October 31, 2008

Study with No Eruptions

Press HERE to view a slide show from
Our Two Weeks in Antigua

Betty with Judith and Elva
 Betty with Judith and Elva
The Gonzalez Family
 Familia Gonzalez
With Julia, Sandrida and Ruth
 Julia, Sandrida and Ruth
Saturday at the Market
 Antiguas Market
Interesting People
 Antiguan Men
Beautiful Children
 Antiguan Children
Coffee at the Plantation
 Antiguan Coffee Plantation

I mentioned in my last entry that we moved from one family to another. Our new room is much nicer. We have internet in the house, which is unusual and something we crave. The food was a lot more interesting in our first family, because it was much more typically Guatemalan food. Other pleasant changes include the teen-age children, Leonel and Marisabel, of our hostess, Ruth Gonzalez. Another has been the addition of a couple of other students. Sandrita is a 30-something Taiwanese women who is studying Spanish and how to dance the Salsa. She is just great. Julia is Korean and has been working mostly and studying for more than three years in Guatemala. So, the change has been mostly for the good.

We have been studying a lot, holding our nose to the grindstone. The effect has been pretty awesome. I have recaptured most of my Spanish and have broken new ground to learn quite a bit more. Betty’s instructor is Judith. She has a master’s degree in teaching and has been a great help to Betty. My instructor is Elva. She also has a teaching degree. She has been great, even outstanding.

We have gone out a bit, especially on the week-ends, to eat and drink at the local bars and eateries. Wednesday was particularly busy. We visited a coffee plantation after school in the afternoon. And I went out to hear some Cuban music at Riki's Bar>. The band leader was Nacho Barell, who is said to have been a member of the Buena Vista Social Club – a rather famous Cuban group. I could not confirm his membership in that band, but I can confirm that his current band is quite good.

The rain ended, so we have been able to view the Agua Volcano with much clarity. The locals say that it has not been active in their lifetime. That could be and we have seen no smoke, nor lava flowing down the mountain side. So it has been great studying with no eruptions.

That about does it for now. I hope you enjoy all the photos.
In the next entry you can expect photos and stories from other parts of Guatemala.

Studying at the Sky Bar without Eruptions
 View of Volcan Agua

Posted by bill at 02:22 PM | Comments (5)

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 04:51 PM | Comments (9)