Learning in San Pedro

It's funny, I'm thinking about it, and I don't think I know the name of the Spanish school where we've been studying for the last three days. I know that my teacher's name is Javier, and that he arranged for us to stay with a family of one mother and 4 kids in the middle of a jumble of cinder block and corrugated steel houses. (Dad is out of town for work for the next 5 years!) I know that to get to class you walk down the hill from where we're staying, and turn through a gate that says something about selling chickens in Spanish, and walk past the chickens up a ton of concrete steps, and I know that there is only one (soon to be two) other student there besides Angel and I. I know that they partner with an organization called Trek for Kids to help arrange hikes that send gringo money to fund education for kids on Lake Atitlan. But I'm not sure what the school is called. (Update: I've been reminded that it is Guatemaya.)

And that might help set up the atmosphere that we"ve been living in for the last four days or so. Despite the structured education we get for 4 hours a day, it hasn't seemed so much like we're "enrolled in Spanish classes" as that we came to Guatemala, met a few people, and spend most of our time trying to communicate with them. Which is to say this is a nice way to travel and learn Spanish. It feels immersive.

When we aren't in class we have mostly just been wandering around town, playing with the kids at the house (Juan Manuel, Chusita, Juanita, Estephani (sp?)) and/or taking naps. There is a great coffee shop (bring the beans down from the local hill, dry them in a field, take them to the shop, roast them there, grind them and make 'em into drinks), which we have been to most days - not the cheapest habit, but it has kind of turned into our local embassy. If you are getting emails or reading these posts, they are probably arriving courtesy of the wifi at Cafe Cristalina. We help out with dishes around the house, Maria (mom) makes us three meals a day, and we do our homework.

Guatemala feels different from anywhere else I have travelled.There's an interesting mix of the totally familiar and the foreign. San Pedro has a big gringo population - mostly students and backpackers and drifter types, but also a few missionaries and I think some people who have settled here. As a result it is easy to get an awesome curry or hamburger. But there is, as per usual, a clear separation between the tourists and the locals. We see a few other students during the day in our neighborhood, but generally they all hang out down the hill in a clearly demarcated strip of bars and shops.

We are basically splitting the cultural difference and shop with the locals when we aren't at the Cafe. We went to a fiesta celebrating Santa Maria last night with the family, which included a parade, firework set off way closer to crowds and homes than would be legal in the US, and a religious ceremony that I didn't understand because I stink at Spanish.

The buildings are a bit ramshackle, and in some ways  it fits the description of a dusty third world community, with rebar, stray dogs and corrugated metal every where, but the overall quality of life seems pretty good: kids playing in the streets, some level of financial security with the tourist draw of the lake and the coffee climate, and a general sense of relaxed island life (even though it's not technically an island the best way to get here is by boat) . San Pedro seems like a great little community in a stunning location, and the people here seem friendly and helpful.

We also had our first experience with guided trekking, which sounds exotic but in this case really just meant paying a local to show us where a trail is and walk with us along the way. Hiking infrastructure of printed maps and professionally maintained trail is minimally available here, so paying someone to make sure you don't get lost seems to be the common approach. One advantage of that situation is that having a guide is a great way to practice Spanish. We have a camping trip planned with our teacher next weekend, and are trying to sort out some logistics for a three day trip between Atitlan and Xela sometime soon.

Life here so far is nice - relaxed, Carribean flavored a little bit to go along with the Maya and Spanish.