Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why I Slept in a Hammock for a Week

I had an amazing experience studying Spanish for one week with the Na'atik Language and Culture Institute in Felipe Carillo Puerto, Mexico. Since John has limited vacation time and isn't as interested in learning Spanish as I am, this was a solo trip for me. This small Mayan town about 3 hours south of Cancun offers genuine hospitality with smiling locals and authentic Mexican cuisine along with endless opportunities to practice speaking Spanish (or Mayan if you'd rather!).

The typical package includes private or group classes from 9am to 1pm Monday through Thursday and 9am to 11am on Friday. I started in group classes on Monday but chose to switch to privates since I felt like I was between two of the levels. It seemed like most of the group classes were 2 or 3 people. They were very accommodating to make this switch for me, and I felt like I gained so much more from the private classes with Jose. He encouraged me to talk and corrected me when necessary. Since I just want to learn more Spanish to better communicate with people when I travel, this was exactly what I wanted out of my week. I've taken 5 years of Spanish classes in school so I've learned all the verb tenses (not that I remember them all), but I really wanted to become more comfortable with speaking rather than drill conjugations. In our little outside classroom we did just that (thank you Jose!). 

The outside classroom
In order to really experience immersion, it's important to stay with a Spanish speaking family. My family was extremely authentic, living in the traditional Mexican house full of people at all times with no air conditioning. In the August heat, the lack of a/c was little hard to get used to (and I'm not really sure if I did), but it was unforgettable to live like a local. Everyone in my house slept in hammocks to stay cool at night, and I quickly adapted the habit, preferring the relaxing sway to the hot bed.
My room

My homestay family
My homestay mother prepared meals for me every day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the traditional fare (though I did miss my usual abundance of veggies). Throughout the week I tried empanadas, tacos, ponchilas, and tostados. Although all meals were included with the price of school, I elected to try some of the local restaurants and became a regular at Tierra Cafe. My $4 coffee, papaya drink, and overflowing bowl of mixed fruit prepared me for class. I considered this my second breakfast which I needed to make it until our late lunch at 1 or 2pm. On my last evening, we went out as a group to El Ruedo for their incredible $5 fish tacos, $1 beers, and $2 mixed drinks. 
Ponchilas made by my host mom

On Tuesday evening, five of us from the school took a cooking class with one of the instructors. We biked to his home and learned about authentic Mexican cuisine. Together we made empanadas, Yucatan pumpkin dip, salsas, guac, and lemonade. I'm looking forward to sharing my new culinary skills with John. 

On Wednesday, I visited Tulum with my new friend Laura from school. Since class ends at 1pm, you have plenty of time to make a trip like this. Tulum is only an hour combi (van) ride from Felipe Carillo. We headed out right after lunch and only waited about 5 minutes in the combi while it filled up. Unfortunately, in Mexico, when you think a van is full the driver thinks there's room for three to five more people. So once we were packed in like sardines, we headed north to tourist country. 
Even though we had only been in Felipe Carillo for three days, we both had a bit of a culture shock in Tulum with the high prices and abundance of Americans. We'd grown accustomed to only hearing Spanish spoken around us and had forgotten how persistent Mexican vendors in tourist areas (though according to Jose, just say "Gracias, solo estoy viendo" and they won't bother you!). After a quick glance through the shops, we flagged down a taxi to visit the beach. 

 There are ruins in Tulum, but we were deterred by the extreme heat and chose instead to find a shady place to grab a drink. Bar prices in Tulum were, not surprisingly, much closer to American prices. We enjoyed our 2 for 1 strawberry margaritas and watched a group of performers dance (way too touristy for our tastes) before walking along the sand a little further to find a place for dinner. We settled on Mezzanine, a well known restaurant in the area, and enjoyed our rather pricey yet delicious meal. 

Performers at the bar on the beach

View from our patio table at Mezzanine

Included in your visit is a trip to a nearby lagoon. We took a taxi for about 40 minutes to the park. Although we had the option to kayak around the lagoon, I opted to relax in the swimming pool instead since I was hot and tired of getting bug bites. The pool was very enjoyable and had a great view of the lagoon. 

Biking with Bruno
Since I wanted to get the most out of my one week, I signed up for every activity the school offered which included a mountain biking trip. About 3 hours in total, we biked around the jungle appreciating the local flora and stopped at a small lagoon to swim. The water was refreshing, especially after biking, so we stayed for quite a while. Since I had never tried mountain biking before, I'm glad for the experience but I wouldn't want to do anything more intense. The bumpy road hurt my butt and hands as I gripped the handlebars like my life depended on not falling off the bike. Our guides were very considerate and kept an eye on me even when I biked a little slower than the rest of the group. 
Swimming at the lagoon

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