Salsa, pinatas, spanish lessons and volcanos

Divertido: fun and diverting, which is certainly the case about Antigua. Another place, another set of wonderful new experiences. I’ve not had time to write.

We were staying with Olga and her big family - she’s such wonderful mama and her family are so welcoming. She feeds us constantly - each day something different but always including guacamole and beans and always delicious. We were so lucky to be there for her three-year-old grandchild’s birthday who had a piñata to destroy - so much fun to watch.

We started school on Monday morning - I can’t believe it’s actually Friday now - and are progressively getting slightly better with spanish but for all my initial bravado that it would be a breeze, it’s muchos difficile. Of course.

My teacher, Paula, is a riot - so much fun, interesting and incredibly patient with me. We talk for hours in broken spanish about everything from my parents’ work, to handsome men, how the local indigenous people are discriminated against and buying tampons (completely frowned upon if you’re not married). Yes. We’re also covering useful verbs and conjugations and muchos parabalas, but it’s wonderful to chat and it’s exactly why I wanted to learn spanish. She’s 38 and has been married for 20 years - she’s determined to be my matchmaker, and Anita’s, after learning we’re both not married. More on that later.

The school also arranges field trips with guides speaking only spanish - on Tuesday we went to the old city via a chicken bus, an old US school bus which has been revamped with fluorescent stickers which scream Dios es amor! and other such sayings and blare loud reggaton through the streets at all hours and pick up way too many passengers. They are amazing. Anyway, the old city. It was once the capital of Guatemala before it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1541 and has lovingly restored buildings from before that time, particularly the main church which even on a Tuesday afternoon was occupied by local women praying. Inside, Pope John Paul II - the Polish pope as Anita happily reminds me - has a prominent picture by the pulpit, and there are decorated watermelons to signify easter time: a wonderful alternative to eggs for those thinking of home decorations. As we were walking out, a funeral procession was walking in accompanied by a band playing solemn music.

That evening we began our salsa classes, which we took every night with the super flamboyant Frank, an exuberant teacher who comes up to my waist and yet still tries it on with all the girls. We just laugh with him about it and he’s a good sport. After our lessons, our new little posse consisting of a Canadian, two Americans, an englishman and of course a Pole and Aussie would go out dancing to practice the new steps which always made for a difficult morning the next day.

On Wednesday we went to San Antonio on a school excursion where we had a demonstration of what it is like to be part of the mayan community. It was fascinating - and eventhough it was completely set up as a tourist thing, it certainly taught us a lot about the indigenous people of Guatemala. Making up 75% of the population, there is widespread discrimination against them as their poverty which doesn’t enable them to gain an eduction and their traditions are seen as making them second class. We saw how they weave - a crucial part of how women work, together with cooking, keeping the home clean and looking after the children - and then had their weddings. Paula, who had seen the demonstration thousands of times before, knew exactly when this section was on and was up like a shot “Aqui! Esposa!” pointing at me and then “Alli! Esposo!” pointing at Adam, our new friend from England and basically the only man around our age in the group. It would have been embarrassing if it weren’t so funny. So we had a pretend mayan wedding, which was colourful and fun. Apparently there’s a year between engagement and wedding and during that time, the woman has to make an intricate woven serviette for her husband-to-be’s mother, which is presented at the wedding. The wedding itself is fun, complete with petal throwing and dancing and after the ceremony, the new wife needs to make her husband’s family tostados and if they aren’t good enough, she doesn’t get to sleep with her new husband. Tough.

We continued our routine of spanish classes then salsa classes and even made it up a volcano on Saturday, Pacaya. Anita and Kathryn, our new Texan friend, bravely walked up but I took a taxi - a horse - up with Adam and it was certainly the best way to go. Anita doesn’t agree. We got to the top and played in the lava fields at the base of Pacaya, roasting marshmallows and taking pictures. It was like we were on the moon. Another day, another new place of wonder we’ve discovered. That evening our team - Gregg, Kathryn, Frank, Adam and us - went out for our last meal together at an amazing restaurant with a fusion of Guatemalan, Indonesian and portuguese food, due to the owner, a lovely chap who’s mum was Indonesian and dutch and father Guatemalan. We had one last dance at Las Palmas and said our goodbyes. It was so lovely to hang out together and I hope we’ll meet them again.

So Antigua was filled with lots of learning spanish, lots of salsa and lots of time with our new friends. Adam, Anita and I have continued our journey to Lake Atitlan, where we’re now based for at least two days - we don’t know yet. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans as they say…