INSIDE INFORMATION ON VISITING ANTIGUA | Cruising World

INSIDE INFORMATION ON VISITING ANTIGUA

Where We Went To School

In Antigua, we attended the Instituto Antigueno de Espanol. The director, Julio Garcia, who speaks fine English, can be contacted by phone (502-832-7241; email at antiguena@granjaguar.com). Find out about the school at www.granjaguar.com/antiguena. The fees there are in the middle range for Antiguan schools. For five days of classes, four hours a day, the fee was $70 a week each, and this included a list of interesting activities, free bikes, and movies. Housing and three meals a day with a local family for seven days is an additional $50 per week per person. The most expensive program in town is only about twice that much, and we saw others for as little as $50.

| | Studying in the courtyard of the Hotel Modelo Annex.* * *| Amalia Jarquin is the private teacher with whom I also studied. She’s a terrific, very prepared teacher, and great fun to get to know. She works out of her home, just around the corner from Posada La Merced. I very much enjoyed my time with her, and give her the highest recommendation. She can be reached by email (amaliajarquin@hotmail.com) or by phone (502-832-2377). Her weekly fee was $65 per person, and she too can arrange home stays with Guatemalan families.

Finding a Spanish Language School

For a comprehensive list of schools, go to any search engine you like on the internet and type in (SPANISH+LANGUAGE+COUNTRY NAME) and you’ll find all you can handle. Because Spanish language education is a cottage industry in Guatemala, it probably has the most schools in Central America, but we’ve also met people who’ve been happy with their language programs in Mexico and Costa Rica. As an endorsement of the quality of the programs here in Antigua, the U.S. government sends employees to several schools here, usually for nine-week, eight-hour-a-day individual programs in which the employees are housed with families. The group of U.S. Coast Guardsmen we met say the language study is the best part of their jobs so far. All are now fluent.

Most schools offer options: four, five, six or eight hours a day of classes for five and six days a week, depending on how much school you want and what else you want to do. Many schools have bicycles to loan, movies to watch, salsa and meringue lessons, cultural lectures, and advice about weekend trips. Most can arrange for you to do volunteer work—in Spanish—in local projects. In some of the highland villages, Todos Santos for instance, the local language school also offered classes in Mam, a local dialect, and weaving on back-strap looms.

Classes are almost always one-on-one, and the quality of instructors varies considerably among and within schools. You can arrange your matriculation over the phone or internet if you know exactly who and what you want, or you can choose a town in which you think you’d like to spend time, merely go there, and then stroll around to talk to the program directors and students. That way you can see firsthand what you might be getting into. There are so many well-organized schools to choose from in most Guatemalan cities that you can arrive one day, find a school, and start classes the next.

Selecting and Changing Teachers

To give yourself the gift of language school for an extended period, just for the pleasure of learning, is one of the payoffs of cruising, so if you don’t like what you’re getting, speak up. After several days you’ll know if the fit is good, and whether you want to continue with that instructor or that school. Loyalty to your learning comes ahead of being a meek little student. Some schools actually have a policy of changing teachers every week. Not a bad idea, really.

| | A garden courtyard in Antigua. In 1944, the government declared Antigua a national monument; in 1979 UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site.* * *| Staying in Antigua

In Antigua there’s a range of hotels from the sublime to the intolerable, from about $125 a night to a few dollars a night, and in our visits here we’ve stayed in different hotels that span that entire range. For $20 a day, we recommend Posada La Merced, where we have a very nice room with a comfy bed, a private bathroom with unlimited steaming hot water day and night (a big deal in this country), a desk, two good reading lamps, book cases, a big window overlooking the pretty garden courtyard and fountain, and free use of a fully-equipped communal kitchen. (Equally nice rooms with shared baths are a fraction of that cost.) Gail Rogers, the New Zealand woman who owns La Merced, is a warm-hearted and savvy former tour leader who’s made a wonderful home here for herself and her daughter Isabel. Gail speaks impeccable Spanish and English, can help arrange anything, and will even coach you on conjugations. Ironically, while we were staying here, we met in our hotel the couple whose boat is next to ours at Tortugal Marina in the Rio! What a small world. Hotel Posada Merced is located on 7a. Avenida Norte, 43 A, and can be reached by phone or email (502-832-3197, 502-832-3301; posada_la_merced@hotmail.com).

An Unusual Family Vacation

We met two American families (mom, dad and two kids) who were all taking Spanish language classes at a local school—each with a different teacher, and living in a small hotel where they could cook meals and eat together. The kids were excelling and having a ball, and the parents were not far behind. While the parents said they originally had to drag their children here, now none of them want to leave, and they plan to return again next year for more. Around Antigua, there’s lots to do, including hiking the mountains, horseback riding, and bike riding around the various little pueblos surrounding the city. If you plan to bring your young kids, request teachers for them who are particularly experienced in early-childhood education. My teacher in Quetzaltanango was a primary-school teacher before becoming an immersion-Spanish language teacher.

| Other Towns

There are few communities in Guatemala that DON’T have language schools. When we first started studying, we were in Quetzaltenango, and selected a school there called Celas Maya (www.celasmaya.edu.gt). We liked this school, which pays its teachers fairly, is set in a pretty courtyard, and offers extremely reasonable rates (less than Antigua) with lots of extra activities. We looked at many places to stay and made our home in the picturesque Hotel Modelo Annex, a six-room, friendly place with a garden courtyard, spacious rooms, private baths, and low cost. Quetzaltenango is a large and busy modern city that offered lots to do: several videotape/movie houses, the excellent (and cheap) Royal Paris, and Las Calas restaurants near the school and hotel.

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