© 2012; 2001 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Mary Jo Plouf. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Spanish Speaking Vacation in Mexico – A Solo Travel Report

By Mary Jo Plouf

As I stepped off the plane in Leon, Mexico, a torrent of unfamiliar words assaulted me. Momentarily overwhelmed, I searched frantically for my guide. I needed a lifeline to help me navigate this strange territory. Then came a reassuring voice over my shoulder.

"Bienvenida Senora." I did not need to look at his small sign to know that this was Alejandro, a representative from Centro Mexicano International (see notes) sent to meet me. Although I did not know it at the time, my Spanish lessons had already begun. On our three-hour drive to Morelia, Alejandro spoke slowly, asked a few simple questions, and pointed out interesting sights that we would visit later. I listened intently, understood a few things, spoke very little, and gradually began to relax. For better or worse I had arrived in Mexico with a plan to become as fluent as possible in the Spanish language. I had two weeks to accomplish this ambitious goal.

Host Family Speaks No English

The school had arranged for me to live with a host family that spoke no English. With some background in Spanish my classes began at the intermediate level, and I had opted for one-on-one instruction. In my free time I would travel and participate in class excursions. It's called total immersion, the idea being that "if you want to buy bread" and no one speaks your language, you'll quickly learn to express your needs.

Centro Mexicano International encourages students to participate in homestay programs where they receive three meals a day and join in family activities. Besides being economical, homestay programs serve as a language laboratory.

I found my family both delightful and helpful. In fact, they pampered me with fresh orange juice, papaya, and other fruit every morning, a sumptuous midday meal, and hot chocolate at bedtime.

Students Around the World

New classes began each Monday with students arriving from all over the world to begin their studies at various levels. Class size never exceeded five. Travelers made up the largest portion of the student body, but there were also professional people, and even some college students who were taking the courses for credit. This eclectic mix of students made for lively, interesting group activities such as cooking, guitar, and dance lessons. It was especially agreeable for a solo traveler like myself to be with a like-minded group.

Each day began with two hours of intensive grammar lessons, concentrating on complicated Spanish verb conjugations, a necessary part of the curriculum but not my favorite activity.

Sightseeing and Learning

One-on-one lessonswith instructor GemaConversation, however, was a pure delight. My instructor, Gema, and I left the classroom and took to the streets of the old city. We walked down tiny, crowded side streets in search of museums, churches, and mercados (markets). I became familiar with the various methods of transportation as we took taxis, buses, and minivans called combis.

Located between Mexico City and Guadalajara, Morelia is designated a World Heritage Artistic Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). The delicate pink quarry-stone buildings that form the old city are as impressive and functional today as they were in the 16th century. Numerous wide, majestic boulevards are laid out on a grid connected by narrow, one-way calles.

Weekends and several afternoons were dedicated to excursions outside the city. We visited the nearby El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, home to millions of monarch butterflies that spend November to February in the ideal climate of this mountain retreat. Monarchs are everywhere clinging to trees and drifting airborne, turning the forest into a fluttering blur of black and orange.

Many of the small villages surrounding Morelia are noted for a variety of crafts. I was most impressed with the furniture and lacquerware at Patzcuaro. At Santo Clara del Cobra it was fascinating to watch artisans form raw copper into artistic ornaments and functional dinnerware.

One memorable morning we drove to a village near Uruapan where we rode horses up the side of the volcano, Paricutin, which had erupted from 1943 to 1952. We spent several hours climbing over gigantic lava rocks and photographing a church and village partially buried beneath tons of volcanic rock.

Some may think that studying a language is more like everyday work than a vacation, but in fact I was having fun making new friends and seeing new sights while learning.

If You Go

Language Studies Abroad. Represents dozens of language schools in 20 countries that teach Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

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