay with a family. Our family would meet us at 1030, our first day of instruction would start at 1pm so we had time to find some breakfast and another cup of coffee.
At 1030 we met Annamaria Nunez at the school and we walked the 7 blocks or so to her home. Annamaria was friendly and spoke clearly and slowly to us, she understood that we were learning Spanish and seemed eager to help us. For the next week we would stay in a modest 2nd floor room with a double bed, table with 2 plastic stools and a wire shelving rack for our stuff. The bathroom would be shared with the other room where one other female person was staying at the time. Thankfully we had brought our own towels because those were not provided, there wasn’t even one in the bathroom for wiping hands.
At 1pm we met our teachers, we had one on one instruction for 4 hours each day for 5 days total. Our instruction would be on Thursday and Friday and then resume on Monday through Wednesday. I figured this would give us 8 hours of brain work with 2 days off and then finish with 3 more days of intensive Spanish thinking. After the first day my brain was working overtime but I was able to understand 95% of what my teacher said and we had some great conversations, all part of the instructional style. This is what I wanted anyway, someone to speak with and who would correct my mistakes kindly.
The 2nd day we reported with our homework completed and received 4 more hours. Larry hit the wall at the 4 hour mark and we were ready to meet our friends for dinner before they left on the rest of their trip to Rio Dulce Guatemala. I am not sure but I think I am able to understand Spanish better than ever before, it may be because my instructor is very clear in her pronunciation or because I am listening intently to understand everything she says. All I know is that I hope this week brings me better understanding and speaking ability of the Spanish language.
The restaurant we were going to was Bistro 5 and we had the cross streets where it was supposed to be. Where we are staying is in the NW corner of the city and we needed to go to the SE corner, a total of about 16 blocks, a healthy walk. With map in hand I was the navigator so we headed out. As is often the case we check our progress against the map several times during the trip and we did this that night. It was approaching nighttime and the light was fading, that coupled with the fact that there are street signs on the streets oh about every 3rd one or so, they have also renamed the streets and both names are not on the map, hey what is life without a little comedy.
We arrived at the place we thought it should be, couldn’t find it, asked a gentleman and he sent us the other direction about 4 blocks. Nothing there either, we walked a few blocks asked a woman, she sent us back where we came from, nothing. We walked several more blocks, asked another person, he sent us in another direction. By this time I was doubting weather we would be able to find the place, it was dark and the lights are few and far between. We were talking with another lady about where she thought it should be when a man approached us and said, with a confident voice, ‘it is 3 blocks down this street on the right’. Well we could hardly not follow his directions. As we entered the restaurant our friends’ smiling faces were all we needed to forget our little challenge.
On Saturday, Sabado in Spanish, you’re already impressed I can tell, is the Saturday market which we were told is one of the busiest during the week, lots of fresh veges, yum. No matter what city we are in Larry likes to go to the market, I like going if we need anything and this day we were thinking of getting some fish and possibly some shrimp for our ‘host mom’ to cook, so we both had a reason to go. We were warned to be careful of your purse, wallet in your pocket and personal belongings.
The market was busy and at some points it was almost impossible to make our way through the crowds but we found the fish and the shrimp, some fruit and veges too, exercised any opportunity to practice our Spanish and didn’t have any problem with theft.
Annamaria cooked the food we got, it was delicious and we had a nice night of chatting in Spanish and English. She is helpful to us and we are doing great with our new word acquisitions. This was a full day, I didn’t sleep very well the night before, we had been walking most of the day to the market and then travel agencies attempting to book our travel to Costa Rica and I was beat. Her son Juan caught me as I took some dishes to the sink and started talking with me. It took me several minutes before I was able to excuse myself, he seemed so interested to talk with me but my brain just didn’t have any power left.
After breakfast on Sunday we returned to the travel agency to continue attempting to book our bus tickets. So far it has been quite difficult, the agency does not have the information at hand so has to call. The line was not being answered yesterday for the ½ hour the agent tried. Then she got another number and tried that one but kept getting the answering machine. No we can’t just go online to book it, we can’t even find out the schedule or the cost until they talk with an agent at the bus station. Once we have agreed to the price they have to make copies of our passports, give all our information names etc. they take it into the city, ½ hour away, make the arrangements, buy the tickets and then bring them back to us, whew way too much work. We were able to book our bus tickets and we think we will actually be arriving where we need to go! While we were there we booked a trip to the volcano for tomorrow, Monday, which includes a 1 ½ hour shuttle ride there, 2-3 hour hike up and down and another 1 ½ hour shuttle back. The volcano is alive but there is much monitoring of it and it is safe to hike to it.
Monday, School bright and early at 0800. Larry woke up very sick, up all night having to use the bathroom…bummer. He wasn’t able to go to school or the volcano but we got some Cipro and after about 12 hours was back among the living. We had arranged to make up our missed day, since we needed to leave early on Wednesday we would do 2 hours more on Monday and Tuesday. The school was quite accommodating to helping us fit it into our schedule. I would highly recommend Antequena Spanish School, the teachers were great, the homestay was very comfortable and safe and the whole experience was good. The only bummer being Larry missing so much of it, oh well he is way ahead of me anyway.
Picaya volcano here we come. It is an active volcano but we were told it is dying and the last eruption in 2010 may have been it’s last. I was in a group with 5 others, 4 women and a man who spoke Spanish fluently. It was in the afternoon and after the morning of Spanish school I was just needing a little rest from talking and listening before the hike up the mountain. Everyone was quiet on the ride there so I didn’t feel compelled to be chatty anyway.
We arrived at the beginning of the hike, received by small children renting walking sticks and men with horses eager to rent a ‘natural taxi’. I was the oldest of the group by far but I was confident in my ability to complete this hike on my own, without needing the ‘taxi’.
Our guide met us and we began the hike. The caballeros were close on our heels, apparently they were going to follow us up the mountain, every opportunity to make a dime. After several minutes our group was being overcome with dust, it felt like the horses would trample us and at the minimum prevented us from walking freely as they were so close. We complained to our guide and he had a talk with the men, they backed off for the rest of the trip, never too far away should one of us request their assistance.
The hike was not for the out of shape, it was steep and we needed to keep our pace up, getting back before dark would be important. There were times when I had to stop to catch my breath and gulp a mouthful of water, also to take a look around as the trail commanded my attention most of the time. Much of the trail was loose sand and rock for a bit, hard dirt covered with loose sandy soil in others and light, very sharp lava rocks, there were areas where you could just walk but moest of it was at more of a climbing incline. I am quite proud to say that I made it without much of a problem, one of the girls (25yrs or so) was convinced she wouldn’t be able to make it and had to be coaxed and calmed before she was able to continue.
As we approached not the summit, but the area where there had been the most recent activity, we were welcomed by the heat. The wind had increased, and at this altitude was actually cold. Our excitement was increased when our guide took out of his pack a bag of marshmallows and a stick for roasting..yes for real!!
The views as we were ascending and at another point on the way down were astounding, the day was a little cloudy and we were at the level of the clouds, the mist and wind added an element of otherworldness. Descending can be more difficult that ascending especially with regard to falling. There were many opportunities for this and some of our group took advantage of the opportunity, a couple of them more than one time, yours truly was not among them. Iphones are just a wonder aren’t they, especially when you forget to bring your flashlight and you have downloaded an app of a flashlight! Our guide had one, a flashlight, not an iphone, but that was just one and our group was at least a 3 flashlight group.
We made it back, celebrated with a beer and during the ride home continued with the camaraderie that had begun with our hike. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with my new friends, the exercise of the hike, the views and especially the marshmallows roasted on a volcano.

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