Quetzaltenango (possibly one of the most pleasingly named towns in Guatemala) is usually referred to as Xela (shaylah), which makes everything pretty confusing for the traveller and is possibly why it’s often overlooked. It’s Guatemala’s 2nd biggest city and only has a small amount of westerners here and these are generally seen in the streets around the central park area where the language schools and hotels are found. The town has carved out something of a niche for itself in the language department and one can find 20 hours of one to one lessons coupled with a homestay that provides three meals a day for about $160 a week. Something we signed up for and I will cover later.
We arrived here on 28th Dec. Evidence of the Christmas Season were still glittering and sparkling everywhere. The main thing about Christmas in Guatemala, however, are the fireworks. All day and most of the night there are fire crackers or rockets going up somewhere. Just when you relax your guard BANG! One goes off near you and you soil another pair of pants. It's a spread out town and as soon as we move away from the downtown we are the only white faces in a sea of generally friendly, smiling and amicable people – love it!
We lose ourselves in a monumentally huge market, we check out Catholicism at its best in the many churches, we take in a mall that is closed because of the holidays (no frenzied bargain buying here to ruin the break), clamber up ‘Cerro el Baul’, a big hill in the middle of the town from where you get a good 360 degree view and can watch children trying to slide down a very long slide on the hillside made of rough concrete – It’s the thought that counts.
|View over Xela|
One of the highlights (apart the cakes from Xelapan that greedy Rachel wanted me to mention) was a spectacular cemetery. This enormous home for the dead was packed with multi-coloured and shaped tombs, lovely statues and strange filing cabinet arrangements for the less aesthetically aware corpses. As with most cemeteries this was a place of quiet, a place to contemplate and, uniquely, a place to purchase peanuts, drinks and candy floss at a reasonable price from various graveside vendors.
|Xela Cemetery - worth a visit|
We spend New Years Eve having a meal in town and then walk through the backstreets up to a restaurant called Panorama that sits way up on a hillside and has a spectacular view over the city. We buy a couple of litre jugs of hot mulled wine, wrap ourselves in provided woollen blankets and watch the astonishing array of pyrotechnics sent up by every family in the city.
We have made friends with an American couple in another of the apartments in our block (although theirs is palatial compared to ours). Interesting people called Randy and Liz who live in a fantastic sounding ecologically and morally focused community in North Carolina and are travelling for a few months in Guatemala. We hook up a few times and will continue to do so as we bump into them in other places.
There were a couple of earthquakes whilst we were in Xela. Both noticeable but one fairly wobbled our block and was made even more exciting when an hour after the quake, as we laid in bed reading, two rows of large floor tiles sprung from their fixings with resounding cracks to form a ridge along the centre of our room. We were just a little concerned.
Week two was spent trekking in the highlands as per the account already given previously but week three was working our brains for a change. We signed up for the language school and for 4 hours a day sat in conversation with our respective teachers. We then wandered in a second language daze back to our lodgings where we put in a couple more hours of homework and had to converse with our host in Spanish. A real immersion process that has galvanized us to get back to our studies and given us the confidence to try to speak Spanish more.
|Language school students - Hiroto, Martina and Rachel|
It's a full time job – all this learning so apart from a couple of meals with Randy and Liz we do little else. It's a great way to learn and once we have rested the brains for a little while I think we may do it again.
Next stop lake Atitlan.