Eight o’clock in the morning and the sun is already high in the sky and the heat is intense. Walking hurriedly along the few blocks to our destination with the weight of our backpacks on, results in rivulets sweat and squinting eyes. It’s our first day at Spanish school in Granda (Nicaragua) and we are late. On arrival we join the edge of the circle of other students, volunteers and tutors listening to Simon, the head honcho, giving his welcoming introductory talk.
My emotions are a mixture of apprehension, shyness and excitement – a familiar tussle between courage and fear – as I begin to take in my surroundings, the people and vibe of the place. First impressions are of a professional and friendly place where we immediately feel part of the “family”. Casa Xalteva is a non-profit language school and educational centre providing support to underprivileged and vulnerable youth. It is housed in a large stone building with a collection of rooms which are used as classrooms and a large, open to the sky, central courtyard. It is here that we all gather for our mid-morning break to drink rich Nicaraguan coffee providing a boost of caffeine fuelled energy for the second half of our morning of study. There is a constant buzz of chatter in a variety of languages and the high pitched laughter of the children as they run and play – they have no requirement for a chemically stimulated boost of energy.
The house is next to a magnificent orange and white church outside of which we have seen several horse drawn black funeral carriages. The horses wait patiently in the humid heat for the service inside to finish before the casket is carried down the steep steps to be transported in the flower bedecked hearse to the cemetery.
When we are not watching Nicaraguan life, and death, move around us we are sitting in our high ceilinged classroom, cooled by the rapidly rotating fans, with Sergio our tutor. He is big in build and personality. A large, round face with Mayan features, but with a sharp, short haircut and large baseball cap he emulates a more contemporary American style. He is warm, funny, patient and kind which is a huge relief as is the fact that he has near perfect English. This means we can drill down in to the nitty gritty of the grammar and a multitude of rules that make my head spin. And it also allows us to meander off our path of spanish verbs and conjugations in to interesting discussions about Nicaraguan life and politics. All in all it is providing us with a well rounded education and a great introduction to the country . And even though I still stumble over words and take time forming sentences I am beginning to get a feel for the pronunciations and rhythm of the language and feel more confident about opening my mouth.
To really immerse ourselves in all things Nicaraguan and Spanish we are staying with a local family just a couple of blocks from the school in their simple, one storey home. Miriam, the matriarch of the family cooks three simple but tasty meals a day for us which we eat round a small table in what is essentially a corridor, with her daughter and grand-daughter. None of them speak any English, so I smile a lot and make appreciative noises about the food and do my best to make conversation. David, with his innate joie de vivre and easy confidence, dived straight in at the beginning of our stay. I took a little longer to test the water and take my first few strokes, but I am now frolicking about in the paddling pool and enjoying it!
So, it’s been a superb start to this leg of the trip. I still have a long way to go, even to master the basics of the language, but I am satisfied with my progress so far. The real learning, of course, will come when we’re out on the road having to make ourselves understood in less tourist orientated areas. I think we’re both feeling ready to make that leap. It was, after all, one of the reasons we chose this part of the world to travel through – to provide challenges for further growth and adventure in a different form to some of our other travels.
Vamos, amigos! Buena Suerte!