Two weeks in Xela, Guatemala

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Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) is Guatemala’s second largest city. It is in this city that Dirk and I have spent the past two weeks attending Spanish school.

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Guatemala is marketed as a great place to learn Spanish before you embark on your trip to other countries in South America. This marketing scheme had proved to be very successful – in Xela alone there are nearly 30 Spanish schools. In other more popular tourist destinations, such as Antigua, you may even find more Spanish schools.

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Dirk and I have been improving our Spanish since we started travelling in Chile in September 2013. By this time, I consider us to be fairly advanced. It’s been a long and tedious road filled with humiliating and frustrating situations, but at the same time it has been very rewarding.

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So, halfway through our trip, with less than four month left to use our Spanish, we decided to attend the cheapest Spanish school we could find and that school turned out to be in Xela. Xela is a good place to study Spanish, because it is cheaper than Antigua and there are many people around who only speak Spanish. In Antigua it has apparently become so touristy that everyone there speaks English. Xela is also a popular base from which to do volcano treks and other hikes. Other than learning Spanish, volunteering  or hiking, I can’t really see a reason why a tourist would visit Xela. There’s not a lot going on here.

This beautiful building used to be right on my way to our homestay from school:

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Xela is a quiet city. It’s Thursday night and we walked around trying to find a place to eat nachos and drink a beer. We found a handful of restaurant serving Italian or French food that’s not within our budget. We walked past three clubs playing doef-doef dance music. And next to the central park there’s a strip of Irish bars. We eventually found a rooftop with a view over the park and nacho’s, but the other options for nightlife in Xela makes me wonder what on earth the students to here at night.

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I love the horizontal security bars on the house above. Some of the streets in Xela are tarred, but most of the streets are cobblestone and uneven.

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Xela is surrounded by green mountains. In the picture below you can see the conical shape of Volcano Santa Maria (a favourite hiking route for tourists):

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It has been two quiet weeks for me. One week I had Spanish for 2.5 hours each and this week I have 5 hours of Spanish a day. This is tiring and in the afternoons I just want to read and sleep. The school arranges interesting afternoon activities, so when I felt up to it, I attended a few fun excursions.

Today is the second day that we do not have water in the apartment where we are renting a room. This seems to be a regular problem in Xela – some people have a tank where they store water, because the municipality only supplies them with water three days a week.

Xela has a rectangular shaped parque central where locals hang out and sell fruit and sweets from stalls. This circular monument is in the park:

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A phallic monument to a previous president proudly towers over the park, right in its center.

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We have experienced a few earth tremors during our time in Xela. This afternoon there was a strong tremor that shook the bed while I was talking to my mom on the phone! Some buildings have visible damage from past earthquakes.

The park is surrounded by beautiful colonial building, such as the municipal palace and a cathedral.

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It seems as if the doves have a specific spot where they stay and get food in the park.

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There is a seemingly out of place MacDonald’s next to the park, as well as a bank and the arcade in which our Spanish school is located.

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Some people drive extremely old cars. Last week, we were crossing a street when a wheel fell off a car right behind me!

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The ornamentation on the church facade is quite a sight for sore eyes.

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This is me with Carlos, my Spanish maestro (teacher) on the terrace of the school building. Thanks to Carlos, I can now use the past tense and this enables me to tell stories in Spanish.

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From the terrace you get a beautiful view of the surrounds.

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The Thursday before we arrived (on a Sunday) there was a tragic fire that cost three people their lives. A gas cylinder in a restsaurant exploded and the whole block burned down:

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Our Spanish school is right next to the burnt down building. Luckily the Spanish school’s building were not affected by the fire apart from smoke that lingered for a day or two. Between my lessons I keep an eye on the progress of the cleaning up and removal of ash. Apparently the damage is worth 21 million Quetzales.

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There are still police who guard the burn site with large guns. It’s a tragedy that unnerved many people in Xela.

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5 thoughts on “Two weeks in Xela, Guatemala

  1. Wish I could say a few words in Spanish! The town may be quiet but I love the narrow cobble stoned streets and pastel coloured buildings!

    • Dit is `n mooi plekkie, maar ek dink die foto’s laat die beter lyk as wat dit is. Baie van die geboue is vervalle en word nie versorg nie.

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