Juggling language learning while traveling alone in Guatemala

In Guatemala I have met more women who travel alone than on any other trip. Since last Thursday, I have stayed at a Mayan family’ place in San Pedro with four other female guests who also travel alone.

S. from Boston appears to be the youngest of the other female guests. She combines travelling with work. She teaches English on the Internet for Chinese people. She also gives yoga classes at hostels or wherever she finds an appropriate locale. The oldest traveller at this homestay is probably R. from California. She appears to be closer to 70. She is spending over three months in Guatemala studying Spanish and enjoying shopping at the markets. K. from Oregon is between the aforementioned two women age-wise. K. has just graduated from medical school. The fourth, B. is from South Africa. After graduation B. had worked a couple of years as an auditor, saved money and then took a few months off to visit Central America.

The four other guests attend private Spanish lessons at a nearby language school. I decided to study on my own after the poor language school experience I had in Antigua. My private lessons take place in a silent cafe. Tomorrow I’m going to continue my trip to Quetzaltenango, a big city in the mountains. Perhaps I will try “park-studying” there. My friend Deet in Antigua had recommended that I visit parks. She had learned a lot of Spanish sitting in parks.

None of us five women at my homestay have any other need to learn Spanish than to facilitate our travelling and help us experience the world differently. The weekly price of 100 euros for the homestay includes three meals a day. Meals are great get-together occasions when we practice our Spanish and are having a good time with the family. Our landlady cooks traditional Guatemalan dishes with lots of beans, vegetables and rice, but little meat. The landlord teaches at a primary school in a nearby town and usually only eats dinners with us. He enjoys talking about history and social issues with us. Both hosts patiently correct our language mistakes, and we help each other to find words.

One day I asked our landlady what she thinks about foreign women traveling alone to visit Guatemala and other countries. She said she was grateful that we come because it improves her family and Guatemala’s economy, and creates hope for a better future. Perhaps this family’s children will have the opportunity to see more of the world in the future. At least, offering accommodation to tourists helps them to ensure their children’s education.

Every day I get acquainted with new people when I walk along the streets. Most of them are tourists staying in San Pedro a few days or weeks, but some are foreigners who have chosen to set up residence in this country. Today, I met one of the foreign residents, an elderly woman from the Netherlands. She had attended language school many years ago. Two years ago, she had decided to become a permanent resident. She walked half a kilometer with me, and fed many stray dogs on the way. They seemed to know her well. She regretted that she could not take any of them to her rental because she had taken in several cats for whom she tried to find a permanent home.


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