Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school

 

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Feb 13-17, 2000

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Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Fri Jan 28, 2000 - Trip to Coban

They knew we were leaving early. so there was very little chitchat from our teachers today. They piled on the new material so fast we couldn't absorb it all, but they just told us to study over the weekend - fat chance!

We also spent a bunch of time trying to find out how Mom-Tom is. Louisa called her mom's office and got the number of the hospital, and then reached Aunt Susan there, to find out that MT was in surgery to have two valves in her heart replaced. With no further news, we had to leave, so we shot off a few more emails, and then kept her in our thoughts for the weekend.

We met our minibus (think minivan with 4 bench seats, for you Americans) at 2pm, to start the long drive to Coban. We had incredible luck - there were only 4 of us total on the trip, so we each got our own bench. Tom napped a bit, while Louisa got to know Steve and Dick. We also talked a bit with Patricio, our driver, who only spoke Spanish and Quecha.

Friday rush hour is not the time to drive from Antigua through Guatemala city to Coban. Patricio fortunately was a relatively careful driver, which means that there were spans of nearly 10 minutes where we didn't fear for our lives. Think mountainous, curvy, 2-lane roads, huge overloaded trucks, buses that stop for every person, dog, and chicken by the side of the road, toss in a few sports cars, and some road work, and you've almost got the idea.

We finally arrived, exhausted and hungry. We checked in to Hotel la Paz, and found it to be fair - relatively clean, but no atmosphere, and no amenities at all. We then headed over to Hotel Victoria (or something like that) for dinner. They had good Italian food, as long as you like garlic. Patricio came with us, and we attempted to converse in Spanish to include him, but more often we talked in English and translated occasionally stories.

 

Sat Jan 29, 2000 - Semuc Champey and Lanquin Caves

The drive from Coban was longer than we expected, but well worth the trip! we left Coban at 7am and headed off on a paved road that quickly turned to dirt and over the kilometers narrowed significantly. The road winds through a beautiful, lush mountain range. The images cloaked in the morning, mist were amazing and in the afternoon sun became even clearer. The road is the only one in the region. The other traffic consisted over public buses, trucks that carry the locals between destinations along the road and our tourist minibus. The trucks and buses posed interesting situations when we met head-on in the one-lane dirt road along the cliffs, but our driver maneuvered well.

The vistas were truly astonishing. By far the vastest and most mountainous yet. We constantly kept exclaiming 'Isn't that beautiful.' It would be incredible to wake up to these views every day. The locals live what we consider a hard life, farming steep slopes of land. They grow coffee, chichory and cardamom mostly. We wondered how they got their water (electricity is not even a consideration) and saw the woman and boys carrying large jugs of water from a center well house. Some seemed to be carrying them for a kilometer or farther. The houses are perched on the hillsides, some quite a distant from the road with faint trails running to them across the valley.

Semuc Champey in one word - wonderful. The Rio Cahaban disappears into the a limestone cave with a tremendous, roar. The force of the water is impressive. On top of the cave through with the river thunders are cascading, idyllic pools of aqua blue water. The area is hardly developed so we grabbed a dry area of rock and dove in!

The morning and afternoon were wonderful - quiet, beautiful and lots of swimming before and after our picnic lunch. We were surprised how few people were at Semuc Champey (only about 20), although more arrived by the time we left at 2:30. Next stop were the Lanquin caves. These are huge, cavernous, limestone grottos. We walked in about .5 kilometers viewing the formations. The Rio Lanquin starts near the entrance - it is a bit odd to see a whole river just spring from the side of the mountain.

The drive home was as adventurous and beautiful as the ride out. However, at the end of 5 hours on bumpy gravel roads we were glad to arrive at the hotel in Coban. We dined with Steve and Dick. The food at Hotel La Posada on the main square was completely average despite a strong recommendation in the guide book. For dessert we followed a recommendation from another traveler. Hostal D'Acuna was fantastic. It offers a warm friendly atmosphere and delicious food. Definitely the place to stay in the area.

 

Sun Jan 30, 2000 - Biotopo del Quetzal

The famed quetzal bird flies early in the morning and at dusk. We awoke early with hopes of seeing a few of the green birds with 1.5 to 2.0 meter long tails of colorful feathers. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and the local chipi-chipi (misty rain) greeted us. We set off in the Biotopo just south of Coban, for a hike along the trail and with the expectation of viewing at least one quetzal. We traipsed around both trails for about 2 hours. We saw a few good waterfalls, huge orchids growing off of the trees and other birds, but no quetzal. We had a great hike, despite the rain and absence of quetzals.

Four hours later we arrived in Antigua. We lunched with Steve, a friendly Scotsman, who enjoys science fiction and is planning to move to San Francisco in the spring. Cafe Condessa on the parque central serves good, albeit light, fare. We then checked email, to find out that Mom-Tom was doing well following her open heart surgery. Whew! We filled the remainder of the afternoon with other email and walking through the streets.

We hoped to have dinner with Sophia and Gerardo, but they were not at the hotel we thought. As we headed off to a restaurant for dinner we ran into them on the street! Great luck! We enjoyed a dinner of local Guatemalan cuisine and lots of laughter.

 

Mon Jan 31, 2000 - Spanish School and Salsa Dancing

What is it about the teachers that they feel the need to grill us on Fridays and Mondays? Louisa's new teacher, Clara Luz, provided a day full of mental activity while Theresa proved unrelenting on Tom. After school, we danced salsa for 1.5 hours to blow off steam. This was good fortune since our neighborhood held a fiesta celebrating "Los Colonials." The fiesta included an incredibly loud sound system blasting Spanish techno-salsa approximately 100ft from our house. Fortunately, they stopped at 10:30, so we were able to sleep until 4:00am when loud firecrackers were set of and a mariachi band began to play. After the initial panic that a war had started in our house, then the laughter about the mariachi music, we grabbed our earplugs and slept peacefully for a few more hours.

 

Tue Feb 1, 2000 - School & Las Capuchines

The day began with still more lessons in Spanish - Tom started on the conditional tense, while Louisa worked on the differences between "por" and "para". We are both reading simple stories, answering questions, and chatting (albeit slowly) using multiple tenses. Lots of progress!

We realized last night that we'd been in Antigua more than 2 weeks, but hadn't seen any of the local ruins! To remedy this, we went in the late morning with our maestras to tour Las Capuchinas, a convent that was built in 1736, and mostly destroyed in the huge earthquake of 1773. Used for drying coffee beans (among other things) until the 1950's, it is somewhat restored, and currently used to house the agency responsible for restoring Antiguan historical buildings. The most interesting part is a large round room with a great echo - nobody seems to know what it was originally used for. We spent an enjoyable hour there, and didn't feel rushed or miss anything.

The afternoon consisted of more lessons (the Spanish word is "tortura"), and a brief trip to the travel agency to confirm weekend plans. After a very enjoyable dinner with our family, we headed to an Internet cafe for an hour where Tom fixed an insidious bug that had been causing us to lose some of the email we sent for the last several months. We both then did homework, and labored to catch up on this journal.

 

Wed Feb 2, 2000 - Santa Domingo and Salsa!

The grueling pace at school continued. The teachers are determined to cram as many rules about the Spanish language as possible into our tiny brains before we leave on Friday! During the two hour lunch break, we walked over to Santa Domingo with Soph and Will. This is a fancy hotel built around and in some ruins of the convent of Santa Domingo. It seems quite lovely, but for the price it seems better to stay a few blocks closer to town where the rooms aren't so spartan. Soph commented that the Casa Azul has warm, comfortable rooms and a better location.

After school we headed over for our final salsa lesson. It took most of the hour, but we finally figured out a double turn. The difficulty was caused by a fourth "invisible" step while the rest of salsa only has three! We named it the silent "h" of salsa.

The oldest son of our family, Victor (approximately 51), joined us for dinner. He kept us scrambling to speak Spanish throughout the meal. He speaks very quickly which was quite a challenge for us, but we managed and learned about the Guatemalan school system a bit. Tonight was the last night of the fiesta with more music, lots and lots of dancing - no salsa however. We stopped by the festivities before and after heading into town for drinks at Queso y Vino with Soph, Will and the other Tom.

 

Thu Feb 3, 2000 - The Cross

Today began with a hike to the cross organized by the school. The hill on the north end of Antigua has a giant cross in a clearing which can be seen from anywhere in the city. Frequently it is the location of muggings since gringos tend to hike up for the beautiful view of Antigua and Volcano Agua. Ever since the murder of a Spanish teacher with a group of students in 1991, our school doesn't send anyone up without armed escorts. So, we hiked up with Soph, our teachers, other students and three armed guards (the tourist police). The day is one of the clearest we have had in Antigua so the vista was especially beautiful.

As usual, our teachers continued to drill us with Spanish rules and lots of practice. At lunchtime we headed across town to the ruins of San Francisco. The church was built about 300 years ago but was left for ruins after the earthquake of 1783. Around 1960 a group decided to renovate the church, which had no ceilings or roof. The pictures show an incredible state of disrepair. It remains in use today and is the location of the remains of Hermano Pedro who is believed to grant wishes and restore health. The walls of the church are covered with plaques of thanks, with more letters, offerings and photographs in the museum. The church is only one part of thevast ruins of San Francisco which was also a grand monastery. The vegetation has been cleared from the ruins showing the intricate details in the carvings on pillars and faded images of murals on walls and ceilings.

On the walk back to school we peeked in on the Santa Clara ruins, and happened upon a [pic565 public laundry fountain/sinks] in the square between Santa Clara and San Pedro. These are quite common in Guatemalan villages.

After school Tom headed to the Internet cafe to update the website which gets great comments from family in the states. We ate our last dinner with our Guatemalan family. Afterwards, we asked the friend of the granddaughter to take a picture of us with the family. She did so, but it was the first time in her life (she's about 20) that she had ever used a camera. The first shot was mostly of the wall, but number two was good.

After dinner we drank a final bottle of wine with Sophia at Queso y Vino, then headed next door to a nightclub, La Casbah, where we were frisked before entering. We met some travelers from Guerneville that had crossed paths with Soph a couple of times. The nightclub was practically empty and played horrible music, but has an amazing patio next to the ruins of the arch. Quite a beautiful and serene deck for an evening cocktail.

with some

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:54 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.