PD, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Skool’s out. We’re back on the road.
We ended a month in Xela with a slightly raucous ‘graduation’ night at Spanish school (yes, we have a certificate to prove we Tried Very Hard), and lots of goodbyes – to our fellow students, especially Amy and Rob from New Mexico whom we hope we’ll see again some day, and to our host family Guisela, Boris and their much-loved dogs.
Shame my hangover on Saturday morning caused an even more confused babble of Spanish tenses than usual. As we drove off I think I told them we’d never forget them while we were on the road, but I may have said we’d have forgotten them by the time we got to the end of their road.
It was sad, but the end of school also signalled that a much-anticipated hello was on the horizon – to my mum and dad, who are winging their way to Guatemala as I write. We’re more than a little excited about spending three weeks travelling the country with them, and no doubt drinking a few glasses of cerveza and vino along the way. Roll on tonight.
After a bit of a mid-term slump in the Spanish-speaking stakes, the final week of school was an improvement for both of us. Partly because we accepted that it’s a long game and a period of confusion is a necessary stage of the process. The more we learn the more we expect of ourselves. PLQ is a fantastic school for many reasons, and we really feel they have given us the foundations and confidence to speak up and keep learning, as well as a wealth of knowledge about Guatemala. The homework doesn’t stop here.
Staying still and getting to know a place for a month was a luxury in itself. It was lovely to walk the streets of Xela, waving hello to familiar faces. The mechanics who fixed our van, the woman who cut my hair, the laundry guy, the bloke who cycled past us every morning on the way to school and shouted ‘buenos dias’ without fail.
We even paid a visit to the football stadium to watch the mighty Xela play a league match (1-1), and Jeremy had a fix of five-a-side with the students and teachers each week.
And we got to know one or two bars. One night last week began with bumping into a couple of fellow students and heading for “a beer”. Four hours later we had crashed a birthday party in Xela’s only gay bar and were watching the birthday boy performing a Madonna song before pouring Mezcal straight from the bottle down the throats of all his guests. Those unexpected evenings are often the best.
Our final night in the city was that of our graduation. It’s a traditional Friday night thing at the school, where some of the teachers perform and sing and then all the students join in the with ‘school song’, a Spanish version of the anti-fascist Bella Ciao.
Then all the students leaving that day have to do a turn. I had to follow Amy, who is a professional singer and stopped the room with her incredible voice. And to top that off, she put in a performance like while suffering from malaria, having been diagnosed earlier in the week. Eek. I did a speech in Spanish, with quotes from Fidel Castro that had inspired me during a horrible time in our union at the BBC. Jeremy managed to mix humour, in Spanish, with a poem from Che Guevara. That’s my boy.
What we probably won’t miss about Xela is the cold at the beginning and end of the day. Bloody hell, it was freezing peeling ourselves out of bed and then sitting in the open-air school yard every morning. We realise it’s cold for many people reading this too, but we assume most of you have central heating. When I chatted to Guisela about most people in Europe not only having heating but having hot water taps in their kitchens and bathrooms she couldn’t understand the point of it – what a waste of money!
We have now arrived in warmer climes. En route to a campsite near(ish) Antigua we picked up two skateboarders from Guatemala City who had hurtled down this terrifying hill and were looking for a lift back up. Turned out one of them had lived in (our part of London) Tooting Broadway when he was a kid. What are the chances?
After we left them we unknowingly turned onto the worst road we have encountered to date. Not really a road, just a pile of jagged rocks vaguely following the route to the place we were trying to reach. It was a terrifying hour or so, not least when we had to inch past a van that had tipped right off the road. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about, the men who were trying to haul their vehicle out of the ditch helped us get round them safely.
Most annoyingly of all, before that journey we’d got the van all washed and ready for mum and dad’s visit, and now it’s filthy again. My dad is a fanatical car-washer. We’re taking bets on how long it takes him to mention the van looks less than perfect.
More pics soon, but in case you missed this batch from Christmas, here they are again.
Things we now know to be true: Just because there’s a road clearly marked on the map, you can’t assume it’s actually a road.