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Spanish Language course
Campeche (Mexico) to Mexico City (Mexico), January & February 2017

After we waited the holidays to be finished at the end of 2016 in Campeche, we travelled by bus to the small town of Xpujil. Mexico is a large country so most of the bus rides are long. A bus ride takes normally at least 6 to 10 hours if you travel between the bigger towns/cities. We spend several days in Xpujil to see the Mayan ruins of Calakmul. These ruins, which lie deep in the jungle, are among the most spectacular remains of the once mighty Maya imperium. Not only the ancient ruins are beautiful, but the setting deep in the jungle gives it a real Indiana Jones feeling.

After our visit to Calakmul it was again a long bus ride to Palenque. Palenque is also famous for its ancient Mayan ruins. The ruins are perhaps more spectacular than the ruins of Calakmul, but the less beautiful setting and the huge number of visitors ensures that we found the experience in Calakmul preferable. After all the ruins of the past few weeks, our plans began to take shape about doing a Spanish language in Mexico. We planned to do the course in the old colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas. This town, high in the mountains of the Mexican province of Chiapas, has several language schools and is known as a relaxed and safe destination.

The ruins of Palenque

San Cristobal de las Casas is at an altitude of over 2000 meters and when we got off the bus at the end of the afternoon, we did not know how fast we had to put our fleeces on. Gosh, it's cold here. We had seen on the internet that the temperature here during the day would be 17 degrees Celsius, and at night it could easily cool down to below 10 degrees Celsius. We thought it would be a good temperature to study, but when we actually experienced the temperature, we began to doubt our choice for this city. During our search for a small hotel in the centre of town, it turned out that the cheaper hotels have no heating. A small test revealed that the temperature in our room during the day was only 12 degrees Celsius. And that is too cold for us. The heat of the lowlands is not great either, but studying a month in the refrigerator temperature of San Cristobal de las Casas is definitely not an option.

An Internet search then led us to the city of Oaxaca, a 12-hour bus ride from San Cristobal de las Casas. This too is a colonial city with various language schools, and since Oaxaca is ‘only’ at an altitude of 1500 meters altitude, the temperature is much better. During the day 25, and at night 17. That sounds a lot better. Before we travelled to Oaxaca we contacted two language schools to see if we could start the following Monday. That was possible, so in good spirits we undertook the 12 hour bus ride to Oaxaca.

The Templo Olvidado, or Forgotten Temple, just outside Palenque

We visited both schools and then chose for the small one: Language school Becari. We decided to take a private tutor for two of us. The costs were only a few dollars an hour higher, but it gave us more flexibility. We opted for a one-month course, four hours a day. The first two hours would be a grammar lesson, and the second two hours a conversation class. Betty was our grammar teacher and Manual our conversation teacher.

We started the course like maniacs. The theory went very fast and also the expectations in the conversation class was high. Already in the first conversation class we were asked to tell our biography in Spanish. We have never used the phrase "uuuhhhh ' so much. The theory went perfectly and we did the written exercises almost all faultless. However, the talking was very difficult and tiring. The almost 150 verbs that we had learned by now were present somewhere in our heads, but applying them in the correct conjugation is a whole different game. The radars in our heads turned at full speed to construct the appropriate sentences, word for word. But jeez, that was tiring. We regularly have thought, "it would have probably been better if we had in a group of 8 students, just to have more moments of rest during the classes." Four hours of class, just with the two of us, was too intensive. At least for us, the non-language people.

It also did not help that we had set the expectations a bit too high. We thought to speak a good word of Spanish after a course of a month, but for us that’s not the case. Listening and reading is okay, but the smooth production of sentences is quite a task. That needs to develop during the time is what we were told. Let's hope so.

After the course we stayed for an extra week in Oaxaca to rest and to visit some sights in the area. Especially the ruins of Monte Alban, which are 8 kilometres outside the city, are impressive. Then we again boarded the bus bound for the capital, Mexico City. With over 20 million inhabitants, this metropolis belongs to the top 10 largest cities in the world. It is also a city with big problems. (Drugs) violence is widespread, so we have to be somewhat wary. But common sense usually brings you a long way. Hopefully also this time.

A Mexican Dinner
Street scene in San Cristobal de las Casas
Protesters in Oaxaca

"Tourists go home, there is a social war going on"

A porter in Mexico City

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