Spanish School Dropout!!!

Trip Start Nov 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal Casa del Barranco Cuenca
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cuenca is lovely. We arrived to learn that the next week was Carnival.  Carnival, like the famous one in Rio, is celebrated in most Catholic countries and represents the few days before Lent starts.  You party hard and fatten up before not partying at all or fasting some for the 40 days before Easter.  Surprise to me is that the celebrations here in Cuenca were going to take place on the weekend and then continue on the Monday and Tuesday.  This created a bit of a travel dilemma because it usually is difficult to find accommodation during National holidays in any country.  To get around this, I decided to lock into the nice guesthouse I was in.  My Norwegian friend, Siggy, who we first met in Guayaquil and had travelled to Montanita with (we left him there) had contacted Carolyn and said he was on his way to Cuenca so he came to my guesthouse and stayed as well.  Andrea did not. 

The kind of travelling I do is not for everybody.  I do not like to plan very much, and often not at all.  It is an ability I have at this time of my life because I have the absolute, and I do not take it for granted, luxury of time.  I can make it up as I go and stay when I like a place or like the people and go when I get bored or my travelling companions are interesting enough to go where they want to.  It seems to work for me and I am seldom alone in my travels.  Especially this year when it has been great to have Josie come down to Mexico a couple of times and Les as well.  Then meeting up with Louise for a few weeks in Panama and Costa Rica and then Carolyn most recently.  All of them can go with the flow and we share a common curiosity that propels the day.  It is easy, often tiring, but always fun. 

Andrea arrived very cranky and complained about everything.  She was miserable before we met up and even more miserable with Carolyn and I.  Nothing was right, she didn't want to travel on public buses and our minivan and taxi experiences were not much better. . We had different ideas about travel behavior and safety and I just couldn't get her to understand that we are not in Asia anymore.  She was robbed on day 1 or 2 in Quito – her camera was snatched from her hands and she gave chase…….not so smart in these parts.  We had huge differences about the issue of cautiousness.  I am hyper aware of my surroundings and try to minimize any risk I can control.  Especially here in South America.  I know so little about this place, and hear and read about so many serious crimes, that I intend to err on the side of caution every time.  It makes the travel much less fun, but it is what it is.  After a lot of thought and a very frustrating conversation with her I had to make the decision that I just was not prepared to travel with her…too many negatives that might compromise my mental health for sure and perhaps my physical safety.  So Andrea is on her own and I hope she has a better time the next few weeks than she has had so far here in South America.

So I was back on my own in beautiful Cuenca and dropped into a Spanish School to inquire about lessons and ended up signing on for 16 hours – the minimum.  That part was OK but it was 4 hours a day, 4 days straight.  Any other week it would have been 5 days but the school was closing for Carnival.  4 hours, one on one.  I knew it would be a stretch, but I really do need the crash course and figured I could be somewhat fluent in 16 hours… hard could it be?.  Then I met the other students.  Many had already been there for lots of weeks, some for up to 5 months.  Yikes – 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for 5 months and they still needed more????

The afternoon I signed up a group were headed out for a walking tour and I joined them.   It was great to hear explanations about some of the sights I had seen on my own.  The weirdest thing about me and Spanish is that I can understand most of it when spoken or written.  Don’t know how or why, but I can.  I think it must be the French imprinting that remains from my childhood.  I went to an all French school when we lived in Germany.  It was full immersion with German as a second language.  As I grew up,  the French disappeared, but the German foundation remained.  Everyone told me the French was still in there and I tried to find 'it' many times in high school and university French classes but apparently 'it' was dormant….until now???  The German stayed solid and I can still get by in German, but Spanish???  Nada – nope, I can only speak very blockhead Spanglish and hoped it could only get better – in 16 hours…after all that is 4 days!!  So the tour, in Spanish, was great…so far so good.

Day 1, class:   2 pm to 6 pm.  Meet my teacher – Teo.  Get a workbook.  It looks hard, really hard.  Hmmm. The room is very small with just the two of us.  The school is filled with many little rooms, loads of serious students sitting at little tables with their teachers. 

My teacher shows me the alphabet…..he is very surprised I do not know my vowel pronunciation.  More amazed that I do not own a Spanish – English dictionary and do not want one – too heavy.  He is also amazed at how well I can read and understand but is equally blown away at how I speak.  I make full sentences using the few Spanish words I know and then I fill in the spaces of words I don’t know with English of German words with a Spanish accent.  He cannot stop laughing every time I speak.  He just wants me to repeat the vowels and fill in the blanks in the workbook.  I just want to look out the window or walk around when I realize  we have only filled 30 minutes of our time slot.  I know for sure that this is not going to work because I would rather be out exploring and speaking Spanglish on the street.  So we stop with the workbook and start talking politics.  He is super passionate about Ecuadorian politics.  Super passionate about politics in general.  Spanish is forgotten and we have a great conversation.  I learn a lot, he learns a lot…..seems I am paying $8 hour for culture lessons.  Oh well.  I get homework but don’t have time to do it because I had decided to attend a lecture at the Chamber of Commerce instead..

Day 2.  Homework not done.  Teacher not surprised.  He throws a bunch of pronouns and verb tenses at me and I parrot them back but really don’t have a clue what they mean or how to use them.  I give up and we discuss crime and punishment and politics.  We have a good time; go for a long walk and then I take a one hour Salsa dance lesson.  I learn to Salsa.  Too bad that skill can’t help you find the bus station but I think it will stick with me longer that the past participle of the present adjective, or something like that.. Strangest thing is that I used to volunteer teach English as a Second Language....obviously my classes were on the extreme simple/fun end of the spectrum but my students seemed to learn how to speak Englishl without breaking down everything into grammar.......thank goodness because I have a lot to learn about grammar before I can identify all the parts in another language.

Day 3.  Workbook not even discussed.  We head out to hike through the city to the big central museum.  He knows every inch of it and is a remarkable guide.  Then we go to a Inca historical site, I learn about the Incas and the Spanish and lots of Ecuadorian history.  We then go to an aviary and see beautiful birds from both the Andes and the Amazon, before heading to a local neighbourhood to have some famous $1 pork sandwiches.  I get back to school just in time for another dance lesson before heading downtown to catch the start of a Carnival concert and fireworks display.

Day 4 – No day 4 because of Carnival – the school closes down for 5 days to celebrate and I will be leaving the day the school reopens…… installs Rosetta Stone Online Spanish Lessons on my laptop.  It has nice pictures and looks simple…… it doesn’t come with dance lessons though but I think it is designed for people like me who have developed attention issues in their old age and can't sit still for 4 hours..
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Louise C on

Great to catchup on your blog. Wish I had been in the Galapagos with you - it sounds wonderful. Salsa sounds like more fun than spanish - probably a good choice. It looks cold in Guayaquil and Cuenca (based on the clothes people are wearing). Keep having fun - I know you will.

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