Title: Combining learning spanish with sightseeing and social programs involverment Location: Antigua, Guatemala
We finished our second week of Spanish immersion classes yesterday...we have decided to take one more week of classes before moving on. We keep finding that we love where we are at each stop and hate to leave..and then find the next place even better!
We have taken a weekend trip out of Antigua to Lago Atitlan and a day trip with the Spanish school to Monterico on the Pacific coast. We have met some wonderful people, visited an education project next to the Guatemala City dump and even learned some Spanish!
We are both loving the complexity that this kind of unscheduled travel has allowed us. We are able to combine study, sightseeing, involvement in social programs, and just hanging out in a new culture. We have been able to move between living nearly the kind of life of middle class people here, viewing real poverty and meeting those who are helping children out of it, and enjoying what would be, by USA standards, four star hotels and restaurants from time to time. We have traveled by local bus, tour van and first class bus. We have stayed in luxury and in minimum comfort...it has all added up to a greater feeling of connectiveness with the places we have visited..
Antigua has a mix of very wealthy Guatemalans and foreigners, middle class, and some poverty. The city is beautiful, with impressive ruins of Spanish Catholic origin around very corner. But it is noisy and dusty and polluted. It sits in a bowl high in the mountains, so the air settles on the city. There is wood smoke everywhere in Guatemala, and it has been added to here by a big forest fire on one of the volcanoes. Added to this smoke are diesel fumes from the buses and trucks and exhaust from the cars. Dust blows from unpaved streets at the edge of town.
Our weekend trip to Lago Atitlan was wonderful! We took a shuttle minibus from Antigua to Panahachel, and then a boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, where we spent the night. The next day we visited Maximon, an ancient deity who likes rum and cigars and grants wishes for a price. When we asked what was in the glass coffin next to the wooden carving that is Maximon, we were told it was Jesus...the people in the room with him were a mix of reverence and open money making. After that we took a boat to the next two towns around the lake with a Canadian couple we met at the hotel in Santiago. We also met a pair of sisters from Australia, who we ran into in Antigua this week...
Our school field trip to the coast was both relaxing and interesting. We brought our teachers with us and had conversation in Spanish on the way. We passed through coffee grown in the shade of trees, then down into the lowlands and fields of sugarcane. We passed the sugar processing plants and then to the coast where trucks were lined up for a mile or so waiting for access to the port. Next, the route took us across a river on a ferry, through small towns and finally to the black volcanic sands of Monterico, where we swam in the warm surf!
On Thursday, we took a tour of a program started by a Wheelock grad six years ago, to help the children who worked in the Guatemala City dump. She began with an old church building, and has now, through donations, expanded to new buildings that will house daycare, before school and after school support, health clinics, vocational training, and a sports field. This project, Safe Passage, is the best program I have ever seen. The goal is to support the education, in public schools, of these children and move them out of poverty. Some of the first children are now in private high schools! As of last year, the city has forbidden children in the dump, but the day care is now important, since the children are locked into their homes while the parents go into the dump. We were asked not to photograph the neighborhood, and were only taken into the better part, but the poverty is very bad. A great place to donate funds, if you are inclined...
This weekend we will stay in town. Last night we went out to dinner with the women from Australia and tonight we will go to an English language play. Next week we hope to go on school trip to the village of Chichicastenango and another to a small village nearby to look at textiles.