Today I’m blogging from the beautiful old colonial town of Antigua in Guatemala. I’m here this week for Spanish immersion classes. Students learn one-on-one at La Union—I have opted for seven hours of private lessons a day, plus homework. The pace is grueling. But breaks and evenings set me free to explore this city’s rich Central American culture.
I shop and socialize, wandering cobblestone streets past brightly tinted casas, towering churches and crumbling stone ruins. And of course I eat. With enticing ghosts of pastries, sizzling vegetables, and street-vendor tortillas haunting every corridor, it’s impossible to abstain from the local feast of flavors.
December is a delightful month to visit Antigua. Decorated for Christmas, Central Park ’s trees are dressed in festive threads of light. Church bells ring with holiday spirit and everyone seems charmed by the promise of the coming weeks.
Last Monday (the 7th) was La Quema del Diablo, “burning of the devil”, a year-end celebration of cleansing. After cheering Lucifer’s fiery dissolve to a burnt pile of paper and wood, I ate roasted corn-on-the-cob and sipped ponche—a delicious hot Christmas punch—among a sea of happy families. Children wore glowing red horns atop their tiny heads while they tossed festive toys and danced to music that filled the plaza like a satisfying meal.
I was here in Antigua once before, in 2007, when I studied my very first words of Spanish. That trip was for sheer fun. But my current pilgrimage is driven by purpose. In need of more practice, I have returned to recapture lost vocabulary and increase my skills for an incredible new endeavor. You may recall my blogs from Costa Rica when I was there doing sea turtle work with Friends of the Osa (FOO). Well, this year I’m heading back to collaborate with FOO on a new conservation science research project—a multi-species marine sighting survey in Golfo Dulce.
During the months of January and February, I’ll be going out in a small boat to look for certain species of marine wildlife. The overall goal is to collect data that may provide greater understanding of Golfo Dulce’s unique biodiversity. I expect to document lots of dolphins, maybe a few Humpback whales from the northern hemisphere and, with luck, some off-season sea turtles. There’s also a unique yellow-phase sea snake that is said to collect en masse in surface waters at that time of year. Now, doesn’t that sound interesting? But perhaps I’m most excited to see whale sharks, the world’s largest fishes, who find their way to Golfo Dulce for a few months each year. It’s sure to be a true wildlife adventure!
I fly home from Guatemala this Sunday and leave for Costa Rica on December 30th; there’s much to do in the next couple weeks! I will explain more about the project in upcoming blogs and keep you updated as my experience unfolds. But for now I need to get back to my class work here in this fabulous place and practicar mi español.