S/V Stolen Child Sailing Log

Logbook for the sailing vessel Stolen Child and her crew, Patrick and Nancy.

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Name: Patrick

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Learning Spanish




I am long overdue for an update to the Ship's Log. We have been very busy having fun, and when we weren't busy having fun, we were busy being lazy. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I'm going to try to get the log up to date in about 3 entries and will try to get them all posted this week. I have Internet access right now, so I will also try to embed pictures in the log entries and also upload some slide shows in the picture galleries page.

After Heddy and Jamie flew back to KC, Nancy and I returned to Merida for a week-long Spanish language class the week of May 26 through 30. There is a school in Merida that I learned of on the Internet named Central Idiomas Sureste, CIS for short, that offers immersion-style lessons in Spanish. You sign up for one or more weeks of 5-hour daily classes, and they will also put you up with a local Mexican family, where you can practice your Spanish outside of class. They put us up with a very nice Mexican lady named Senora Quintal. She lives just off the central square of the Santiago district of Merida, which put us about 10 blocks from the school and made for a nice walk to and from school each day. We needed the walk, because Senora Quintal is an excellent cook and kept us very well-fed while we were in her care.

The school itself was very interesting and very beneficial, but it was incredibly exhausting. By the end of the week Nancy and I were both worn out mentally. There was a group of college kids attending at the same time who were from Millsaps College in Mississippi. Nancy and I wound up in two different classes because I had been studying a little Spanish and Nancy was starting at the very beginning. There was one other person in Nancy's class and 4 other people in my class. We would meet for 3 hours in the morning for language instruction, break for 30 minutes for lunch, and then meet for 2 hours in the afternoon for cultural instruction, which was basically a discussion group (in Spanish of course) on subjects of local significance. I cannot recommend this school highly enough, but I would recommend against taking it for only a week if you are beginners as we were. After one week, you have more new knowledge than can be assimilated. I think an additional week or two would have been much better, but we didn't have the time to spare with more company on the way.

We enjoyed staying with Senora Quintal as much as we enjoyed the school. She is retired and has three grown children, so there was plenty of room in her house for us. She put us in a bedroom at the back of the house that has windows on 3 walls, so there is always a cross-breeze, which was very much appreciated since she doesn't have air conditioning. We also slept in hammocks, which are much cooler than regular beds. Nancy and I both became quite fond of sleeping in hammocks. These are traditional Mayan-style hammocks made of string and look very much like a large net. For breakfast she would serve us a heaping plate of fresh fruit and a breakfast sandwich, usually a croissant with ham and cheese inside. The fruit plate would have pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, mamey, papaya, and whatever else she had fresh. She would fix us a box lunch to take to school, and then a rather large dinner of traditional Yucatan dishes in the early evening.

On Thursday the school took a group of four of us on a field trip to the cenotes at Cuzama. The Yucatan peninsula is basically a limestone shelf and is relatively flat with no major rivers or streams above ground. There is, however, an extensive system of underground rivers flowing through the limestone. There are places where the ceiling of a cavern through which the underground river flows has collapsed and this underground pool is known as a cenote (pronounced say-no-tay, with accent on the second syllable). There are cenotes scattered all around the Yucatan and they were the main source of fresh water for the ancient Mayans. Because the water filters through all the limestone, it is incredibly clean and clear. The cenotes at Cuzama are very beautiful and very remote. In the old days before Mexican independence, wealthy landowners built huge haciendas in this area, and they installed a very light-gage rail system for moving workers, materials and produce around the hacienda. The rail system uses horse-drawn carts that ride on the rails. The Mayans provided all the slave labor to build the haciendas and the rail system, but now the landowners are gone and the local Mayans are left with the land and the rail system, which they use to haul tourists to and from the cenotes. After a two or three-mile ride on the rail buggy, you arrive at one of the cenotes and find a hole in the ground with a ladder sticking out of it. You climb down the ladder into an underground cave. After your eyes adjust to the dark, you see a pool of the clearest water you can imagine. The water is anywhere from 8 to 20 feet deep in the cenotes at Cuzama, but even in the dim light you can see the bottom in incredible detail. These cenotes are so spectacular they almost literally took my breath away when I first saw them.

We were so exhausted after class on Friday that we checked into a room at the Luz en Yucatan hotel for the weekend to rest up before returning to the boat.

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