Three Niñas - Corazon Maya

Three Niñas - Corazon Maya
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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Guacamaya Spanish School, Copan - Dec2008 & Jan 2010

 Dec 2008 (my first of two visits there to study Spanish). See end of this chapter for my second visit (Jan 2010)

 This school was started about 12 years ago by a group of teachers from another school in Copan. It began in a rented facility near the square, and later moved to a house several blocks away. The business is owned and run by Enrique Carrillo. The atmosphere here is relaxed and tranquil, although this may be in part due to the fact that the school is only a third full. Enrique interviews the teachers and gives each one an exam up front. The school is professionally run, and has two PCs for student use. Internet in Copan varies between moderate and slow (often the latter), but at least it works.

Maestras Yarely, Dunia, Nelly and Julia. Great ladies, always giving us students a hard time. Julia threatened to fine us every time we spoke English.

Daisy, who takes care of all our food and drink needs, holding the house kitten. She has a great attitude.
The school has several study areas inside and about 4 out back, which are quiet and relaxing, with flowers and shrubs. I have been studying there for 3 weeks, for 4 hours each morning (including a 30 min break). Many afternoons I have returned to do my homework and enjoy a quiet cup of tea out back. Often a dove shows up to add charm. There is also a puppy, with sharp teeth.
My teacher Yarelli is top-notch and clearly knows her stuff. She has a college degree in teaching, and has taught at the upscale Mayatan Bilingual School in Copan.

She has got me started on the Spanish Subjunctive, which has to have been designed by devious Spanish teachers to confuse wanna-be Spanish Students like me. For those who don’t know about this devious grammatical structure, it is used in a subordinate expression when the main expression uses a different subject (or an undefined one) and expresses doubt, emotion, or desire. But usually only if “que” joins the two expressions. In the subjunctive, the subordinate verb changes e.g. “I believe you are coming” is Creo que viene. But, “I don’t believe you are coming” changes to No creo que venga. (Venga is the present subjunctive of venir, to come). Now, in my opinion, both “I believe” and “I don’t believe” express doubt about the outcome. But in Spanish, not so. “I believe” is certain, hence no subjunctive, while “I don’t believe” expresses doubt, hence the subjunctive. This, by the way, is only Subjunctives 101. It gets a lot deeper. So, right now, my brain is going on strike and is saying it’s time to take a break for at least a month and to speak only English. I find myself walking down the street looking at the locals and wondering how come all this just comes naturally to them. They must feel so happy every day!
Guacamaya has just acquired a hot & cold water dispenses with unlimited instant coffee, creamer and tea. At break we get cookies. You have no idea how nice it is to jolt one’s brain with caffeine when it is weighed down with the subtleties of Spanish.
I have enjoyed the various communal activities at the school. Some have been during school time in the mornings, such as scrabble. What a gas trying to figure out words in Spanish with the letters which one has (7 at a time). Another time a group of three students and three teachers sat together and each wrote down a letter. Each of us had then to think of a verb, a noun, an adjective, a body part, and a food beginning with each letter chosen by the group. Another time we each had to think of two priorities for Barack Obama. Then we had to describe these and why we felt that way. All of this is Spanish of course (with the teachers coaxing us as we went along).
Another morning activity was to prepare a traditional Honduran lunch. We all had to buy one ingredient – mine was a can of coconut milk. Then we helped prepare and cook everything in the upstairs kitchen (where Enrique lives with his family and Mother).

Dunia supervising the cooking.
Several teachers invited their family members to the feast. They cooked special vegetables for me, a vegetarian. My teacher says that I am the only vegetarian she knows. They all seem rather impressed that I have enough energy to go on an hour long walk every morning before breakfast. Who knows, maybe my example will spawn a whole new vegetarian craze in Copan. (I am not holding my breath).

Enjoying the lunch which we prepared.

One afternoon activity was a 4 hour outing to the hot springs. These are in the mountains, about an hour’s drive away, along an awful road. I am sure this is impassable in the rainy season. There are two warm swimming pools, Jacuzzis (for an extra $10, which I declined), and an interesting hot and cold river. This is a challenge. The scalding water pours into the river upstream. The photo shows the gang of locals gathered around a warm spot, with steam rising on the right from the incoming hot spring. Every 5 minutes one of the older boys would boss a younger one into re-arranging the rocks to allow more or less cold water to enter upstream, thereby controlling the temperature... well, sort of. I found that a gush of hot water would come and one would have to beat a hasty retreat. I was the only gringo who joined the locals in the river. They thought I was a little strange. It was a relaxing evening, with beer and sodas available, albeit at a large markup.
Another afternoon outing was to the local butterfly and orchid houses. Both were built by an American naturalist who speaks fluent Spanish and who moved here from California about 15 years ago. He is amazingly capable. His young Spanish assistant gave us a tour of the butterfly house, in Spanish, with color cards to help us identify the butterflies. She was fun and clearly enjoyed her job, which can be contagious.

I loved the plants and butterflies and the serenity of the place. Later, the naturalist gave us a tour of the orchids. He showed us some that are found only in Honduras, including one that he discovered and which is named after him. He said there are 25,000 species of orchids world wide. Fascinating.

Our last outing was a 3hr afternoon hike into the mountains with a local Mayan guide, Albert, and my buddy Helen from Seattle. Other students decided to pass on this outing - suddenly they all seemed to have a lot of homework. We climbed into the nearby hills to visit a village.

Albert was fun to talk to, and he kept us entertained along the way, perhaps to keep our minds off the steepness of the trail. After about 2 hrs we came to a small school in a clearing.
The Honduran kids have their summer holidays between Nov and Feb (opposite to the US) so we were surprised to find a bunch of kids playing outside the school. We investigated and found that the families were having a meeting to discuss plans.
The government pays for a teacher, a lady who lives in Copan and who makes the trip up and down to the school each day. We did not meet her, but I would have liked to have done so, if only to meet one super-fit lady!

I enjoyed my stay at Guacamaya School, and would recommend it to others. Likewise with the family of Elena Gonzalez. Copan is a quaint little town. It is different from Antigua. The Ruins and Mayan culture are the main attraction. Overall is is probably safer, but there is a lot less to do, and several of us became a little bored after 2 weeks. Also, I did not find it as peaceful as Antigua, and the weather was not as good. I will be posting a detailed comparison of the 3 schools and families later. I believe there are plenty of volunteer opportunities, and for those who prefer a small town, it could be the ticket.

Update - Jan 2010 (3 week stay in Copan, including 1 week of study at Guacamaya)

When I first studied at Guacamaya, in Dec 2008 (for 3 weeks), it was my third school. I rated it better then the two at which I had studied in Antigua, even though it was more expensive.

My second visit, in Jan 2010, was not as impressive. By then, I had studied at 5 other schools (in Panajachel, Xela, and San Pedro Lake Atitlan). I now rate Guacamaya in the middle. I consider my other 5 schools to be better value, and more enjoyable.

This time, I felt that Enrique, the director, wasn’t putting in as much effort as before. Perhaps he finds that enough students attend his schools these days so he doesn’t need to. Unlike most other schools, he didn’t provide tea (only coffee), and no snacks. His hot water dispenser no longer worked. I complained and he had this fixed. He also bought some tea bags, but these were used up by mid week, and although I asked, he couldn’t be bothered to replenish these. I ended up by bringing my own tea. Small things perhaps, but one might expect these at such an expensive school.

Last year he added an extension behind his school. This has perhaps 8 cubicles, open at the top, inside an enclosed courtyard. Due to the poor acoustics, which do not muffle the echoes very well, I did not find it peaceful when when other groups were present. The wooden tables and chairs are poorly made, and rock back and forth – I wasn’t able to find one chair or table that sat squarely. The chairs are straight backed and uncomfortable. Why he didn’t simply buy the common plastic chairs beats me – these are quite comfortable and sit squarely on 4 legs. There are 3 other quieter study areas, in the back yard. Go for one of these if you can. These are peaceful. I studies in one of these during my first visit.

The cost of 1 week’s study (5 x 4hrs) at this school is $140, more than twice that at Corazon Maya, San Pedro ($65).  The level of Spanish instruction is no better than at my other 7 schools, although I do like my old teacher Yarely, and the other teachers are fun. She doesn’t benefit much from the extra cost – he pockets nearly $100/ week for each student. He appears to be well off. For further discussion of costs, see my separate blog entry entitled Costs.

Enrique’s activities are inferior to those at the other 5 other schools, and there were no educational movies or communal dinners, which were such fun at Corazon Maya, PLQE and Jardin De America. He wanted to charge me $20 for a 3- 4 hr walk to visit nearby villages. Compare this with $6 for 2/3 day personal guided hike to a sacred lake near Xela (with EM school, part of PLQE).

On the other hand, my stay with Elena in Casa Dona Elena was once again great. I rate her guest house among the 2 top places at which I have stayed in Central America. She is dedicated to her guests, and cooks well. The only disadvantage of he place (and of most places in Copan, I suspect), is that the dogs bark. For me, earplugs were essential. After a week or so, one starts to get used to the dogs at night, although they can be quite aggressive if one goes exploring. Maybe it was my brightly colored bike shirt - who knows.

Overall, I found Copan once again to be a cute town, with nice people, if somewhat less peaceful than Antigua or San Pedro. There are noisy rude drivers, and lots of barking dogs. One can find peace, but one has to work for it. One idea is to climb up to the cross on the hill above the microwave towers. In the early morning this is usually very peaceful. The towers of the museum on top of the hill are another good spot - one can climb up there and view the sunsets, before the museum closes. Copan is located in a pretty valley, and the excellent Mayan ruins make it a worthwhile destination, as do the butterfly house, bird park (very well done), and the hot springs.

I shall return to Copan again, since I like the people, and love staying at Casa Dona Elena's. Also, I have some good friends there. But I doubt that I shall study there again. If your travel plans permit, you can have a better learning experience at less cost in other schools.

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