Mazunte; or the Congregation of Turtles and Hippies

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View on Punta Cometa

I have been in the province of Oaxaca longer than I had been travelling through Mexico 19 years ago and I have been in Mazunte, where I have my yogic training, considerably longer than expected. Apparently that is the story with Mazunte, as it is with Zipolite.

Too Hot to Leave

People plan to stay for a few days or weeks and end op staying weeks, months or even years on end. Zipolite has a very laid-back vibe, which makes lying in a hammock and getting intoxicated rather appealing and its far easier maintained for several weeks or months than one thinks. Sure, you can do so some yoga or other activity, but in general, that is not what people come to Zipolite for. Mazunte, less than 10 minutes-drive towards the west, attracts a different crowd. The village is officially certified as Pueblo Magico, or magic village, and the locals are very keen to tell you that. The tiny town of around 1500 inhabitants contains no less than four yoga schools, a centre for turtle conservation and a natural cosmetic store, the latter selling products across Mexico. You can imagine therefor that the village attracts a fair amounts of yogis, hippies, spiritual seekers, and those interested in animal conservation.

What Magic?

 

Located in the province of Oaxaca, Mazunte has the land tip Punta Cometa in its borders, which is considered the southern-most tip of the North American mainland. It is argued that this piece of land emits large amounts of bio-energetic vibes and has therefor been an important breeding place for sea turtles.

Mazunte got inhabited only recently. While nearby Zipolite started to develop as a hippy mecca in the 1960 and ’70s, people of the close by larger town Pochutla started to have a closer look at the jungles of what is now Mazunte. They came over with their machetes and claimed the land as theirs. The first Mazunte-born person in modern history is only in their early forties, meaning that Mazunte didn’t become populated until the 1970s. Due to the abundance of sea turtles, the town became the country’s main centre for the slaughter and trading of turtle meat. Although Mexicans were keen consumers, the US greatly encouraged this trade.

From Killing to Keeping

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Somewhere in the early 1990s the turtle population started to dwindle considerably and somebody saw the light; rather than slaughtering animals one can preserve them and so the town became an eco-tourist destination, rather than a place of certain death for a prehistoric species. As neighbouring Zipolite already had a hippy-reputation, Mazunte reasoned it could be a bit ‘alternative’ as well. In 1995 the village got an official government certification labelling it as pueblo magico, which involved some government corruption I was informed by an insider. This certification entails that no big tourist developments like large hotels or resorts can be constructed and big corporations like MacDonalds or Starbuck are not allowed to settle in town. This means that whichever private person or entity- with perhaps some good connections to government- owns the land can rest assured that they won’t be forced to sell or donate it.

I haven’t visited the turtle conservation centre, which is a very short walk from the school. I have been informed, however by a local guy who works there, that if you don’t like a zoo-like environment, which I don’t, you won’t enjoy it, so I am likely to give it a miss and I’m rather occupied travelling along the yogic spiritual path. Punta Cometa draws dozens, if not hundreds of people in high seasons, every evening, who come and enjoy the sunset. There are several routes taking you there through the local forest and along rocks offering stunning views over the Pacific Ocean.

Visitors and Water Challenges

The town draws the Mexican middle classes and national and international alternative people. Many of which stay longer than expected and/ or make it their home. Despite the national and international attention and the magic, the town does have its challenges. Like more places along the Oaxacan coast, it’s very much prone to storms and hurricanes, that do some considerable damage. Still, concrete constructions are build right at the seafront, and you wonder how long it will last. Water shortage is an issue as well. Pretty much everyone uses water tanks, that only get refilled when they completely run out, so being soaped-up under the shower ready to rinse yourself only for no water to appear from the tap is a common phenomenon.

I too have been staying longer than previously anticipated, as I have gained so much wisdom at the Hridaya yoga centre and met such wonderful people. After I have finished module 2 and the 10-day silent retreat I will be doing straight after that, I think I’m ready to move on. There so much more of Mexico that I haven’t seen and that needs to be explored.

‘Accidental’ Search for Enlightenment (Without Drugs)

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Hridaya logo

 

A bit more than two years ago I went in search of enlightenment in the jungles of Peru by means of ayahuasca. I didn’t quite meet the divine as expected, but an insightful experience it was nevertheless. Five weeks ago I came to Mazunte, a neighbouring village of beach-bum town Zipolite, in total lazy-arse mood very much ready to get into some yoga action. That ‘action’ was of quite a different nature than expected, yet profound nevertheless.

 

A spiritual practice from the heart

Back in February of this year I booked myself an intensive 24-day yoga course as part of my location- independent Latina Dark Fairy Ball. I expected to do some thorough exercise and learn some yoga theory alongside it. As I said, that is not at all what happened. The school I am (still) attending teaches and practices what I call ‘extreme hatha yoga’. Extreme in the sense that it is not about the movement. To the contrary; one is aiming to keep the pose for as long as possible while maintaining stillness, as if the pose is meditation. The school is called Hridaya, which means heart in Sanskrit and is, as you can guess, very heart-centred. Hridaya teachings aim to fulfill Self- realisation, with capital S, or union with the Divine, using the heart-centre, located in the middle of the chest one-finger-width to the right, as a portal or trigger. In Hridaya yoga one practices self-enquiry, which entails always genuinely asking the question: who am I? I am not the body, I am not my thoughts or feelings, I am not my experiences, so; who am I? The objective is to truly experience the Self or Divine, rather than ‘just’ knowing about it on an intellectual level. Although I aimed to stay open-minded and especially open-hearted, I did experience some resistance, especially in the first week. Resistance against the ‘lack of’ movement and resistance to such an open-hearted vibe. All the teachers had this faint smile on their faces constantly emitting love, which is not quite the experience in the ‘outside world’. I had a room to myself on site and throughout my stay I felt considerable resistance against the dustiness and the creepy-crawlies in my room. I am by no means squeamish, but when it comes to super-sized cockroaches, scorpions the size of two-fingers and decaying lizards falling from the roof onto the bedside table, there is only so much I can take.  Despite the resistance I stuck with it and was treated to some very valuable tools and ways, to maintain a holistic and profound spiritual practice and be a better and more fabulous person in the process.

On the Path towards the Divine Self

Besides hatha yoga classes, we had lectures, did a lot of meditation and were fed a strictly vegan diet. The diet, meditation and hatha yoga practice, which can be considered a meditation, had a very clear and strong effect on me right from the start. I’ve always been a person who loves to sleep and needs her eight hours. Whether I got it or not, I was always up for a nap. I didn’t sleep well at all in my room at the centre throughout the course. Not only didn’t I feel entirely comfortable, I also felt terribly wired. With the exception of a couple of nights I didn’t sleep more than four or five hours a night and the most extraordinary thing to me was, that I didn’t feel tired during the day and I didn’t feel like napping. Since my early teens I have always had issues with my reproductive organs and these issues have given me great discomfort off and on in the last six years or so. When I travelled through South America a bit more than two years ago, my symptoms diminished significantly and since I have been in Mazunte they have been non-existent. As the aim is to cultivate a sense of detachment from your body, personal, story, your thoughts; all that, that could be considered the ego, as that is not what we are really are, it becomes easier to place certain experiences and mental and psychological issues into perspective.

It’s All About the Community

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Yogic Paradise: view on central plaza at Hridaya

I was lucky to be a part of a fabulous group of people from all over the world in all shades, sizes and ages and all with wonderful hearts and great stories to share. You might guess that the hippiness level was high, yet it weren’t only hippies attending, but people with an interest in yoga and spirituality. It’s a true blessing to gain profound insights in a truly kind, warm and welcoming environment. To me this form of yogic spiritual practice is ‘just’ a form of mysticism; how to experience the divine directly without priests, a ‘holy’ book or any dogmas. I’ve might just become a Self-chaser and a follower of the mystic path.

imagery: Hridaya yoga

 

Zipolite: Stormy Weather, Intoxication and Inactivity

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Beach Bumming at Dusk in Zipolite

After a monster journey of more than 24 hours, during which I took a shuttle bus from Xela to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and a proper bus from there to Puerto Escondido, I arrived in the beach-bum town of Zipolite, Oaxaca around midday. The sky had been overcast since arriving in Oaxaca and it rained on the way from Puerto Escondido to Zipolite. I had been wondering how the driver of the small bus could actually see the road through the downpour. But in these parts of the world when travelling by public transport, you just have to surrender to the circumstances and/ or pray you arrive in one piece. It had stopped raining when I arrived in Zipolite, but that was only the proverbial silence before the storm.

Mexico Travel and Zipolite: Past and Present

I had visited Zipolite 19 years ago, almost to the month. I travelled with a friend I’ve known from secondary school. We arrived at Houston International Airport in the US from London Gatwick airport on the day that France won the world cup football. I remember it was terribly hot in Houston. We took a bus to the border and travelled for four weeks or so. It was our first time in Latin America and neither of us spoke a word of Spanish. It was a formative trip for me. I still love the colours corn yellow, terracotta and deep blue, which are very popular in the country and I really liked the people and felt rather frustrated I couldn’t communicate with them at the time. After that summer I did several Spanish language courses for about two years.

Of course Zipolite had changed, but the same beach-bum vibe was still there. The posada my friend and I stayed at 19 years ago and the American owner, Daniel, were still there, to my surprise. I was treated to some herbs upon arrival and after doing a tiny bit of work I got intoxicated and did nothing, as one does in Zipolite. The town is slightly off the beaten track about an hour from Puerto Escondido, yet it tends to draw considerable crowds during Holy week and in December and the first half of January. Zipolite was our first experience of tropical beach 19 years ago. The sea was blue and warm and not grey and fresh like the North Sea. The ocean at this part of the Oaxacan coast is wild and tends to have strong under currents, which doesn’t make it very suitable for swimming. When there is good swell surfers and body boarders can be found in the water. Zipolite is also known for having one of the few nude beaches in Mexico, but just like 19 years ago, only a few people bare all, so travelling to Zipolite just for the nude beach would be a bit of a disappointment.

Zipolite: Beach of the Dead

According to some stories Zipolite means beach of the dead due to the sea’s strong and dangerous under current. Besides the under current, Zipolite can also be considered the Beach of Dead due to its invitation to do absolutely nothing. The town is not a party place, yet there is considerable alcohol and drug use and herb consumption is ubiquitous. As much I was attracted to Zipolite again for the sun, sea and herbs, I was also keen to do some work. The latter however, totally didn’t happen for both superficial as well as deep-seated reasons. The day I arrived it was drizzling now and again. The days after, Zipolite and the wider region experienced a proper storm and it was pouring down for days on end. I had no idea so much water could come from the heavens and with considerable winds and thunder, the whole ordeal was terribly dramatic. I changed rooms three times because water was pouring in and electricity was cut several times. When the storm had finally eased off, phone lines were cut, the roads out of town were blocked and the waves and beach were covered in tree trunks, branches, coconut skins and other natural debris. There was considerably damage to some properties and roads, but luckily no casualties. People were drawing comparisons to the hurricane of 1997. It was most peculiar when the sun finally came out, as if the rain, winds and thunder were all just a dream. It might be low season and the place a beach bum location, the community quickly got into action clearing the roads and cleaning the beach, which I found most admirable.

The Action after the Storm

I felt rather annoyed with myself that I didn’t do an awful lot more than nothing in Zipolite. But then, that is Zipolite and perhaps the necessary stage to move to another level, like the period after the storm. Next up is a yoga retreat providing plenty of tools to keep me mentally, spiritually and intellectually entertained.

 

Fear, Loathing and James Bond Across the World

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Live and let dieAs I am spending my last few days in Xela, I am longing for some beach in-action at the Oaxacan coast in Mexico. Until then, I have to deal with yet more rain and fucked-up pavements and the world at large, and the UK in particular, involved in more scaremongering. And on top of that, yet another legend has passed on.

To Live and Let Die

A few days ago Manchester was hit by what is being sold to us as a terrorist attack. First of all, I am very sorry for anyone, who might have lost a loved one. Within 24 hours the perpetrator was known and apparently, the act was claimed by IS. I wonder if the perpetrator left his passport on the scene and I’m also quite keen to know who IS’ spokesperson is, informing the media that it was them causing the mayhem. Now the military is roaming the streets of the British Isles as a precaution against more terrorist attacks, yet based on what intelligence is unclear. Again, the alleged perpetrator was known to security services, yet those same services couldn’t prevent an attack. So we are being fed the same fear-mongering old bollocks stories until we willingly accept martial law or some sort of other rather unfree state of existence.

Bond; No More James Bond

Then the great Roger Moore, for many the one and only James Bond, has passed on at the age of 89. Sure, he has done some other stuff, but pretty much everyone associated Mr. Moore with James Bond and the actor didn’t mind one bit. I’ve always been a Bond fan, especially the 20th century Bond films, as you watch them like you are reading a comic book. There is this terribly suave and sophisticated man person, who happens to be a British secret agent, saving the world from the evilest forces. He is clever, indestructible, a saviour and a massive babe magnet, who never seems to get anyone pregnant or catch an STD. And then there are the exotic locations, the fight scenes and stunts; what is not to like. If it wasn’t for the escapism, there might be plenty not to like.  Bond, even the 21st century films, still hold on to the idea that Great Britain is an empire, that needs to wield its influence all over the world. Then there is this misplaced loyalty to this entity called the Crown; a ‘position’ that can only be filled by people from a certain bloodline and they can use and abuse the country and its resources in any way they see fit. So much for equality, equanimity and mediocrity.

Need for Self- Super Heroism

Whether we are staunch republicans, fierce royalists are somewhat on the fence, we, the people, need to be very aware of who claims authority on what basis, especially in these times, when there seems a desperate need for a boogie man, so states have an excuse to exert their power by culling civil liberties and display more police and military force. It’s very easy to sleep-walk into the abyss with the idea that the state will save and protect us. The biggest problem is, that the state is not there for our protection and James Bond won’t come and save us. The one and only James Bond, Roger Moore, passed on and besides that, he doesn’t really exist.

How to Travel and Not Fuck About

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Tourist No More

I mentioned in a previous post, that I am in Xela for a few weeks to dust off my Spanish. Although the second biggest city of the country that is Guatemala is not on the tourist trail, there is still a fair amount of foreigners, the vast majority of which is studying Spanish at one of the many language schools and/ or is participating in a volunteering project. For a certain traveller Xela has a perfect balance of not being terribly touristy, but having a decent infrastructure to assist western foreigners. There is a decent amount of hipster cafes, that can satisfy one’s preference for coffee with coconut milk, wheat-free treats, smoothies and other hippy-food bollocks. There is a yoga studio housed in a shabby, yet charming colonial building. The building is pretty big, yet the studio itself seems to have been an old living room and with about 20 people or so in class, the place is absolutely packed. They offer yoga mats that are absolutely minging, but the teaching, by an international collection of instructors, who are actually living in the building*, is good and classes are dead cheap, even for Guatemalan standards. Not that I’ve sampled any of it, but the night life in Xela seems pretty decent as well.

When Tourism Becomes Prostitution

Most places that don’t suffer from a tourist and/ or ‘expat’ overload (yet), tend to welcome an influx of a certain type of foreigners, as they bring in mighty dollars, euros or yen and can liven up a place. Malta, the Mediterranean Rock I recently escaped from, has always been very excepting of and welcoming to tourists and foreigners- as long as the latter are westerners; Africans and Arabs seem to get a rather different treatment. Tourists have always brought in decent amounts of money to the country, that has no natural resources and very few other sources of income until very recently, and summers are considerably livelier, than the off-season. However, an increasing amount of (western) foreigners, who are settling on the island, are changing things a fair bit, when it comes to the off-season calm.

There are places that feel rather swamped by tourists and according to an article recently published in the not so-independent British newspaper the Independent, Amsterdam, the capital of my native Netherlands, is one of those places. I didn’t need an article to confirm a sentiment, that I’ve had for a few years; there are too many bloody tourists and foreign residents, who don’t speak a word of Dutch in Amsterdam’s city centre. It’s not unusual at all to step into a coffee shop, restaurant, or bike rental shop in the city centre, where you are not able to use the country’s native tongue, which just really pisses me off.

Amsterdam Before and After the Flood

I used to live in Amsterdam in another century for several years and the city always had quite a lot of tourists all year round. With the exception of a few places, the city centre was very much a place of Dutch-speaking locals and tourists and locals pretty much lived in segregated worlds. You wouldn’t find (a lot of) tourists in the places the locals frequented and vice versa. Times have definitely changed. Not that long ago I walked for 45 minutes or so through the city centre, where my friend Moira and her kid live and I was rather appalled not to hear a word of Dutch and to be addressed in English first, rather than Dutch. I’m sure Amsterdam is a sort of Disney Land to foreigners with all the coffee shops, metropolitan- like entertainment, English and some other language widely spoken everywhere and a general liberal attitude. Yet, the current floods of tourists have been absolutely detrimental to community cohesion in the city and in the city centre in particular.

I remember some 15 years or so ago, Amsterdam started to oversell itself with the slogan I AMsterdam. I had already left the city and the country by then. The marketing campaign clearly paid off in terms of the amount of tourists with an 8-fold increase of foreign visitors in about 10 years. Now the head of Amsterdam Marketing, Frans van der Avert, is quoted in the Independent article. He said that the city has had it with tourists, which is rather peculiar coming from the head of an organisation that is responsible for the massive influx.

The Changing World of Traveller- Tourist Exploration

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Traveller- Tourist Ideal

There might be an idea amongst, especially older, travellers that all the best parts of the world have been explored and that a traveller- tourist life was much more chilled 20 or 30 years ago. When it comes to places like Amsterdam, Barcelona or Venice- the latter is interesting enough not mentioned in the article- then I am sure they have a point. There are, however, countries one couldn’t go to as a traveller- tourist 20 or 30 years ago. There are still plenty of regions unexplored and the majority of traveller- tourists wait until some sort of tourist infrastructure is in place. On the other hand, places like Libya, Syria or Iraq, which were great countries to travel in 20 years ago, are now pretty much off-limits due to infuriating foreign interference.

It is true that more and more people across the world get the opportunity to travel. Twenty five years ago it was pretty rare to see a Chinese tourist. Now, due to the growth of the Chinese middle classes, tourists from the most populous country in the world are to be found in pretty much every corner of the earthly plane. Sustainable tourism has been a fashionable term for quite a while, but perhaps with the exception of countries like Costa Rica and Namibia, most countries think sort term and quantity over quality. Until it’s too late and both locals as well as tourists get fed up. A population of a place fed up with tourists, is not nice to visitors, which is not particularly enhancing the visitors’ experience.

Xela, like any other place won’t be the same in 20 years’ time. People might get fed up with Antigua’s language’s school scene and/ or Xela might decide to totally sell itself as a more authentic alternative to Antigua; who is to say. We, as traveller- tourists can help the situation by behaving respectfully in the countries we visit. Cities, regions and countries can do their part by not treating themselves as low-life prostitutes. A tourist location, unless it’s a festival town like Montañita, where no one really lives, belongs to the people who live there, rather than the people, who visit and might bring in a decent amount of money, but don’t really respect the place.

Let residents and travel- tourists unite; everyone wants a happy place to live in and travel to.

* on 22 May I was informed by one of the instructors at Xela’s Yoga House that he is the only instructor, who lives in the building. The other rooms are occupied by non-yoga instructing people. I do wish to rectify in case he reads this ;-).

Guatemala; Kindness and State Terror

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QuetzalMy experience with the people of Guatemala, is that they are a very friendly and kind people. Despite Guatemala being located in Central America, I haven’t experienced it as very Latin as such. Many Guatemaltecos love to dance and typical Latin music genres like salsa are by no means unpopular. Yet, it is perhaps the stronger presence of indigenous cultures that gives the country a non- Latin vibe. Around 40 percent of the population are considered indigenous, the vast majority of which are of Mayan descent. This percentage might be even higher, as the majority of the population is a mix of indigenous people and folks of European descendants, but quite a few don’t acknowledge their indigenous heritage. About two percent of Guatemaltecos are of African descent and they are mainly located in the east of the country at the Caribbean coast.

The Issue with Guatemala

Like all Central American countries, Guatemala has suffered greatly under Spanish colonialism as well as, more recently, under American imperialism. The nastiest symptoms of this imperialism are explained with the more conventional term of the Guatemalan civil war as part of the Central American crisis. In the 1960 an awareness of and objection against great inequality started to grow in wider Central America and also in Guatemala. Democratic elections had brought leftist forces in power, but a military coup in 1954 instigated by the US government, brought about a military dictatorship and the military stayed in power until the mid 1990s. While the military was in power social injustice only increased in the form of great income inequality, non-existing labour regulations in favour of workers and a lack of freedom of expression. Any protest was forcefully put down by the government, backed by the United States, who saw the support of military regimes as a necessity for the protection of its huge corporate interests in Guatemala and the wider region. US corporations owned most of the farmable land, yet only used a fraction of it and deprived Guetemaltecos from the right to produce their own food and provide for themselves.

In the Name of State Terror

Both the rural and the urban poor organised themselves and especially the rural poor formed guerrilla groups, who fought the army. From the 1960s and especially in the 1980s the army fought bloody campaigns, not only against guerrilla groups, but mainly against civilians, both rural and urban and of all walks of life, of which the army might have had the slightest (phantom) idea that they were supporting any opposition groups. I object against the term civil war, as the conflict consisted of a fight of the military apparatus against the population. So in that sense it wasn’t a war between people, but an unfair fight between the state apparatus supported by the US government and a very tiny minority forming the Guatemalan elite, against the population. Around 200,000 Guatemaltecos died or disappeared during the decades of state terror, and with these number the term genocide is appropriate.

The official year that the campaign of state terror ended is 1996, when the UN negotiated a peace deal between the government and opposition groups. A truth commission was installed by the UN, that concluded that more than 90 percent of the violence during the campaign of Guatemalan state terror was conducted by the army and CIA-trained para military forces. Since the peace accords the country has known democratic election, economic growth and a successful anti-fraud campaign. The country still suffers great income inequality, with half of the population considered to live below the poverty line and domestic violence against women is widespread.

The Only Way is Up

Attitudes in the country seem to be rapidly changing especially in the cities. This is noticeable in small and bigger things. There are more women with short hair, which only three years ago seemed quite rare. There is a slightly bigger acceptance of gayness, despite still prevailing machismo and although I have been here less than two weeks, I haven’t been asked once whether I’m married and/ or have children. As Guatemala is mountainous and has many towns and villages that are fairly isolated, change might not take place as rapidly across the country. As I am an optimist, I’d like to say, after a tough recent history and a kind and willing population to make their community and country a fab nation; the only way is up.

A very insightful documentary about the conflict in Guatemala is the documentary When the Mountains Tremble, made in 1982 at the height of the campaign of state terror.

Guatemala- Opening of the Dark Fairy Latina Ball

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Picture-perfect Antigua Guatemala

After our Filipino adventure, I roamed Europe for a month, residing in my native Lowlands Country, the City of Cities of my heart, London, and the Eternal City, Rome, which was an absolute zoo during Holy Week. After EU-roaming action- while it’s still possible- I boarded another plane to distant, non-European Lands. Just after May Day, when some people celebrate the coming of spring and others celebrate their corporate prisonerhood, or give anarchism a bad name, I made my way to Central America. I flew from Amsterdam to Guatemala City via Panama and headed straight for Antigua Guatemala, which is the old capital of the country and an hour away from the current capital. I arrived in Town at around 10 o’ clock in the evening and the streets of Antigua where absolutely deserted. After checking in at a fancy hostel I hit a top bed in a 4-bed dorm and fell asleep straight away. A beauty sleep after a 20 hour-plus journey during which I didn’t sleep, to set my bio clock to Central American time, was much needed and I woke up the next day well-rested.  I spent a few days in Antigua mainly to acclimatise and hit deadlines, so besides eating at various places and hiding behind my laptop I didn’t do an awful lot.

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Antigua Guatemala roof-terrace chill

Antigua and the Yankie dollar/ Gringo Euro

Antigua is a pretty colonial town and one of Guatemala’s main tourist attractions. This is reflected in the prices, which are shockingly similar to prices in Malta. It is rainy season in the country and therefore officially low season. There are nevertheless plenty of tourists and prices are definitely not lower than Maltese prices during off-season. Antigua is not only famed for its colonial architecture, it’s also Spanish-Language-School Central and many a foreigner is in town to learn Spanish. Around the corner of the hostel I stayed at is a hipster café, where they serve caffe latte with soy or almond milk, gluten and sugar-free desserts and plenty of other hipster-friendly food; as if I were I my beloved Brixtonian Hood. One of Central America’s few active volcanoes, Volcán de Pacaya in proper Spanish, is located near Antigua Guatemala and a hike up this rumbling mountain is a popular ‘to-do’ when one is in town.

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A quiet street in Xela

Moving off the Tourist Trail- Quetzeltenango (Xela)

After a few days in Antigua Guatemala I made my way to the country’s second-largest city called Quetzaltenango, or Xela- say Shella- for short. The city is not on the tourist trail and I was the only (obvious) foreigner on the bus, despite the fact the city has a great amount of language schools charging much lower prices than the schools in Antigua. The reason I am in Xela is just that; to perfect my Spanish, as I have plans to settle in Spain and/or in some other Spanish-speaking country in the near future. Compared to second cities in other countries, whether it’s Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Alexandria, Egypt or Medellin, Colombia, Xela is a surprisingly relaxed affair. I would call the city semi-colonial with a few pretty buildings, but Antigua it ain’t. It’s not surprising that Xela is not on the tourist trail, as there is not that much of tourist-interest. However, for a language student and/or someone who wants to get a deeper insight into Guatemalan life it’s an interesting place.

The Spanish school, where I am following classes, is located in a relatively small and pretty building. I am having individual lessons for four and a half hours a day by a lady who is to hit her Big Three O next month and is about to finish her law degree. I expected having one-to-one lessons for four and a half hours a day to be rather intense, but in my first week the mornings have flown by. Classes have been filled with a lot of talking, polishing my rusty grammar and some more talking based on articles I’ve written on topics of my choice. Xela might not be as pretty as Antigua and it doesn’t have that ‘safe cushion’ of a solid tourist infrastructure, but it offers besides much lower prices a more authentic Guatemalan experience.