Education on Vacation

Well it’s been a week since my last update so I guess you’re all eager to find out what we’ve been up to. The last week has been spent in a small town on the shore of the wonderful Lake Atilan. The town is called San Pedro and our time there has been spent mixing business with pleasure. The business bit being trying to learn the language inflicted upon the people of Central and South America by the Spanish invaders many moons ago, and the pleasure side of things were our little excursions once school was out. So let me break it down.

Studying Espanol.

The reason we have stayed in one place for longer than three days, is the fact that we needed to learn Spanish, and Orbita school in San Pedro was the perfect place to do so. For just under £150 each, we had accommodation for six nights and twenty hours of one-to-one Spanish lessons. Our apartment was nice enough if not a little odd. Big double bed and cable TV were the best bits. The cold shower, a toilet with a view to the bedroom, and the kitchen with no food prep space were the challenging bits.

Our classrooms were right outside our apartment. Dom’s was on the patio directly in front of our place and mine was on our roof. Both of us had excellent views of the lake, making it the best classroom I’ve ever had.

The view from my classroom

The view from my classroom with Indians nose in the top left

Me doing lines in detention

Me doing lines in detention

My teacher was called Roxanne and she was ace. She was patient with my terrible pronunciation, taught at a good speed, and I think she has actually helped me understand the language a bit. I can hear it a lot better and understand written sentences. Moy bien.

San Pedro

Neither of us are massive fans of the place to be honest. It was billed as a party town by people we had spoken to beforehand, but it appeared more like the aftermath of a party. The streets were full of stray dogs, stray dog shit, the market had more flies than produce, and there appeared to be an unhealthy ratio of tourists to locals. After two days of looking around we had seen pretty much everything there was to see. It was easily my least favourite place on the lake and we weren’t too sad to leave, unlike most of the places we’ve visited so far.
San Juan
On Wednesday after school we Skyped my parents and foster sister, and then hired kayaks and got on the lake. Although it was sunny and dead hot, the wind had picked up a bit and the water was choppy. We’d planned on rowing across the lake to check out the next town, San Juan, a cleaner, quieter, version of San Pedro. However, half way across the lake, we bumped into (literally) a fellow student from Orbita, who said that we should turn back as she had just done the very trip we were attempting, and had struggled on the way back. Not fancying rowing on the spot, against the wind, I heeded her advice and spun around. Dom continued for a while before she too turned back, finding that the girl was indeed right, and the conditions ensured a strenuous journey back.

Heading off to choppy waters

Heading off to choppy waters

We’d hired the kayaks for an hour but we were out of the water within 45 minutes. It wasn’t much fun to be honest. The waves weren’t big enough to surf, but just big enough to get us soaking wet and make rowing hard. We returned home, changed clothes and walked the dusty road to San Juan. Whilst there we ate street food and watched some locals make clothes the old fashioned way. It was a lovely little place but then my guts was bad and so we headed back home.

Check out those sea legs

Check out those sea legs

Sunrise on the Indians nose
The last time I remember seeing the sun come up, was at our good friends, Jamie and Abbie’s wedding in Ibiza, and so the chance to witness a sunrise from the top of a mountain was too good an opportunity to turn down, despite the fact our day would have to start at 3:30 am. The mountain in question is known as the Indians nose.

The alarm went off,  we struggled out of bed, and headed out to meet our guide and the rest of the group. Once we had all assembled, we walked to the top of town to get the chicken bus. It was still dark as we hurtled around the winding road up the mountain, the lights from San Pedro far below making the journey appear pretty hairy. I reminded Dom that it would be more fun flying back down when we could see the sheer drop.

The chicken bus dropped us off and the trek to the summit commenced. The night sky was full of stars, reminding me of the sky I used to see in Pembrokeshire as a child. The trek was pretty straight forward and within half an hour or so we were at the top of the mountain we could see from our apartment.

The night sky was slowly turning to day, the stars dispersed and the world grew lighter. I was pretty disappointed to tell the truth. It was nothing like the cartoons. Instead of seeing the great ball of fire slowly creep over the mountain in the distance, it just became light, and then the sun made an appearance and it became too bright to look at. I actually preferred the night sky, with the millions of stars and the Milky Way in plain sight. With that said, it was still pretty ace to see the mountain behind us change colour with the breaking of dawn.

Pffft. Boring! Nothing like the movies.

Pffft. Boring! Nothing like the movies.

Pretty good view though. Well worth the early start.

Pretty good view though. Well worth the early start.

After about half an hour of taking photos, drinking coffee and eating bread, it was time to return to world below. We didn’t get the chicken bus back like I expected. After our trek to the village, we got in the back of a pick up truck and were driven to the next village where we hopped in a tuk tuk and were taken back home just in time to start our lessons.
San Marcos
After school on Thursday we had two choices: We could either go back to bed and have a much needed kip after our sunrise adventure, or we could man up and get a boat across the lake to another of it’s towns. We opted for option two because we’re nails.

The lake was again pretty choppy and so the boat ride was fun. We bounced about and got soaked during the half hour trip. Once on San Marcos we headed to a kind of beach area. I went in the water for a good two minutes or so. I’m not really a fan of swimming and so I sat on the bank and did some swotting up on my Spanish. Dom stayed in the water for about five minutes longer than me before she got out to soak up some rays. A nice bit of rest in the sun, both too tired to do anything else after our middle-of-the-night start to the day.

Santa Cruz

Another thing on our list of things to do whilst at the lake, was to have a couple of cocktails in an infinity pool. We never got round to it whilst at Panajachel and so Friday was our last chance. Following another bumpy, wet, boat rice we got to Jabilota, home of the club with the infinity pool and made our way there.

I may as well have swam across the lake. I'd have gotten just as wet.

I may as well have swam across the lake. I’d have gotten just as wet.

We arrived just before happy hour ended and so ordered four cocktails to take advantage of the two for one deal. Dom checked the pool out and reported back that it was cold. If it ps too cold for Dom then I’m not going anywhere near it. Cold and wet is for back home. We don’t have a choice there.
With cocktails drunk and no pool time we walked the coast path to Santa Cruz. It’s a small village and not a lot to see. We were immediately approached by two kids who wanted money. Not wanting to encourage begging I got the thumb remover out and they instantly forgot about cash and were mesmerised by my magic. Soon we had a large group around us and so Dom joined in the fun and games with her face pulling thing. The kids loved it and I think now as I’m writing this, there is a small village in Guatemala, full of kids trying to rip their thumbs off.
After entertaining the kids for a bit we walked around the rest of the village to find food. There was a game of football going on in the square. I played in Mexico at five in the morning, drunk and in the dark and did OK. Whilst in Guatemala though I have become terrible. I have only kicked a ball twice and both times I’ve fucked up. In Xela I managed to kick a kids ball over a fence with my first shot, and this time when I tried to pass the ball back to them after it had rolled down the hill towards me, I hoofed it straight into a teenage girls head. It bounced off her swede and went further down the hill. I should hang my boots up me thinks.
With time against us, we headed to the dock for a quick beer before the last boat home. Once back in San Pedro we had a couple of beers with a fellow student and retired for the night. Next stop, Antigua, for a hike up an active volcano. Yikes!



  1. yosoysoyyo · February 22, 2016

    The thing with learning español (or any language) is that it takes time. Time + effort = results. Best environment to learn in is when you’re surrounded by the language, though.

    The best advice I can give is to not worry about making mistakes. Give it a go and you’ll, somehow, manage to get better. People are pretty good at helping you if they know you’re making an effort.

    Basically, go to the pub, have a beer and try and chat with someone. Best way to learn.


    • fishgrapes · February 26, 2016

      Gracias amigo. I am practicing every day and am a hundred times better than when I arrived. When my internship in Belize finishes, I am thinking of doing another week of lessons. But for now, practico, practico, practico.


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