Tongue Twisting Place names: An Excercise for your Spanish Pronounciation

I have to admit that all my memories of different places have sort of melded into one big impression of Central America. Even though each country has had its own quirks and isms, things kind of start to feel the same after a while. Not in a boring way, but in a  comforting, familiar type of way. As my spanish has improved I’ve also gotten more comfortable in all the new places, and a little bit more confident in my travels alone.

Every time I open my lonely planet Central America shoestrings book, I have to think for a second what chapter to open to because I can never remember what country I’m in. Trying to remember the name of the town I’m in would take even longer, but one can always rest assured that every single city has a parque central with an iglesia (or two or three) within walking distance, with all the things, information or amenities you could ever need all in one square.

the main church in Comayagua's central park

Once I remember what town I’m in, spelling or pronouncing it is almost always an issue, especially in El Salvador when there was one day we went to Ataco, Apaneca, Ahuachapán and Juajúa all in one day with 5 different buses, and the only words I could think about to help me remember was ‘jube jubes’ and ‘a taco.’ Trying to say ‘jubejubes’ or ‘taco’ to the different bus drivers taking us around didn’t seem to help much, except put a big, confused smile on their face.

Tegucigalpa took some practice, but I still can’t say Quetzaltenango or Quetzaltepeque. Sometimes the same town existed twice or the names were so similar I almost ended up on the wrong bus headed in the totally opposite direction. Frankly, I can’t believe that hasn’t happened yet.

Every Latin American country seems to have an endless supply of town names beginning in San or Santa’s, like San Ignacio, Santa Maria, and every country so far has had a town called Agua Caliente. Towns beginning in ‘Ch’ were tricky in Guatemala because of cities like Chichicastenango, Chimaltenango (not Chalatenango in Honduras), and Chiquimula, not to be confused with neighbouring Chiquimulilla. Other tongue twisters included Huehuetenango, Cuauhtemoc and a bunch of towns beginning in the letter ‘X’ which I’m still not sure how to pronounce.

A floating house in San Pedro, one of the many San- towns, but not the same as San Pedro Sula

Each country has also had its own special Spanish accent or slang words to make things more difficult, and towns where Maya inhabitants still thrive often had one Spanish name and one Mayan name, like Xela which is actually the same place as Quetzaltenango but not the same place as Xel-ha, Mexico. I guess as long as I can remember my own name I’m doing just fine 😛

Argentina's Wonderful Cliche's

Iguazu FallsI traveled to Buenos Aires as my gateway to get to Antarctica, but thought I’d take the time to spend 2 weeks there roaming around. I of course took the opportunity to tango dance, making it out to a few ‘milongas’ and ‘practica’s’ to dance with the most stereotyped Argentinian men ever – serious faced in full suits, slicked back, long-ish hair, with shiny black dance shoes beautifully leading around women in dainty, stilleto shoes in this aggressive but very seductive dance in the most professional way you can.

I of course had to try mate, the strong, bitter tea that all Argentinians seem to drink but no tourist can actually buy anywhere without buying all their own ingredients and making it themselves. Figuring out how to cure the mate cup and make a perfect drink was no easy task either, but one friendly waiter at a hotel we stayed at finally helped us make our first cup.

My spanish is far from good, but my comprehension is alright and my travel companion’s speaking skills were great, so between the two of us, we got by ok but still had trouble with the ‘sh’ sound that Argentinians prnounce double ll’s (as in llamada or llave) instead of the traditional ‘y’ sound used in other spanish-speaking countries. ‘Calle’ (road) became ‘cashe’ and ‘llama’ (name) became ‘shama’ and adopting their italian intonation in certain words and phrases was tricky too.  However, different from the French, it was refreshing to know that they would always stick to their rapid spanish speaking and allow us to struggle through what we were trying to understand or say in broken spanish without switching to english the moment they knew we were english speakers. Some of them would be perfect english speakers too, but still patiently allow the conversation to continue in spanish unless we finally surrendered to english.

The wine was bountiful and cheap, great bottles of Cab. Sauv from mendoza for under $2US a bottle. Even their liquor was cheap, at $3 a bottle of vodka or whiskey, but their whiskey somehow tasted like bad tequila – a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make to support a steady drinking habit while on vacation. Best of all was the many types of domestic beers – Pilsen, Salta, Isenbeck – all availbe in lager, ale or dark/stout, for about $1 – $3 a litre. The street food paired perfectly, and we managed to find the best empanada shop in Buenos Aires in a small hole-in-the-wall place a few blocks from one of the couchsurfers we stayed with.

We went to Tigre, a delta town north-east of Buenos Aires, but were much more impressed by the rivers and waterfalls of Iguazu. We spent a day at the falls, accompanied by hundreds of butterflies all colors of the rainbow, and later at our lavish hotel realized we could kayak to Brazil by paddling accross a calm, 200m part of the river. We were met by a lone brazilian, on weekend retreat to his small shack built on the river bank. After realizing the river was at a high point, swollen high by the rainy season, and that anacondas would easily reach us, we quickly paddled back to be met by a security guard from the hotel frantically calling us back to the Argentinian shore. Too bad we don’t have a stamp in our passports to prove it (or any photos for that matter), but kayaking to brazil was definitely a highlight, and perhaps well worth the risk of being eaten by anacondas…