Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Yelapa Summer Spanish – August 2005

Yelapa English Spanish Institute (YESI) Summer Spanish was a great experience for all in its first summer in Yelapa, Mexico.  I spent 3 weeks in Puerto Vallarta and Yelapa, to see if the hot, humid summers were bearable, to visit friends, especially Pamela the vet and her new baby, Na’ia, to test the summer market for spanish language learning and to offer English classes to my Yelapan friends.
The hot weather had not yet begun in earnest, and suited me perfectly, especially the daily rain to just cool things off. There’s something about sweating and replacing liquids with plenty of good water that is invigorating. It’s like a sweatlodge in broad daylight!! I saw Yelapa go from brown dry hills, to brilliant green with various blooming tree species in a short time.
The summer classes were great fun, as they always are, but with the added element that it was new for me, and the class had a “school’s out for summer” feeling to it. The class consisted of : Frank (Francisco or Paco for short), a 15 year old from New Orleans who needed a spanish credit (either 2 weeks in Mexico or 6 weeks back home, duh, what a choice!) to upgrade his marks; Mario, a 44 year old French Canadian University nursing teacher named Mario who brought some unique challenges to learning, since he was learning Spanish, through the English language, which was NOT his native language. His favorite expression “oo-la-la!!” was definitely not Spanish, but is now his nickname; Michele from California, a 42 year old junior high school literature  teacher with a penchant for adventure, and Jenny, a 30 year old California social worker and midwife taking a break from the same old world, ripe for new experiences. We congealed nicely as a group, with at least one upriver adventure to the water falls in Yelapa, where we massaged under the falls, laughed a lot, and enjoyed the lush green jungle environment. We were thrilled by the antics of many large mlitary macaws at eye level in the trees along the path. For two photobugs, Mario and I, to capture even one great photo became an obsession, without any real success to savour afterward.
Three of the group stayed with host families in home stays (private room and bath, shared meals) which is the best way to learn Spanish and a great way to be accepted as family into the community. We tried all doing suppers at each of the hme stays in the 2nd week, which created a nice party atmosphere for an evening at each home stay, and gave the other host moms a few evenings off.
Dinner at Hortensia’s upriver home stay was a little more subdued since we’d already spent 4 hours upriver, walking, swimming and carrying on, after a 3 hour morning class. Her chicken soup and handmade tortillas are among the best in the village.  The students explored Mario’s little casita of palapa “palm-thatched” hut tucked back away from the other houses along the river. The views of the valley are great, and it’s perhaps the home stay that offers the most peace and privacy. It was hard getting Mario out of bed most of the week,  since he slept blissfully amid the jungle noises, and not even the raucous Mexican roosters could rouse him.
Irma  and Angel Garcia are great hosts who have hosted many Cine Y Cena (theatre and dinner) nights for YESI in the past. Irma prepared her fabulous Mole Poblana de Pollo (chicken mole -spicy peanut and chocolate sauce) which was a big hit, and called or seconds all around. Irma sang in her beautiful throaty voice, my favorite old Mexican ballad “Cancion Mixteca” which really is a “Blues” tune – about a wandering peasant “so far from the home where I was born”. It was a special treat to have Irma and Angel’s 3 grandchildren Yasmin, Angela and Alejandro join the party. It was probably their first exposure to a group of English speakers for a few weeks in-house. I hope we made a suitable impression, although I must say they did stare at us a lot, and even the satellite TV was not as amusing!!  Mario bought the girls each a make-up kit and they walked around with body sparkles and powdered their beautiful almond shaped, dark brown eyes with violet and  pink eye shadows.  The dinner was capped off by a taste of the local agave cactus “moonshine” Raicilla, followed by more rounds of Raicilla. It was a hit. It was inspired by Angel’s need to get dry and warm after fishing in the rains all afternoon, the combination is his favorite way to relax.
Dinner at Rosita and Ambrosio’s house right on the waterfront 10 meters from the dock was another special group night with a Mexican family. Rosita is an amazing seamstress who still works on the same 34 year old treadle sewing machine. Her mother’s 74 year old machine actually outlived her!  She also bakes cakes for the village – ever thought about how big a “3 kilo cake” is? Ambrosio is one of the town’s furniture makers. I think it’s a draw as to which is best – the smell of Rosita’s cakes or the smell of the various local hardwoods freshly cut in Ambrosio’s lumberyard. We’d been watching all the village fishermen bringing home big tuna, and this was our feast night. There’s nothing like that meaty taste of tuna, freshly fried with butter and garlic, with green beans, carrot and chayote (local succulent gourd) and the proverbial  beans and rice. We ate, talked and drank “mucha cerveza” and finally left, only after Rosita promised to bake a pineapple upside down cake for us.
In the regular winter Spanish season, we’d never rotated group meals at each house before and I think it might become a weekly feature. Whether each student spoke as much Spanish as they would have in their regular home stay is not certain, but we all had a LOT of fun “sí, nos divertimos mucho!”!
It’s always hard to see my students go, and I know the home stay moms always pine away after they leave. Fortunately many keep in touch with post cards, calls and occasional gifts.
My last days were spent on the beach adding a little colour to my skin, reading, visiting old friends and taking lots of photos. I finally captured shots at Coco Bar of their very spirited young macaw who was following his young mistress around, even climbing onto her shoulder from the hammock to share her sweet candy.  I don’t agree with captive wild birds, however, this bird was rescued as a young fledgling with injuries that are well healed now, and he’s a very beautiful appreciative bird who enjoys his hosts. If his wings weren’t clipped would he stay?
Jenny and I boated out for an adventure to go to San Sebastian del Oeste, up in the mountains east of Puerto Vallarta for a day. It began well. We rented an VW bug or “bocho” as they call them. We made good progress north of the airport, east to Las Palmas, a pretty red brick town with NO gringos. Caroline and Roger, formerly of Yelapa, were the only ones for years, and they just left back to the US. We heard that there were “derrumbes” or slides of rock and debris caused by the season’s storms. The last 44 km to San Sebastian should take about 1.5 hrs we were told. That’s about 30 km per hour. We ventured on, brave hearts that we were. The scenery became more fantastic, jungle greens changing to mountain flora covered with low clouds the higher we went. We almost made it to the end of the paved road, when we encountered the first slide. Big rocks that a “bocho” wouldn’t go over, and we were unlikely to move, stopped our valient hearts and we retreated quickly. There was a reason all vehicles coming and going were pick ups with lots of clearance, or Vallarta Adventures super jacked-up jeeps. We had rented the car for a day, so made for the coast to Punta de Mita, the northern tip of Bahía de Banderas which is the opposite end of the Bay from Yelapa. The sunset was worth the drive. We found a great very Mexican town, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and it wasn’t long before we found a live band playing “norteño” music, mariachi style music, and were invited to the birthday party of Miguel García García possibly related to our friend, Angel García García fromYelapa. We left with the promise of a fresh fish catch for breakfast. That morning we were out at 9 a.m. and the fishermen were already back and no doubt chowing down. This coastal village is only 35 km from Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Nayarit, and noticeably different. In sum, it was still another very hospitable and lively Mexican village, with a little different twist.
Well, summer language school in Yelapa WILL continue every year, for at least the month of July. If I can find a way to get over those landslides to San Sebastian in the rainy season, we’ll do August classes there. It was great to see Yelapa in its verdant summer greenery, lush and humid as a jungle should be. The ocean was very warm and snorkeling couldn’t have been better. The pace of life is much slower than the “winter” period. It’s a real treat to see the locals living their  lives in harmony with their environment, pretty much unaffected by visitors. Yelapa is always a unique treat, and I might venture to say that to see it in the hot humid summers might be seeing it at its best.
For more information for next summer’s season AND for regular season October 15 to May1st, please check out
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