A switchback-filled, steep, pothole-ridden road led us (very slowly) to the town of San Pedro La Laguna. We arrived just in time to start our week of Spanish classes at the Corazon Maya Spanish School. Upon arrival, we knew we had made the right decision to stay at the school. Our cabana had great views of the mountains and everyone at the school was very friendly. There was also gated parking, perfect for the truck! We finally met Rachel and George from South to Nowhere, and Kenny and Jenn of North South East Westy, both of whom Richard and I had been following on Instagram and had heard great things about from other travellers on the road. We spent the evening mowing down on delicious pizza made from scratch at a local restaurant (with free hugs from the lovely Guatemalan cook!) and indulged in a delicious chocolatey morsel (complete with ice cream) for dessert. We were sad to see our new friends depart the following day!
San Pedro La Laguna is an interesting place. There is a heavy presence of gringos, mostly backpackers. Several blocks along the water is a strange but somewhat delightful area called “Gringolandia” which has been coined by the tourists (not the locals, so we hear). There are many different types of restaurants with a variety of foods (Thai, Italian, Irish, etc.) as well as tour agencies, juice shops, and a bajillion Spanish schools and hostels. The first thing we noticed was the popular garb worn by tourists in Gringolandia: pajama pants, often worn while wandering shoeless around town. Where this fashion trend came from is a mystery. Once you leave Gringolandia, San Pedro morphs into a hilly and cobble-stoned Guatemalan town with locals filling the streets, selling jugo de naranja (orange juice), and going about their daily lives without too many hemp-wearing, feather accessorizing shoeless gringos getting in their way.
The local people of Guatemala are always dressed nicely – women are often in traditional Mayan dress, which varies according to the region. In the high mountain towns, the women wear bright red wrap skirts with matching tops. In San Pedro, women don woven multi-colored skirts, often with lace tops and accented embroidery. My Spanish teacher indicated that because of the intricacy and detail of the dresses, they are quite expensive and the local women can usually only afford to buy one dress per year. Color is also very important to the Mayan culture, as it represents certain aspects of the natural world (blue water, red blood, brown earth, green plants). Men’s clothing varied from jeans and a shirt with a cowboy hat, to more traditional woven pants with a wide belt and shirt. I loved seeing more traditional dress and marvelled at how the Guatemalans, for the most part, have made sure to preserve their culture and traditions.
Corazon Maya Spanish School was a great experience for us. They only offer individual classes, which prevented either one of us from hiding behind the other during class. My teacher was kind and sweet, and she took me on a field trip to her son’s birthday party at the local elementary school. She also spent a day talking about the Mayan culture and looking up my Mayan sign (sort of like a horoscope). Rich’s teacher was excellent as well, and they chatted about his journey from Guatemala over the border to Mexico and into the United States, where he spent two years living in Washington. Unfortunately, I contracted the Guatemalan Weight Loss Plan during day 4 of my spanish lessons and was confined to bed for around 4 days.
While I was battling demons in a fevered state, Rich joined our Spanish teachers and other locals at the school for a cooking class and dinner. He learned to make pupusas, which are a corn tortilla filled with cheese (sometimes with meat and/or beans as well) and topped with shredded cabbage, carrots and salsa.