travel

Las Fuentes Georginas

I love the intense Spanish lessons I have every day here at PLQE.В But like I mentioned,В the non-stop learning is tiring. So I was really excited when a group of us took a field trip toВ Las Fuentes Georginas–hot springs in the mountains outside Xela–yesterday afternoon.

To get there, we piled into the back of a pick-up truck for the 45 minute ride. It was bumpy and a little nauseating, but also lots of fun. We drove through small towns and wound through farmland filled with vegetable crops. I took the two photos below from the back of the truck.

the road to fuentes georginas

fields on the way to fuentes georginas

The hot springs were clearly built for tourism and named after former dictator Jorge Ubico’s wife. Despite that, I was thrilled to be out of the city and soaking in the warm waters. Since it was an overcast weekday afternoon, only a few other people were there.

fuentes georginas

The pool on the top level was closest to the source and therefore the hottest. I was shocked at how high the temperature was. None of us could go all the way in. I only managed to get in waist-high for a few minutes! We saw just one crazy guy splashing around in that one–and he told us he took an ice shower beforehand to numb himself against the heat. Um, smart?

Then, we hiked down a trail to two smaller, isolated pools near a waterfall and spent the rest of our time soaking in the waters and enjoying the view…

fuentes georginas

fuentes georginas

…until we reluctantly had to get out, dry off, hike back up and board another pick-up back to Xela.

the road back from fuentes georginas

Xela and Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Espanol (PLQE)

Greetings from Guatemala!

I can’t believe my first week here is halfway over–the time is flying! I admit, I was a little nervous about coming here, especially as a solo female traveler–anything you read about Guatemala, these days, mentions the high crime rate and all the scary potential dangers that come with being here. But, I feel quite safe and definitely believe I made a great decision to study in Qutezaltenango (Xela) with PLQE.

Xela is four hours away from Guatemala City, up in the western highlands. To get here, I (along with another student and a guide from the school) took a winding bus ride along the Interamericas Highway–which was really gorgeous. The road weaves through the mountains–up into the clouds at points–passing hills and valleys, grazing farm animals and little roadside stores and food stands. I was surprised at how smooth and wide the road was. The ride was more comfortable than any other I’d taken in Latin America. (Granted, I wasn’t on a chicken bus; I’ll get my first taste of that in the coming days. I took a “first class” bus which was basically an old Greyhound.)

parque central, xela

Xela is Guatemala’s second largest city, but doesn’t feel large or overwhelming. It’s a sprawl of low, colorful buildings and seems more like a small town. Plus, volcanos and hills flank the city, which make for dramatic scenery.

parque central, xela

During the day, people of all ages are out and I feel comfortable wandering and taking pictures (like these of Parque Central) by myself. But we’ve been warned not to walk alone after 9:30 at night–and, really, not to stay out much later than that.В (I’ve only been freaked out once: Early yesterday morning, around 5 a.m., explosions right outside my house woke me up. It sounded like a gun battle in the streets. After several rounds went off, I heard my host mom rustling around outside and popped out of my room to ask what the noise was. Apparently, Guatemalans shoot firecrackers in the wee hours to ring in someone’s birthday. Who knew?)

parque central, xela

As for PLQE, the school I’m attending–I’m loving it. They set me up with a wonderful homestay (more about that in another post) and they run a great program.

plqe

I have classes five hours a day (one-on-one instruction with my teacher, Arecely) and the school offers movie screenings, lectures and field trips every day.

plqe activities

As for the language learning part? The instruction is really good, but also tiring and, at times, frustrating. It’s hard to commit so much to memory and not feel dumb/hopeless in the process!

On my first day, Arecely, gave me a short oral and written test to determine my proficiency. Then, we developed a lesson plan based on what I wanted to review and focus on. After having taken group lessons with 9 other students in the States, private lessons seem like a luxury. Arecely is very patient when I repeatedly ask her to explain a grammatical point so I can fully understand it and therefore be able to use it. (Like why you’d use indirect object pronouns and the actual words they’re supposed to replace in the same sentence–isn’t the point to avoid redundancies?!) Or when I’m fumbling for words that just won’t come to me. В We’re moving at a good pace and covering lots of concepts, but not so fast that I’m not retaining what I’m learning.

Despite my struggles, my Spanish is improving. I can speak and understand a little more every day. But I still have a loooooooooong way to go. I’m jealous of the students who are here for a month or longer. It makes me wonder if/when I’ll have the opportunity to travel for that amount of time. And, if not, if Mal and I should do another program like this, in another country, for our next sister trip.

plqe

More updates to come!

Off to Guatemala!

Xela a noche

I’m about to depart onВ my end of summer trip–two weeks in Guatemala to learn Spanish! I’ll be studying atВ Proyecto LingГјistico Quetzalteco de EspaГ±ol (PLQE), spending one week in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city, and one week at La Escuela de la Montana, their other location on a coffee farm in the mountains.

Earlier this month, I felt a little nervous about going–mostly about the mountain school. As a city girl, I’m never quite at ease in rural areas. I feel safe in big urban areas where there are lots of people and noise. When I’m surrounded by nature and the unfamiliar sounds that come with it, I’m always a little on edge. Even suburbs kind of creep me out!

But now I’m just so excited to go. I’m really looking forward to meeting my host family and fellow students, improving my Spanish and exploring two new places. (I only wish that Mal were coming with me–and already can’t wait for the next trip we’ll take together!)

(Photo of Xela at night by Harry Diaz)

So Not Ready for the End of Summer!

How is it already September? This summer has flown by! And yet, somehow it feels like it lasted for ages–which, in my opinion, is definitely a good thing!

Every year, I say that I’ve had the best summer, ever. This year is no exception. From mid-May through today, I’ve been lucky to have tons of good times with the people I love the most.

I spent many beach weekends in Maryland with Mal and Peter…

mal and peter

…and friends…

mal, heather, reen

mal, virginia, heather

…and family.В We spent lots of time lounging on the beach, but also hit up ridiculous places likeВ Seacrets, lol!…

seacrets

…andВ devoured mountains of crustaceansВ atВ our favorite blue crab joint.

blue crabs

We also discoveredВ Jules, which, not counting theВ crabВ places,В is definitely the best restaurant in the Ocean City area. We went there with our parents, in mid-July, on Mal and Peter’s last weekend in the area.

e and meme

And then, Mal and Peter left Maryland…

ocean city

…and were back in New York, much to my delight!

mal and heather

Especially since now they’re only a half hour away and I can see them as often as I want. And rope them into things like river tubing. рџ™‚

tubing

I didn’t leave NYC during August. At first, I wondered if I could deal with that much time in one place. But it turned out to be a great month. I spent lots of time studyingВ SpanishВ and rehearsing a piece from “Les Sylphides” for the dance show I performed in last weekend.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Now I’m off from work for 16 days–and savoring the last bit of NYC summer before I leave for Guatemala early tomorrow morning!

mal and peter

heather and mal

Are you also sad about the end of summer?

This Must Be The Place

this must be the place

How gorgeous is that photo? I came across it on Gadling today and loved it so much that I had to reblog it. It’s by Flickr user il leleВ and part of his stunning photo set of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It kind of reminds me of the Bolivia’s Salar de Uynui–except with dunes. But nevertheless, I’ve now added it to the long list of places I want to visit.

(Photo by il lele via Gadling)

Learning a Second Language

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The other day, I referenced my upcoming Guatemala tripВ in an email and wrote: “If only I could increase my Spanish knowledge at least twenty-fold before then!”

Sure, the purpose of my trip is to learn the language. (Like I’ve mentioned, I’m tired ofВ bumbling through Latin America with broken Spanish–not to mention NYC, where every other person speaks Spanish.) But I feel I’ll get more from the experience if I arrive with a decent grasp of grammar and vocabulary. And so, over the past few months, I’ve tried to absorb as much Spanish as I can. Here’s how I’ve squeezed it in:

I’m taking a Spanish class. I purchased a LivingSocial deal for Rennert International, a foreign language school near my office. I’ll have attended eight sessions by the time I depart. I’ve never taken a small group class before, so I don’t have a point of reference for how good or bad it is. I’ll admit that I don’t love making up dialogues, which we frequently do; I’d rather be conversing about my real life. And there are times when I wish the class would move a little faster. But my instructor, Rolando, has taught me some nitty-gritty grammatical nuances that I may not have picked up on my own. (Like when to use “traer” and when to use “llevar.”)

I joined two Spanish Meetups and attended two events. The first was a happy hour–which I highly recommend to anyone learning a language. I spent several hours at a bar speaking nothing but Spanish with native speakers and other newbies. Even though my Spanish was worse than anyone else’s, every person I spoke to was very patient in explaining words I didn’t understand (in Spanish, which I appreciated) and correcting my mistakes. I understood a lot more than I could respond to, but I left with a better grasp of some basic phrases and concepts. Mal and I also caught part of an Argentinean film, “Anita,” at another Meetup. Everyone I know, who speaks a second language, said they learned a lot from watching TV and movies. In general, I don’t often do either, but Mal and I are thinking of having Spanish movie nights when I get back. (So she can improve and I won’t lose everything I learn!)

I listen to a podcast during my morning commute. Mal recommended “Coffee Break Spanish” before our trip to Bolivia. It’s a free podcast, available through iTunes, and it’s fantastic–probably the most useful resource I’ve come across. Like the name implies, the episodes are short and entertaining. Mark and Kara, the hosts, cover various topics–from asking directions to going camping–so well, that you come away from each episode feeling like you can converse about them. (They also break down grammatical points so they’re easy to understand.) I’ve actually learned most of my vocabulary from it.

While I know I’m making progress, I’m also aware of how much more I have to learn. When I hear people speaking Spanish on the subway or in stores, I understand a few words, but usually can’t follow exactly what they’re saying.

I’m not expecting to come back from Guatemala proficient or even conversant. But I’m sure I’ll know way more than I do now…which is more than I knew a few months ago. It’s slow going! But I suppose that’s the only way to learn a language when you can’t be fully immersed in it for several months: a little at a time.

Do you speak another language (or two or three)? How did you learn it?

(Photo via Pinterest)

Travelers in Transit

The travel photos that you tend to show off usually feature the highlights of a trip–I know mine are usually of me standing on the summit of a mountain, a gorgeous vista I drove hours to see, an amazing meal before anyone’s taken a bite. But the time I spent in a car/train/plane to reach that place? I could probably count those photos on two hands.

In her gorgeous series, “Transit,” German photographer Katrin KoenningВ captures those quiet moments before travelers reach their destinations–those times where they’re sleeping upright in airplane seats, dozing in cars, spacing out through subway windows.

According to Koenning:

Transit documents people on journeys. While travelling, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence. By fate, destiny or chance, strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. There is a quiet comfort in sitting back and watching the world fly by.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the series:

(Photos by Katrin Koenning; found via My Modern Met)