Mexico: Our bread and butter time

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My Mum, with the relish only the primary school teacher can give to this phrase, used to describe this time of year as the “bread and butter term”. No Christmas fun, no sports days, just plain old learning was her reasoning. Jam for the summer term, and jam for the lead up to Christmas, but never jam today.

Sometimes bread and butter can be a good thing. Short as our ‘bread and butter’ time is in San Cristobal we are enjoying hunkering down and getting on with it this month. Which means we have very little to report that would interest anyone but our dearest friends. But for those who are interested, here’s what’s going on.

School      

The girls are back at the Semillas de Luz, and becoming more fluent in Spanish. It is great to see them playing with friends, using words to communicate and even doing their school presentations in a foreign language. Daisy is doing architecture this term (making Angkor Wat out of junk modelling) and Clover has a music project (instruments from rubbish). There is still a lot of gardening, and they’ve just been to the bug museum where Daisy held a tarantula. They are enjoying themselves.

Poor kids are also being pushed through the UK curriculum in the afternoons – and doing well. Paul is being rapidly put off ever becoming a teacher – but thankfully is more patient than I would ever be.

My one contribution is to the literary end of things. Having finished When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (a great favourite – and good for the travelling child) and Tom’s Midnight Garden, we’re now onto Wonder – which is a fabulous book with lots of different narrators, looking at the life of a child with a facial disfigurement. (better than it sounds, I promise). Daisy has just finished Heidi and is on to Charlotte’s Web, and Clover is reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. I am very grateful for their Kindles, which allow us to download what the girls want when they run out of reading matter.

That, and Duolingo (a free language learning app) once a day is keeping us all busy.

Spanish

Not theirs, mine! I’m still having lessons with Reggie at the lovely Instituto Jovel, and getting to the point where I can express what I actually want to say. It’s not so much the vocab, more the constructions where I need to say ‘I would have done this but then this happened’ that I struggle with. Paul remains awesomely ahead of me.

Pilates

A killer. Someone said it was gentle. I’m not finding it so. Three times a week – it must be making a difference by now. It’s also expanding my vocabulary – I’m now good on ‘wrists’, ‘ankles’. ‘bend’ and ‘stretch’ – not to mention being able to grunt sarcastically in a sort of Spanish way.

Work

Thankfully the wifi here works well, so so can I. January has been frantic – I feel very fortunate to have a job I can do from here, though there have been a few 4:30am wakeups to do calls – after which I have slumped back to bed. The time difference means I’m always behind.

 

Play

Seeing friends, going for tacos, trying out San Cristobal’s much-improved bar scene and hosting the odd playdate makes life seem fairly normal. Sometimes I forget I’m in Mexico until I step out of the door. This is a beautiful place and we’re lucky to be here.

Planning our next steps

Two more countries to go in February. First up, Belize (neatly coinciding with the Pope’s visit to San C, which promises to be incredibly uncomfortable) with some lovely friends, followed by a trip to Cuba with my parents. Lots of planning.

So all in all, we’re busy but boring at the moment. More excitement to follow on our next trip (which involves an overnight bus to Chetumal, avoiding some rioting locals in Oxchuc) and then beach time followed by Mayan ruins. For now, Hasta Luego.

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Guatemala Two: Lagos and Lagatijas

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Ever been to Lago Atitlan? If not, you’ll just have to take Aldous Huxley’s word for it. The Brave New World author famously described the Guatemalan lake as “too much of a good thing”.

“Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes,” he points out.

You rather get the feeling that Huxley would have been happier at Windermere. Certainly Atitlan didn’t have very many teashops, and there is definitely no pencil museum. The Lake District it ain’t.

However, we chose it as a place to celebrate New Year because it looked very pretty. What we didn’t realise is that lots of hippies – or ‘rainbow children’, if you want the local lingo, also choose to celebrate New Year there as part of a ‘Cosmic Convergence’ festival that involves a lot more dance music than we’d usually go for at New Year.

Hippies like Atitlan because they believe it is a vortex energy field, like the Egyptian pyramids. As a result they’ve pretty much colonised various towns on the edge of the lake, which now have an odd two-storey feel – hippies on the bottom and Mayans further up in the hills (sensible Mayans – the lake level is rising at a rapid rate). It’s not always the easiest of co-existences, either – many of the Mayans are evangelical Christians who aren’t always that delighted by the dance music and ‘energy vortex’ stuff.

Anyhow, enough scene setting. We chose to stay in Santiago de Atitlan, the biggest and arguably least touristy settlement round the lake. Here the inhabitants are largely Mayan, speak their own language and still wear their own traditional dress. They have tuktuks, which are fab, and very, very loud fireworks.

We even chose a slightly less budget hotel – the Tiosh Abaj, which had clearly been very chic about thirty years ago. Beautiful gardens, a nice pool and big clean rooms were somewhat offset by the world’s dodgiest wifi (difficult when you’re suddenly inundated with work) and the fact that they were very proud of their new sound system, which played frenetic music at any point at which we didn’t ask them to turn it down.

So what did we do at Lago Atitlan? We took boat rides, and marvelled at the pretty volcanoes. We had a slightly odd, but wonderful ‘thermal bath’ overlooking the lake. The girls swum and played on the lake edge while I swore at the wifi router. They also did some schoolwork (sorry girls, but we have to keep up a bit). We ate at the fabulous Largatijas (lizards) restaurant, a tiny shack where they made great food and made us most welcome. And on New Year’s Eve, we went out for a proper posh meal during which Clover and Daisy fell asleep on their chairs during the third course (of six). It was only about eight thirty! As a result, we didn’t manage to see in the Guatemalan New Year (well, we woke up because it sounded like a war – all those fireworks) but completely failed to get out of bed.

A damp squib, you might think, but actually I relish the days we had relaxing at Tiosh Abaj. It was warm and sunny, and the girls enjoyed playing with their dolls. We watched hummingbirds in the trees and spent far too long talking to Jeffrey the turtle (probably not his real name), who was not tremendously responsive but very funny. We skyped friends and family when we could make the wifi work. The biggest stress, predictably, was trying to get away again where late boats, tricky border crossings, and terrible traffic assured we weren’t back in San Cristobal until stupidly late. It’s good to be back. Happy 2016.

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