Bienvinido a Guatemala.

Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala. 

The picture postcard location of Lago de Atitlán has proved to be an excellent place to start my adventures in Guatemala. It’s is a huge lake with around 14 towns loosely scattered around its circumference. The lake basin is volcanic in origin with three (active) volcanoes towering above its southern flank. 

Following a swift exit from the capital (Guatemala City) – reputedley one of the most dangerous cities in the world – I arrived in Panacjachel (known simply as ‘Pana’). Pana is the largest of the lakeside towns and the most developed. It takes around 3 to 4-hours to get here from Guatemala City.

I have signed up for a 2-week Spanish course at the language school of Jabel Tinamit. The cost, including full board and lodging, plus 4-hours of ‘one to one’ Spanish lessons (Monday to Saturday), is $200 per week. 

I am staying with a host family who live in a small suburb that is around 20 minutes (on foot) from the centre of town. The family is small by Guatemalan standards. Magda, the obvious head of the household, is (I guess) in her early forties. She is a warm welcoming person with a big heart and very high standards. The house is immaculately clean and well run. The husband of Magda, Theodoro, works as a waiter in one of the bigger hotels in town. Somewhat overshadowed by Magda, he appears to be a kind and gentle man. They have three children; Johnny (21), Karla (19), and Andy (15). Karla, a single Mum, has a gorgeous three year old daughter called Dulce who runs to me for a hug every time she see’s me!

Their home is located at the end of a long, narrow, winding passage way, surrounded by other similar sized houses. My bedroom is clean, but sparse. I have a king size bed but no en suite bathroom. 

My day starts at 06:30 when I get up for a ‘tepid’ shower. Breakfast is at 07:00 and normally consists of fruit, or eggs, with coffee or tea and toast. Magda always joins me for breakfast and I hopefully nod or shake my head in the right place as she babbles away in rapid Spanish. 

At 07:40 I set off for ‘school’. Lessons start at 08:00 on the dot. My maestra (teacher) is Patricia. I guess she is around 25. She has two children and lives with her husband, her two sisters and her Mother and Father. 

Patricia has gauged my level of Spanish extremely well. The lessons are challenging but manageable. I try, whenever possible, to inject a level of humour – Patricia appears to find it amusing?

Lunch is at midday and supper is at 18:30. I take lunch but skip supper; instead choosing to ‘dine out’ in one of the many cheap restaurants scattered around town. It makes for a change of scenery and gives me a welcome break from having to keep up a false pretense! I made the school boy error of giving Magda the impression that my Spanish is better than it actually is! Big, big mistake! 

One thing has become very obvious….. I have a long way to go before I become fluent! However, as Patricia says, “poco a poco” – little by little. 

Next instalment: Christmas with Rebeca and the family of Magda.


About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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