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¿Habla español?

Every friday we have lunch at the school with most of the students and teachers. Everybody contributes a dish resulting in ladden tables with all sorts of delicious food.

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Between christmas and new years, the school was rather empty, but filled up quickly in 2014. So we hardly fit all the people in the dining room and food on the tables. In this picture the lady sitting next to me is my teacher Linda.

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Besides the weekly lunch, there are several other activities like salsa or cooking classes as well as excursions to mountain villages or hiking trips. Our goal for this saturday: the volcano Santa Maria.

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One of the more dificult hikes around Xela, but, weather permiting, with some of the best views not only of Xela, but over the guatemaltecan volcano chain and even the Pacific.

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locations

Quetzaltenango

The road from Toto was still pleasant for a while but one could sense its drawing near the panamerican highway. The density of chickenbuses grew, sometimes blocking whole junctions while letting off people or taking on new passengers while the exhausts and the sounds of their horns filled the air.

Just outside the city, i saw a peloton on their racing bikes complete with jerseys and later another group of riders dressed in a similar fashion overtaking me on the way towards the center. It was nice for a change to get in one of the bigger cities with still a couple of hours of daylight to spend. I visited one of the three spanish schools i had contacted. It was a friday afternoon and not much happening around the school. Ilsy from the staff showed me around, a quircky and lively person, sadly no one of us spoke the others tounge very well. The main advantage was, that the school has a couple of rooms for students, i didn’t want to have to walk far to school when the class would start the next week at eight in the morning. And i didn’t want to crash at a guest family with my two words of spanish a day before christmas. Here’s the view from the room.

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Almost every morning it looks different. The light changes, sometimes the mountains are covered in mist and the clouds never run out of new shapes and forms. Dusk lasts only a short while but has its charme too.

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Xela seems to have quite a bit to offer. A bit of a music scene, places which show movies, some bicycle culture, vegetarian eating options and nice surroundings for daytrips. I’m happy here so far. The first few days of spanish lessons are over and it reminded me that learning a language is quite a task. But i am motivated and am looking forward to the signs of progress along the course of the next few weeks.

I rarely use my bicycle around town in the busy and narrow streets, most of them just passable in one direction and with coblestone which is rather rough. So, i walked most of the times and explored the city bit by bit with some nice views from time to time like here over the cathedral at the parque central.

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More about the life in the school on the next page.

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food locations travel

Coban to Totonicapan

The department of Alta Verapaz is famous for its coffee and as i was getting closer to its capital, more and more hills were covered with plantations.

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I stayed at the la paz hotel, a nice guesthouse in a tranquil part of town not far from the city center. Just next door was a cafeteria which served the best coffee i tasted on this trip so far. A good cup of coffee is sadly not too common in many parts of Guatemala since most of the coffee is produced for export.

I was planing on staying in town for a while and look for a spanish school. The first that i had researched was closed, i didn’t have the address and never received a reply from the second one and the third one was not to my liking. Coban was in one aspect everything i wished for in a place to learn spanish: off the tourist trail. But after two days of searching without any result, i already felt like moving on and after a couple of emails to schools and positive replies, i set off towards Quetzaltenango.

I had heard about the bad road conditions after a big landslide swept away a part of the road in 2008. And as there was no official attempt to repair the damage, there is now a make-shift road built by the people of the surrounding villages.

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There were worse parts along the way than the few hundred meters of that road past the landslide and it was at a slow pace that i continued towards Sacapulas, where i intended to stay only for lunch but ended up staying the night in a nice guesthouse with a great view from the balkony over the river.

I set off early in the morning. Knowing that my goal for the day lies 2500m above the sea level whereas my starting point only at 1200m. And by now familiar with the roads of Guatemala, i wasn’t expecting one gentle climb. But at the beginning of the day i had such a nice time cycling until Santa Cruz del Quiche, with finally some stretches without road damage, heavy traffic or steep climbs, just the omnipresent political slogans. The parties must have armies of people running around the country and painting the sides of the roads with their colours slogans.

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From Santa Cruz del Quiche it was another five hundred meters to climb to Toto, but first the road dropped steeply towards a river, into a beautiful valley with sheer rock walls on both sides and just enough room for a narrow road next to the riverbed. Once i climbed out of the valley, the road followed a mountain ridge with beautiful views over the surrounding valleys and still i was not worried although the sun was sinking low. It was not until a certain kilometer marker, around which i had expected to reach the city, that i grew suspicious. According to my map i should have reached the town by now. In the end, the map was ten kilometers off. Ten kilometers of a gnawing uphill part through a ever darkening forest. At that time, i was really glad i had brought a headlamp in addition to my front light as there was no other light whatsoever, if not a blinding one from an oncoming truck. An hour later, i reached the end of the forest and after another bend i saw the lights of Totonicapan spread out before me. I was still around three hundred meters above the city and after the downhill through the night chill, my hands were stiff as a rock. I got directions to a nice guesthouse near the central plaza and a chinese comedor which served a plate big enough for two and even i had to take a little break before finishing it. But it didn’t take long until the thought of a dessert crossed my mind.

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locations postcards

Semuc Champey

After thinking about to join the tour of the guesthouse, i decided to do it by bicycle myself and my own pace as the tour included two other sights and a rather tight schedule. If i had known the road would be as challenging as within the last days, i might have opted for the tour instead. After only nine kilometers i was soaked in sweat and ready for a swim. Still i decided to climb to the viewing point first,

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before i went to the pools below.

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In the evening i was quite happy again about the buffet which gave the energy i needed on the next day for yet another heavy climb out of the lanquin valley. The last days had been very strenuous on the bicycle but as in most cases also very rewarding.