I only have three serious gripes with this small, mostly charming little town in the middle of Chile's northern Atacama desert, and they are the following:
- The Internet is really, really slow here — slower than anywhere in Bolivia (and that's saying something)
- The prices are ridiculously high, even for Chile (e.g. some places are charging as much as USD$10 per person for dinner — waaay more than what I've gotten used to lately)
- Despite being significantly lower down than the Bolivian altiplano (a mere 2400m asl), it's still freezing cold here at night
We got up early to see a geyser erupting into the sunrise this morning and then we only had to endure the cold for another five minutes. Before we knew it, our Salar de Uyuni tour group had arrived at the most fabulous hot-spring-heated thermal bath ever! The air was absolutely freezing this morning. This made it only all the more unbelievably pleasurable to jump into a pool of app. 42°C hot water (also a bit painful, at first). Followed by a delicious breakfast of pancakes, and a visit to the Laguna Verde itself. Great end to a fabulous three-day tour.
This morning, I had my final three hours of class at Amigos. So, after four intense and incredibly quick weeks, my Spanish classes have come to an end. I've had an amazing time at Amigos, I've made lots of really good friends, and my Spanish has improved tremendously. During the past week, I've had one-on-one classes with Merly, and we've covered heaps of ground in the various types of past tense (in particular). My new found knowledge in this area, and in general all-round vocabulary, has really empowered me to speak a lot more confidently and a lot more fluently.
Three weeks down at Amigos, one more to go. This week was very different for me: because I had one-on-one lessons instead of group lessons; because there was a sombre feeling with many people leaving, and with the school being very quiet; and because I'm starting to feel, for the first time, that my Spanish is reaching a semi-fluent level. The one-on-one lessons have been intense and draining (despite being 3 hours instead of 4 each morning), but they certainly have boosted my Español like never before.
Over the past week, I've put my usual travel life of uncertainty, adventure, and mobility on hold for a bit, and I'm back in a routine daily grind. It's essential that I do this, in order to spend some time studying and learning; but I sure am glad that I don't have to do it all year, like I've done every year for the past 16 years of my life! It's a good reminder of how much cooler backpacking is than working or studying.
I've now finished my first week of classes at Amigos; and while it hasn't been exactly what I expected, I've learned a lot, and I've had a good time. The teaching has been much slower than what I had at UTS last year, but it's also been much more thorough, which should help to kick some of the bad habits I've picked up in my Spanish. And what's more, I already feel like I'm a part of this small and cosy school, which is more than just a school. The name Amigos couldn't be more appropriate, because this school is above all a place where everyone is friends.
Coming to Palenque has really, seriously, given me more than I'd bargained on getting. Before I came here, I believed that inner peace, meditation, and all that stuff was total bollocks. But now, I can say for the first time that I understand what all of that means; and I understand why people are prepared to make such efforts in order to attain it. After spending a few days relaxing here, I feel better than I've ever felt before in my life.
I always intended to stay at least 3 nights in Tulum. It sounded like the ideal place to unwind, and to have a real holiday before the hard stuff begins. But I never thought I'd be here 6 nights — almost an entire week! That's triple the time I've stayed almost anywhere else in Mexico so far. Beware the magic of Tulum: it will suck you in; and after it's done with you, it will leave you longing for more.