Tag Archives: Xela

How to Travel and Not Fuck About

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anttimasstourism

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- 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.

Antigua roof terrace chill

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.