6th - 20th July
21.07.2008 34 °C
After Antigua we went to Panajachel to stay with a local Guatemalan family and study Spanish for a week. Pana is situated on Lake Atitlám which is a large lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes and steep hills.
We arrived at the school early evening and were introduced to the family. We didn't really know what to expect but it turned out that the house and the food we got (3 meals a day) was really good. Although saying that both of us were ill by the end of the week! Our Spanish lessons were from 1pm - 6pm with a guy called José. It was just the 2 of us and we had the lessons outside in the garden at the school. There are quite a lot of street dogs in Pana, some of which roam around the garden at the school. The teachers have nicknamed one 'El perro Terrorista!'
During the week we also went on a couple of school trips. The first was to a natural park just outside Pana - this involved a walk around the forest over swing bridges and small tracks and stepping stones (not easy in flip flops!)
The second trip was to San Antonio, a small village on another side of Lake Atitlán. We went there on the back of a truck with various locals (they like to fit as many people on the back of a truck as possible so had to stand most of the way!). Once there, Ellie was taken by some locals and dressed up (didn't have a choice) in the traditional outfit for the village, a ploy to force you into buying something! The women all wear the same in this village and some men also wear sarong style skirts.
After we finished our course we went across the lake to San Pedro and met Katie who we have seen in lots of different places on our trip. San Pedro is slightly less touristy than Panajachel and has a more bohemian feel about it with lots of bars and cafes to chill out in and watch movies. Unfortunately we could only stay there for one night as we had to start making our way to Monterrico on the Pacific coast where we had another five days of Spanish lessons booked.
Monterrico is a sleepy little place with one main road and a few smaller dusty streets that run off it. Dogs, chickens and pigs are regularly seen wandering around at their will. Despite its size, there are two football pitches in Monterrico, one sand and one grass. Mike played in a couple of games and the locals gave him the nickname 'el gringo mejor´. The main attraction is the beach, that goes on for miles, and looks a little strange because of the black volcanic sand.
The Spanish lessons were quite similar to Pana, again taking place in the garden at the school. However, the situation with the family in Monterrico was more or less the opposite as it had been in Pana. Their house was pretty basic, and didn´t even have proper walls. The rooms were separated by random bits of plywood that were used as partitions. The food was really bland (lots of rice, beans and tortillas) and the portions were tiny. One night we were given Pot Noodles for dinner. And you don´t want to know about the toilet and the shower!
We went on a couple of trips with the school to the local nature reserve which is a vast area of mangrove swamps which contains some beautiful lagoons that are connected by a series of canals. It is a really peaceful and interesting place to visit - especially as we got to see a community that live on a number of small islands far into the canals. We visited their school and a place where they make salt that they sell to people in the surrounding area. We also went fishing with very primitive equipment. Ellie did well by catching the biggest fish of the day!