Hijos del Maiz: El Lagartillo

Web page. Located in El Lagartillo, a small community a relatively long bus ride from Estelí, this school sounds like a real adventure. You are not likely to spend your spare time talking to a Gringo unless he is also a student.

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Does Anyone Know

if this school is still functional?


Week Two NOT So Good

The Hijos have adopted a policy of a mandatory switch of instructors every week. This is not disclosed until the student is into the first week. It's detrimental to the best interests of the student. In my case, I only had four days of instruction in week one. I was expected to switch instructors starting week two. I was not aware of this until Wednesday of the first week. It's not on their site, in their brochure, nor is it disclosed in the emails you will exchange with them. They make no exceptions. This policy started about three months ago.

I had a dedicated, committed instructor the first week, and didn't want to start over from scratch. The Hijos use this lock step method that may be well suited to a beginning student, but is ill-suited to someone who's Spanish is not a product of continuous instruction. In my case, I spent the first two days with my instructor assessing where I was and where I was deficient. The following two days we made amazing progress. I didn't want to waste two days the following week with a new instructor.

The policy was adopted due to the paucity of students, in an attempt to spread the available money around. It's a poor solution. The same policy applies to home stay accommodations, although the switch is every two weeks. This provides no incentive for the home stay family to improve or even maintain their student accommodations: They will get a student in rotation whether the room is clean and insect free, or dirty and buggy.

Lagartillo is close to it's communist history. Until a couple of years ago the land was worked communally. This "Take It or Leave It" attitude is something you might see in Cuba or North Korea today, but nowhere else. It doesn't work for me.

In my particular case, I only got four days of instruction with my instructor as she had to go to Leon on Friday for an extension degree she is pursuing. I was very pleased with the progress we made, and she was very aggressive about correcting my pronunciation, grammar and syntax. I was really looking forward to my second week with Lisbeth Rivera Perez. She was available and happy to continue on as my instructor.

With these unfortunate policies in place I could only recommend the Hijos for a week's time. The policies are not in the student's best interests. While I was lucky to have a passionate and committed instructor AND a clean and bug-free room, this was not the case for Martin, a student from Germany who was there for three days during my first week. His room was buggy, and he awoke one morning to find a couple of cockroaches a few inches from his face. He left that day -probably his only option. Incoming students are not allowed to choose their instructor or home stay family, for the same reason. While I don't know this for a fact, I suspect that instructor ability and dedication varies as well. The Hijos choose your instructor and where you stay. You might think that they were paying YOU rather than the other way around.

I CAN highly recommend the experience. It will give you a taste of Nicaragua as lived by a good number of Nicaraguans. Latrines, cold water from a bucket to bathe in, nothing cold to drink, a pretty steady diet of beans , rice and cheese. The people of Lagartillo are gracious and helpful. With the lack of students, you will have to speak Spanish if you want to talk at all.

There is endless hiking and bike riding in the hills above Lagartillo. I rented a bike in Achuapa for the two weeks for $20. One of the highlights of my second week (I had a lot of time free as I told the Hijos to pack sand re the instructor switch) was a horseback ride up to one of the battle sites. Chema, a campesino renaissance man and husband of my instructor, told me of one battle where 300 Sandinistas, he being one, held off 5000 contras. He showed me the house where he lived during that time, and the wall drawings of his sister, who was killed in one of the attacks.

So, the second week wasn't an entire waste. Lisbeth made up the 4 hours she owed me from week one, I did a lot of review. I kept my same room the second week, clean and bug-free. The school lost out on a week's tuition. All decisions have consequences.

While I had other business in Nicaragua, I still hoped to pack in a full two weeks of solid instruction. Initially, it looked like it was going to happen. If I were a student on a budget who had flown down here and made his way (dusty, bone-jarring, two hour ride) to El Lagartillo, I might be more upset with the cavalier treatment.

PM me if you need more specific information.

Yes, they do

I emailed them and got the following response:
Hi Phil,

Thanks for the email. Yes, we still do exist as a vibrant and fun Spanish school. We appreciate you sending students our way. ...

Hijos del Maiz Spanish School

Hijos del Maiz Update

I spent a week with the Hijos and am heading back for another week this morning. The positives: It's a great place to learn to speak Spanish. This is immersion at it's finest. The quality of my instruction was first-class and my instructor was committed and passionate. In four days all the Spanish I had picked up in the past was tied together and I began to speak fluidly and correctly. My instructor was AGGRESSIVE about correcting any mistake, no matter how small. Cost, beginning May 1st is $160 /week which includes instruction, room and board (bring some Beano). Sheets, a rough blanket, and a pillow were provided (in my case at least) but you will need to bring everything else.

The area around El Lagartillo is very picturesque. Steep hills and deep valleys. Lush and verdant. Lagartillo is pretty much the end of the road (it's foot or horseback from there) but there are numerous surrounding pueblos that probably look as they did 100 years ago. There is no electricity, so no noise beyond the campo sounds. It's very relaxing. There's a river with a waterfall and giant flat stones for sunbathing (healthy walk). I rented a bike and that was a good decision. This would be an excellent mountain bike destination: endless dirt roads and trails and no cars. The area is very safe.

The negatives: When the school says you will live like a campesino, they aren't just a-woofing. It's an eye opener to see how much longer "living" takes. A ten minute shower is a half hour minimum with bucket and pan. Toilets are latrines - this became an issue for me when the latrine opening was (commonly) left open and the latrine filled with flies and bees. The school is working on this. There is no cell phone or internet, but a signal can be picked up by hiking up a hill to a point where the Achuapa antenna is visible. The school is working on this. There is nothing in the way of a cool drink, or anything else to eat besides what is provided by your host family. After 5 days I needed an R&R in Esteli -and a piece of meat at Mi Mesero. Achuapa is not that far (6KM) but the bus schedule (leave at 9 return at 1) doesn't work with your classes. You WANT to do your classes in the morning. There is no taxi service in Achuapa, but pedicabs are available. There are also no English speakers (except for Jim, the Peace Corps worker from Pennsylvania). There is no bank or Cajero in Achuapa. Two cold beers and a delicious carne asada cost me 70 cords. It's a clean and picturesque town, with far more horses on the streets than cars.

Studying was an issue for me until I made special arrangements. My room was too hot to be habitable from about noon until 10PM. The light available (from a solar panel and battery system each house has) was insufficient for studying.

It's a hard bus ride out there. The recent rains have helped with the dust on the road. As I understand it, only the 7AM bus from the south station goes all the way to Largartillo; the 6 and 1PM buses drop you off at the El Largartillo turnoff, with a half mile hike.

All in all, it was a great experience. If you obtain a teacher of the caliber and dedication of mine, and you don't mind the rustic life, then this would be a very good place to learn Spanish. You can PM me for any specifics I may have missed, but don't expect a quick reply. Remember, I have to hike up the hill to get my emails :)