San Pedro (Lake Atiltlan)

18 Jun

My family

In San Pedro, I decided to do a home stay while taking my Spanish lessons, to aid in my “immersion” of the culture. I had heard some not so good stories, so I was a bit apprehensive. Thankfully, I loved the family I stayed with. Inez and her two twin daughters- Barbara and Isabel.

The girls are 11 years old and just really well raised. On a couple of occasion they invited me to their room to watch TV with them; we watched Hannah Montana (which is funny in any language), some plastic surgery makeover show and while watching music videos they helped me pick out boyfriends. The family was used to random foreigners staying in their house and was very patient while communicating with me. The grandparents, Inez’s sister and niece were always around but I couldn’t figure out where they slept; until the girls showed me the “other house” with an entrance from their room.

The food

I really enjoyed having Inez prepare three home cooked meals for me every day. My meals were served at 7:20. 12:30 and 6:30. The meals were simple but good. My favorite thing she made was the banana pancakes, they were amazing. My least favorite was  this guacamole and onion salad concoction. I ate everything she gave me, I was not going to be the rude American “I don’t eat this”. This being Central America, we ate tortillas with everything. For every meal her mother would make fresh tortillas out of maize on her concrete/wood burning stove.

When traveling alone mealtime can be somewhat lonesome, whenever I dine alone I bring a book for company. It was nice having a family to eat with and converse with doing meal time.

The house.

Inez lived in a 3- floor house at the top of a very steep hill. On the first floor was Inez’s sewing machines (she make blouses), her bed room and the bathroom.

On the second floor was the girl’s room and my room.

I like my room. I even had a key.

And I woke up to a nice view of a Volcano

On the third floor was the kitchen. The kitchen was not finished, it “open air”. No real stove, just a burner. There was a wood oven.  Very basic, very simple but it got the job done.

Oh and about San Pedro, they don’t have their own water supply. They get their water from the mountains through a pipe. Well, since the tropical storm the pipes have been acting up. They had just received water again right before I came.

In order to wash our hands, wash clothes, dishes whatever we had to get the water from this well thing next to the sink. In the “bathroom” was the shower (with an electric heater) and toilet. There was no door separating the bathroom from the rest of the house, just a curtain. Cool, no problem. I am in a village in Guatemala; I am not expecting the Taj-Mahl.

Wednesday morning I went to use the bathroom and discovered the toilet was not flushing- there was no water. So no shower that morning! I am glad I know how to use water to flush a toilet. Saturday after my hike I was so ready for a shower, when once again there was no water. I enjoyed the pleasures of bathing in cold water from a bucket.

The School

A major purpose of my visit to Guatemala is to practice my Spanish, although I took Spanish in high school and college I am far from proficient. My strength is in reading the language and my weakness is speaking Spanish. This is why I choose to stay with a family, rather than a hotel/hostel (and because travelers are dirty hippies).  In San Pedro I studied at Flor del Maiz, which consisted on daily 4 hour one-on-one tutoring sessions with my teacher Juan.

I liked Juan…enough. I don’t know if his teaching method was right for me. Again, since I had roughly 5 years of Spanish I did have some concept of the language, which made him think my level was higher than it was. He went way to fast on different verb tenses and kept confusing me. When I am frustrated I shut down, which is not good for learning. I never knew when he wanted me to repeat something. We normally got about 2 good hours in before I was ready to flee. I did enjoy the activities and the snack time at the school. I even tried a new food…

The Activities

Depending on the day the school hosted activities to aid in our comprehension of Spanish as well as our knowledge of the local culture.

On Monday I was taken on a tour of the town by Jose. The other student Stacey got lost coming to the school and did not come with us on the tour. As we walked around the town Jose shared with me about the town’s rapid growth in the last ten years. This was especially evident in the town’s cemetery (which he took me to) with the increasingly embellished manner in which they buried their dead. During the tour we stopped by the indigenous Mayan cultural center, where arrangements were made for me to volunteer/teach a lesson at the end of the week.

On Tuesday we watched a movie about the  36 year long Civil War that wrecked havoc on Guatemala and the Mayan way of life.

Wednesday we had a lecture on the history of Lake Atitlan. After the lecture, Stacey and I went down by the docks to do a little shopping. She was looking for a purse, while I was looking for ketchup. While in Antigua, I was complaining about how nasty this sweet Guatemala ketchup was when a man told me where I could find some in San Pedro. I was overjoyed to enjoy French fries with my beloved Heinz.

Later that evening Stacey and I meet up once again to take Salsa dancing lessons with Enrique (the coordinator of the school cousin).

I had to roll up my pants because they were wet from the rain and of course slip on some heels for Salsa! Oh, and I had  to rock the Jesus piece…

We learn some basic steps. I was focused on being the better dancer, I could not let some red head from Australia out shine me! Then we practice together.Since I was taller I was the guy, but Stacey kept trying to lead.

Then we both got a chance to dance with Enrique.The hour flew by.

Thursday we were suppose to climb The Mayan Nose, but it was reschedule till Saturday because of the rain.

Friday I went back to volunteer at the Mayan Cultural Center. Everyone was so nice. I help them prepared for the monthly birthday celebration, the staff was eager to practice their English with me. When the event started they kept leaving me alone with the children all 20 of them. Me. You know the girl who doesn’t really speak Spanish. So I kept asking them simple questions “What is your name” or “How old are you”. It all worked out. It was cool watching them play games from my childhood in Spanish, like “Hot potatoes” and “Duck Duck Goose”. I taught them the English words to some of the games. I was supposed to do a craft with them, but we ran out of time.

In a nutshell

San Pedro was a very close knit Mayan community. One day I decided to take a tuk-tuk home instead of walking in the rain; in San Pedro there are no real street names but all I had to do was say I am staying with Inez. “Oh, Inez who makes blouses and has twins?” Everyone knew each other. The people spoke Tzu’tujil, which was as evident as Spanish during my stay. Traditional dress and way of life was very apparent. While the Western influence was there, it was kept at a minimum. I love San Pedro, the people, the culture…I learn so much while I was there.

The randomness:

Walking to the school one afternoon, I stumble upon a funeral. They were blasting music from a truck while carrying the casket during the street.

On Friday/Saturday  there was a wake down the street from the house, I heard funeral music all night. Inez said she the man who died was her friend and she was too sad to cook Friday night…

Next stop: Coban!

(I left San Pedro June 13, I was just really late posting this)

1 Comment

Posted by on June 18, 2010 in Guatemala, Travel


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One response to “San Pedro (Lake Atiltlan)

  1. Ann Chester

    June 22, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Tabitha I missed you so much! I’m glad you are having some positive experiences. Sometimes tutors and teachers are not able to comprehend that their students may not be learning from the way they teach. That’s why it’s imperative that we must be sensitive to the needs of our students because we all learn differently and used different modalities. Can you believe it I’m MISSING THAT CUTE DOG of YOURS, YES ISES my other child!

    Continue to be careful and I’m proud of your courage.



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