October 23, 2008

Under the Volcano

 Antigua under the Volcano
The Fountain of Plaza Mayor
 Antigua Plaza Mayor
Mayan Women in the Plaza
 Mayan Women
Typical Antiguan Avenue
 Antiguan Avenue
Bill at Frida's Café
 In Fridas Cafe
Rafael, Andrea and Carmen
 Rafael Andrea and Carmine

Betty and I have been in Guatemala for more than a week. We came to study Spanish in Antigua. Antigua is quaint, 500 year-old town that was once the capital of this part of the Americas. Due to many, many earthquakes, the capital was moved to a more secure location, but the town remained. It is a world heritage site. This means that the basic streets and buildings can not be change on the outside. So, the streets are of rough cobble stones and the buildings are very, very old. Due to the earthquakes there are a number ruins, mostly churches, within the city. The town is a favorite place for tourists and Spanish students to come. The former come to experience a 400-year old Spanish colonial city. The latter come for the good Spanish schools with some of the lowest tuition in the world. Like most colonial Spanish cities, the town is laid out on a grid, with a beautiful plaza and cathedral at its center. Overlooking the town is a large active volcano. On a clear day you can see the top and that can be an awesome sight.

This is not our first visit. I was here in February 2002 and again with Betty in November 2002. The town has changed some. No, not the buildings, but the action in the streets and homes has changed. The tourist and students have brought a lot of money to this town. The increased wealth has lead to many more cars and trucks on the streets. There often traffic jams in the early morning and late afternoon. There are other vehicles on the byways. For example, there are a lot more scooters and motorcycles. Then there is the Asian invasion of tuk-tuks. Yes, I said tuk-tuks. The little three-wheel open taxis capable of hauling two or three people were not here six years ago. We have not been staying in hotels and cannot speak to there costs, but the price of food and beer is up. But, heck, isn't it up everywhere. Another significant change is in clothing. The number of Antiguans in Mayan dress has sunk dramatically. Click on the photo of the Mayan women and you will see photos of people in the Mayan clothing.

Since we are taking Spanish lessons, I thought you would like to know how things work here. First there are dozens and dozens of schools. Nearly all of them have a web presence. Some schools are excellent and some are not, but most of the schools are good. The most common programs have classes Monday through Friday that last four hours. The classes can be in the morning or in the afternoon with a discount for afternoon classes. The class size is one. That's right, it is just you and your teacher. For an extra two to fours of study with a teacher it costs only $10 to $20 per week. The amazing thing about the schools is their costs. The typical price for twenty hours of study per week is $80 to $120. The schools have afternoon programs to keep the students entertained when not studying or talking to the local population. The schools also arrange home-stays by the week that includes three meals a day, six days a week and decent room. The family members take the time to talk to us at meals, so we get lots of practice. The home-stays only cost about $80 per week. We say this is one of the best travel-and-study deals in the world. We are attending La Union, the same school that we used in 2002. We came back to it because they provided us a good discount for being returning students and we liked it back then.

Our first week was very good. Like a rushing bull, the Spanish is coming back. We have to converse pretty solidly for the full fours with only one half-hour break. The practice is great. The first week we lived with a nice family that owns a small store. They are bit older than Betty and me so their children are older and they have a 17-year old grandchild, Andrea, that often ate lunch with her grandparents, Carmen and Rafael. We enjoyed our stay there. We moved this week to another family and I will write more about that later.

We have not been doing a whole lot more that studying. Even when we go out, we usually go to a big library to study. The other reason that we go there is the broadband internet connection. We can download radio programs, do email and call home. Our new family has a low speed line in the house that we can use, but downloads are just not possible.

I will get back to you in a week or so. Hasta Luego

Posted by bill at October 23, 2008 04:51 PM

Ohh!! It's great to get new updates from you again!!! What a coincidence cause today I was thinking of you guys.
Still in Italy,

Posted by: Laura at October 23, 2008 05:14 PM

Yeah!! BILL'S BLOG lives!! Long live the blog. Antigua looks and reads like a lovely little town. I envy your and Betty's refresher courses. And the food. Looking forward to more.

Posted by: Mickie at October 23, 2008 10:11 PM

Ah !....Jim & I have been misssing your updates.& yes yesterday.I Ph.ur Md home.......Tks for the message Betty,lol........same time as u both were settling in for school.....sounds like fun & yes what a deal!
We did our annual Jasper Trip & thought of u.
Have fun & enjoy !!
Happy to read u againxxxxlise.Ps CONGRATULATIONS ! another New Grandaughter.....coming to join our world !!
Ps # 2.will u still have a chance to vote ??NEED UR VOTES .WHEN IS THE real ELECTION?? wE HAD OURS ,SAME OLD SAME OLD...but a Minority right wing,Conservative.............we r watching Harper closely...haha....

Posted by: Lise at October 23, 2008 10:16 PM

Hello Bill & Betty! What a cool pic of the volcano! It is a very breathtaking! Good luck on the Espanol oya como va! Take care and be safe! Margaritaville

Posted by: Margie Sanroman at October 24, 2008 08:20 AM

hola bill, can't imagine your summer being boring. i'm back in buenos aires and enjoying your blogs. all the best, ciao luke

Posted by: luke at October 24, 2008 09:02 AM

Interesting to hear that you and Betty are tackling Spainish once again. I met Betty as she was struggling with Rioplatense one day in an inexpensive (and poorly run) language school in Buenos Aires. Hope you have the opportunity to do some traveling in the highlands while you're studying. One good thing about being in Antigua is the Guatemalteco accent is readily accepted as the vanilla standard for Central America and México. Ten years ago I spent an unnerving two months in Antigua brushing up my Spanish and intermittently running over to the side of the school's ball court to check out the regular explosions or rock and gas from the volcano that is on the eastern flank of the city. Now that I'm firmly back in Barçelona, I no longer worry about volcanos -- just throngs of tourists. Wishing you both nothing but the best. The Nash Person

Posted by: William Nash at October 25, 2008 06:12 AM

Hey Bill,

Good to hear from you. Buenas Suerte con su espanol. I visited Antigua 10 years ago and loved it. Let me know when you are back in town.
Good luck and keep in touch,

-Marty Christensen

Posted by: marty christensen at October 25, 2008 11:50 PM

Greetings from North Padre Island.Hi Bill and Betty, I have been keeping up with your website and enjoy following your travels. I am heading to Australia December 3rd for 1 month and will be flying on the new airbus A-380.Not much happening on the Island except for the drama with some locals. Take care, Colin Jones.

Posted by: colin jones at October 29, 2008 06:38 PM

Hi Bill and Betty,
So nice to hear you're in Guatemala. I studied Spanish in Xela a few years ago and totally loved the studying and being in Guatemala.
Enjoy your travels. We are all well, trying to bring balance into our lives (an ongoing struggle!)

Posted by: Judi and Bunny at November 11, 2008 07:55 PM