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.
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.
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.