Published: June 17th 2012June 4th 2012
I finally arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela) around 6pm. My host, Thelma, was stood at the door of an alleyway to meet me from the shuttle which had bought me to her door. It seemed her home had been built on a tiny patch of land that lay between houses in the middle of a block. There was no hallway to speak of, just a series of doors off the alleyway which led to the kitchen-diner, a sitting room, and Telmas room. There was a small bathroom next to the stairs. Under the stairs lives an aggressive Chihuahua, which I am permanently fighting the urge to drop-kick down the alley. Upstairs, corrugated plastic keeps the rain off the balcony, which leads to 2 bedrooms, one belonging to Telmas middle aged son. I have forgotten his name, but I don´t feel too bad about that, since he seems to think my name is Sabritas, a Mexican brand of Crisps. I felt pretty out of my depth when I arrived - all it seemed to do was rain, I couldn't seem to make myself understood, or to understand my hosts, and my room was plain and a little cold. I wanted to go back to Utila.
I unpacked, and went to ask for some food. Huevos Rancheros for the dinner. The same as breakfast. Oh well. After dinner, I went to fetch my dictionary and notebook, and attempted some basic conversation with my hosts, writing down any new words that I learnt as I went along. It was effort, but I soon realised that I understood more than I thought. All I needed to do was concentrate and go slow.
In the morning, Telma accompanied me to the Community centre only a few minutes walk away. Painted bright yellow and with an immaculately kept garden, it stands apart from the breeze-block cement nightmares that make up most of this city. I was given a tour of the centre and met the two coordinators, a canadian girl and a dutch girl, along with 4 American students on a language exhange from their University in Ohio. Then I met Juan Pedro, who would be my 1-1 Spanish teacher for the first fortnight. We had a little chat (in Spanish, he doesn´t speak English) about how much Spanish I know, where I learnt it and what I want to know. Then he got me to write down all the verbs I knew, which I assumed would be 4, but turned out to be around 10. I felt pretty good about that until I learnt around 50 more this week! After a few hours learning how to conjugate regular verbs, the other students and I, together with our teachers, set off to the Market to buy some food for lunch. Every friday the students cook a lunch for everyone at the community centre. This weeks theme was ´Breakfast for Dinner´ - so we did breakfast from around the world - dutch potato pancakes, American hash browns, fruit salad, granola and yoghurt (my contibution) ,Guatemalan mushed Plantain with Cinnamon and a rice-puddingy drink which was delicious!
I spent the afternoon hanging out at the community centre and meeting some of the kids who attend the after school program there, which provides homework help and fun activities for them. Then I went home for dinner (huevos rancheros...) and got ready to go out with the girls from the school. Unfortuately, the night out got cancelled, so I spent my Friday night catching up on the news and gossip from the other side of the world.
I pretty much had the weekend to myself, due to not having a mobile phone and not knowing where my other students live. I spent my evenings chatting with my host family, dilligently writing down all the new words I was learning, and I spent the day time finding the interesting things I´d seen in the BGB, namely, an English language bookshop, where I bought 3 books (old habits die hard), some nice cafes and the Parque. On the Sunday I went in to town again, and found it full of Quetzaltecas (locals) alongside an astonishing amount of lyrca. The second famous cycling race I have encountered during my trip. This was a bike race that went all around Guatemala, up and down the mountains and around the lake, finishing in Xela. It seemed remarkably well organised - there were lorries and vans littering the streets packed full of freebies from sponsors, and little marquees set up everywhere, and barriers and marshalls all across town. And the lyrca? Well, I got too bored to see the race, and I had to rush home for my lunch, so I didn´t see much lycra on any cyclists, but there was a hell of a lot on the promo girls handing out free sports drinks, mints, washing powder etc. The whole event, complete with a city centre grandstand seemed as well executed as the London marathon. This in a town with a stray dog population that rivals its human population, where the pavements are cracked and broken and even McDonalds has a gun-weilding guard!
On Monday it was back to school. I had a quiet week really. I only spent one evening out, a few drinks in a bar frequented by the language school crowd, complete with its own hipster-folk band that I loved. The low point to my week came the following day, when I packed myself off to the Doctors when I started having familiar pangs in my lower back. A few tests later and I was assured that my instincts were right, another bacterial infection in my guts and a mild kidney infection too, but I fought this one off with just plenty of water. For one morning though, I was distraught at the idea of being as ill as I was on Utila and seriously began to consider going home, but it seems I won this time. The rest of the week was spent eating plain food, having early nights and learning Spanish. The Community centre ran by the language school put on some wholesome cultural events, such as a lecture about traditional womesn dress and the Guatemalan education system, both of which were much more interesting than you´d expect.
On the Friday I went to the market with Juan and bought some Salanchos (sausages) so that I could cook a proper English meal for my hosts. I thought it would be a nice thing to do, and it meant I would get the chance to eat some vegetables. I couldn't find any stock cubes or gravy granules, so bought some sort of meat soup, which turned out to be Oxtail. I never did end up cooking that, I just did creamy mask, broccoli, peas and sausages.
There isn't a lot to do in Xela during the rainy season, unless you want to climb a mountain, so I spent most of Saturday gossipping and drinking with my friend Carrie. Sunday was spent having a post-night out gossip in the Parque and hanging out at an internet cafe.
Another week of language lessons followed, broken up by a salsa lesson, a few nights out and another huge community lunch where I made a speech - everyone that leaves makes a speech apparently. I was suprised how easy it was to write and I even managed to crack a few jokes. I was sad to leave, as I felt I was just beginning to get to know my fellow students, but I was excited for my next adventure - climbing the highest peak in Central Ameria - Tajamulco.