Mas cerveza. Donde esta el bano. Those are about the only phrases in Spanish we knew before crossing the US – Mexico border. In Baja, the majority of the people spoke at least a little bit of English so our limited Spanish wasn’t a big deal. This was also true for mainland Mexico, especially in tourist cities such as Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, etc. but as we left English speaking Belize and entered Spanish speaking Guatemala, the number of people who spoke English declined drastically and we knew it was likely to decrease even more as we approached South America. We heard that Antigua is a great place to take Spanish classes as there are dozens of Spanish schools in the city and the city itself is a great place to spend several weeks. With this in mind, we committed to two weeks at the Ixchel Spanish School.
Having no schedule for nearly five months, it was a weird feeling to have such a major change all of a sudden. Initally, we signed up for afternoon classes to take advantage of the discount, but we were moved to morning classes as neither of our teachers had students in the morning. That first day of waking up at 6:30 and rushing to get dressed, make breakfast and walk to class was brutal! Additionally, we now had homework nearly every night including memorizing vocabulary. Ouch!
Although we got a good deal on our Spanish school compared to other schools, it was still expensive. Fortunately, we were able to offset the expense by camping for free in a large parking lot owned and secured by the tourism police of Antigua. It’s an excellent service they provide and we felt very safe at night and when we left our truck during the day. The location is also a hotspot for other overlanders making a pit stop in Antigua as there were vehicles from Canada, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and many other countries as well.
Aside from our five days in Mexico City, the longest we have stayed in one place since leaving the US was three days. Now with two weeks on our hands, we were excited to have time to really get to know a city.
Antigua is a nice sized town that is large enough to have many services and activities, but small enough to keep its great character. Exploring the city on foot, we meandered through the cobblestone streets and admired the lovely buildings that seemed endless. In several places, there are ruins of buildings that were destroyed in a major earthquake in the 1770’s. The city is prone to earthquakes being located on a major fault line which has created several volcanoes right around the city.
These “carpets” are created each week in a different church during Lent and are made out of sawdust. The detail is unbelievable!
During our weekend between school sessions, we backtracked a bit to visit Lake Atitlan. The lake is huge at nearly five miles wide and ten miles long. Two volcanoes create the south shore of the lake creating a beautiful backdrop across the shimmering blue waters. Our campsite was a large grassy area overlooking the lake and the volcanoes and is probably on our top five list of campsites! We had our friend Karl from Germany visit the same place during our second night. We have run into him in several places since Belize and are currently working on shipping our trucks to South American together.
Lake Atitlan was so photogenic we took a million pictures so bare with us while we drop a bunch here!
The weather during our second week in school put us in a lazy mood as it was often cloudy and rained off and on. We certainly didn’t complain as we were still recovering from nearly melting in the Yucatan, Belize and northern Guatemala. It does, however, crack us up when we see locals bundled up in winter jackets and scarves when it is 70 degrees outside! Our conversations with our teachers indicated that it rarely gets colder than about 60 degrees and doesn’t get too terribly hot in Antigua either.
The more we travel, the more we realize that food types and tastes change from region to region. In Belize, we noticed the Caribbean influence on local foods. In Guatemala, we began to see more and more steakhouses, pastas and a whole new variety of fruits and vegetables we hadn’t seen in Mexico. The emphasis of spicy foods appears to be much less in Guatemala in comparison to Mexico, although peppers are used extensively in cooking and very spicy peppers are still available. We continue to do most of our cooking within our camper but feel that our visit wouldn’t be sufficient wihtout sampling some of the local foods. Empanadas continue to be some of our favorite foods!
As mentioned earlier, we parked in the tourism police parking lot which is very near the enormous mercado. In between is a bus stop where dozens of the famous Guatemalan “chicken busses” load up passengers. These busses are decked out in custom paint jobs and chrome. They are operated by a driver and a helper who is often hanging on top or on the back of the bus while driving down the highway. The bus drivers drive the busses as fast as they possibly can. Its quite the site!
Our teachers, Ingrid and Marielos, posing for a photo after our final Spanish class:
And because everyone likes more photos…
Our last day in Antigua was a perfect day with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures right around 75 degrees. It was with heavy hearts that we left our school and bid farewell to the lovely city we fell in love with over the course of two weeks. Three thoroughly enjoyable weeks in Guatemala passed too quickly and we left Antigua to push further into Central America with yet another border crossing in the works. El Salvador, here we come!