Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Colegio Monteverde

For the last month or so, we've both been teaching English in a number of schools in Xela. I've spent most of my time at Colegio Monteverde, a school for Guatemalan children aged 3-18. Its given me the chance to teach a wide range of classes and it's been a real experience!

Here are my lovely third graders (they're all about 8), who I take for grammar and, wierdly, science in English! They're a really bright bunch, though, and seem to have a developed a pretty good understanding of nutrition, food groups etc. However, they did find it hard to grasp the idea that you don't HAVE to include meat or fish in your diet!

One of the nice things about the school is that the classes are tiny; average size is about 6 children. The fourth grade class has 18 children and all the teachers think it's huge! It gives you a good opportunity to get to know the kids and I'm sure they've learned much faster. Take note British government!

This group are excellent English speakers and are 16 to 18 years old. They're good fun and have made me realise that teenagers can actually be really nice! Sometimes it's hard to get them going at 7am but it's one of my favourite classes to teach. As you can see, the school is high up in the hills on the edge of Xela so the playground has a fantastic view across the city.

So we now have just two more days of teaching left and it will be hard to leave, but I can't wait to get back on the road to see more of Guatemala!

Rachel x

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

San Cristóbal

The need for a new passport stamp (our permitted 30 days were coming to an end) provided a great excuse to make a flying visit to Mexico! We hopped over the border (well, an eight hour journey!) to the gorgeous town of San Cristóbal de las Casas for a couple of days.

We spent a lovely sunny Valentine's Day sight-seeing and appreciating the warmth after so long in chilly Xela. We visited several pretty churches, including two high up on hillsides, with stunning views over the rooftops.

You can't escape the Valentine's hype, even in Mexico, with love hearts and flowers everywhere. Mind you, at 12 pesos each, less than $1, the roses are certainly more affordable than back home!

For some reason, old VW Beetles are extremely popular in San Cristóbal (and maybe in the rest of Mexico, too) and we even saw them used as taxis and driving instructors' cars. Even I might be convinced to drive again if I could re-learn in a Beetle!

We also visited an excellent museum, Na Balom, which used to be the home of two European anthropologists. It's full of their gorgeous belongings, a fascinating photography exhibition and displays about Mexican indigenous groups. It's also a hotel where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera once stayed!

Oh and the town has a great market where I bought some souvenirs like this top!

The next day we took an excellent trip to Cañon de Sumidero, where we went on a boat through the gorge. The landscape was incredible; really stark and dry with enormous slabs of rock soaring into the air. It's hard to capture their size in the photographs.

Above is the Christmas Tree Waterfall. In the rainy season water pours down this cliff and, over the years, it's created these strange shapes. Kind of like a Christmas tree, I guess!

The real highlight, though, was the wildlife. We saw monkeys, an owl in a hole in the rock and loads of other birds. Oh and a good few crocodiles, too! As you can see, we got pretty close!

Rob's delighted as he thinks they're our best croc photos yet.

When we came to the end of the trip, we both agreed that we would love to see some more of Mexico. We're going to try to fit in another short visit soon or, failing that, we'll definitely be back sometime in the future. Only problem is, we'll have to change the blog to Central America and Mexico!

Rachel x

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Xela 2

As promised, here is some more info and an update on how we're spending our time here in Xela. Above is our lovely apartment building, the aforementioned Pasaje Enriquez. It's actually being renovated externally right now, but I doubt it'll be finished by the time we leave at the end of the month.

So, where have the 4 weeks since the last blog post gone? Well, we finished our 3 weeks of Spanish at the Celas Maya school (above). I tell you, three hours a day is intense! I don't know how some people manage as much as 5 hours a day. Since then, we've both been teaching English. I've been doing entirely 1:1 classes in a couple of local schools and averaging around 15 hours a week. The pay isn't much to shout about (around US$2 an hour) but it certainly adds a new experience to our trip. Rach, on the other hand, has landed a job in a school for children and is really enjoying it. It's not altogether that different from her old job back home - in fact this week she's had at least one day of being snowed under with lesson preparation, which felt strangely familiar to both of us! Teachers reading this blog will sympathise. It's a good thing we're only planning on doing it for another week or so!

We've been really enjoying being in one place for a while. Xela is a good place to be; it's got a few tourists like us and, consequently, some really great restaurants and bars. Most (foreign) people here seem to be staying for a good while, learning Spanish, working and volunteering.

On the downside, Xela is pretty darn cold at times. I don't know how we picked the coldest place in all of Central America to stop for a couple of months. We're coping though: Rach found a (GAP!) jacket in a second-hand shop for about US$6 (sorry about the US-centric use of US$ all the time; you get used to thinking in US$ here to convert between local currencies).

Our other 'coping strategy' is regular trips to the nearby hot springs at Fuentes Georginas. It's an hour or so trip up there where one can lounge in three pools of varying temperatures from bath-like to scalding. Apparently it used to be a little cooler until a recent earthquake re-jigged some of the volcanic vents and a new, hotter source was revealed. Having said that, a different guide book says it used to be hotter but is still worth a visit. (We find it helps to have more than one guide book to remind yourself that guidebooks aren't always right.) Sorry we don't have any photos; it's so steamy there that photography is almost impossible.

Xela has a beautiful Parque Central that's always bustling with activity: shoe shiners (Lustradores), children playing, pidgeons, foreign students... It's flanked by the Cathedral (of course), which is being rebuilt but has retained the original facade. Our building faces onto the Parque from the opposite corner.

So, there you have an update on our time spent in Xela. We've certainly enjoyed it, but I have to close by saying that we're looking forward to getting on the road again (and seeing the rest of Guatemala)... can't wait.