It definitely felt a little strange getting back into a routine. Up to our arrival in Antigua we had started losing track of days of the week, and we had almost forgotten what it felt like to get up early – so when our alarms woke us at 6.30 on Monday morning it was quite a shock to the system!
Every morning we went downstairs at 7.15 to have breakfast with our housemates, who were also students at Antiguena Spanish Academy. We had three meals prepared for us each day by our wonderful in-house chef Carmen – the food was delicious (and in some instances a bit mysterious, like when we were served the infamous güisquil), the portions were huge, and Carmen always greeted us with a beaming smile. She would also frequently chat to us in Spanish, and while at first all we could do in response was smile, nod and say “si” over and over again, after a while we started to understand her a bit better.
Our classes ran from 8am – 12pm, Monday to Friday, and we each had our own teacher. The first 2 hours of class were usually spent learning new vocabulary and verb tenses, and practising verb conjugations. At 10am there would be a 30 minute break, during which we normally just stared into space and tried to get our brains to reboot. After the break we would play a game, such as scrabble or a version of go fish that used vocabulary cards rather than a normal deck of cards, and then we would finish the lesson with a bit of conversation. By the time 12pm rolled around and it was time to go back to our house for lunch, our brains were completely fried. Needless to say after lunch we usually indulged in an afternoon nap…but not for too long though, as we always had homework to do!
As well as classes, the school runs activities every afternoon that are included in the fees. During our first week we decided to try one of these activities and signed up for the visit to a Macadamia Nut Farm, a 2o minute ride by chicken bus just outside of Antigua. Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm is a wonderful organisation that aims to show local Guatemalans how they can produce their own macadamia nuts to help them earn up to $1000 USD per year. The farm itself is a fairly small but meticulous operation that not only produces macadamia nuts but also grows new trees and creates a wealth of products using the nuts, such as skin creams and nut oil – they even offer free facials using their products! Visitors are also invited to use the “world’s most photographed toilet” – a small outdoor toilet that is nestled in a bed of beautiful plants and flowers!
On Tuesday 1st November our classes were cancelled for the Day of the Dead/All Saint’s Day celebrations. Day of the Dead/All Saint’s Day is a very important holiday in Guatemala, where the locals spend the morning visiting cemeteries to pay their respects to deceased loved ones and decorate their graves. Our school organised buses to take us to one of the biggest cemeteries in Sumpango, just outside of Antigua, so that we could see the festivities – and I don’t think anything could have fully prepared us for what we saw. As soon as we walked into the cemetery we were struck by the bright colours, noise, music and voices – the atmosphere is very much one of celebration, rather than sadness. It felt like such a wonderful way to honour lost loved ones, by bringing whole families together and celebrating life rather than mourning.
After the cemetery we were taken just up the road to visit the annual Festival de Barriletes Gigantes, or Festival of Giant Kites. Locals spend the whole year creating the most magnificent giant kites, some of which are over 20 feet tall, to then be displayed and judged in the festival competition. The artistry and intricate detailing that goes into these kites is truly astonishing, and it was awe-inspiring to walk around and admire each of them up close. Of course, these giant kites aren’t really built for flying – there is a separate competition for smaller homemade kites which are sent off into the sky (often crashing down on unsuspecting spectators if the wind isn’t quite right) and judged on their flying ability.
As well as the kites, the festival site is surrounded by a wealth of vendors selling delicious food, drinks and other treats. We followed our noses to a stall that was selling beef with avocado, re-fried beans and onions, and scoffed down big helpings with a few piping hot tortillas. Having eaten street food in many places up until that point without any issues, we were confident that this would be fine – a little over-confident, as it turned out, since we were both struck down with food poisoning later that day and subsequently missed 2 days of class!
Apart from that small mishap, there are some amazing places to eat in Antigua and a huge variety of different kinds of food on offer. One afternoon we went to study at Sabe Rico, which houses a delicatessen, cafe, restaurant and chocolateria, and on a Sunday morning we visited Y Tu Pina Tambien for breakfast, where we were torn between having the “Egg McFuckin Muffin” or the “Hangover Breakfast”, which includes 2 painkillers and a cigarette! One of the biggest surprises we came across was McDonald’s – we had no intention of going there initially (honest..!), but after several different students recommended it as a good place to study we decided to check it out. It turned out to be the most incredible McDonald’s we have ever seen, set in a courtyard with a beautiful garden – and it even has table service!
As we had most of our meals provided for us at our guest house we weren’t able to eat out that much during our stay, but we loved Antigua so much that we decided to go back there for Christmas and New Year – mainly to eat and drink our way around the town!