Friday, February 27, 2009

San Pedro to Monterrico

As I answer one question that burns within me about the culture of coffee trade here, three more arise in its place. That wasn´t the idea.

Two days ago Laurel (whose Guatemalan travels can be kept track of at and I left San Pedro La Laguna en route to Monterrico. *sigh*

Monterrico is a little beachside paradise. Expectations here are very manageable. Recreation of choice is mostly playing in the strong waves and warm water of the Pacific, and Hammock-Swinging. The beach is of black sand, the sun is strong, the roofs are grass and the livin´is eeeassyyyy. I may get stuck for a while, but coffee is calling me back.

In San Pedro, the livin´is pretty easy too. But much about the place did make me slightly uneasy as well. It is a little hippie enclave on lake atitlan, where gringos outnumber locals in multiples in some parts of town, owners and workers at bars and restaurants are white european expats, you can do yoga, get bagels with cream cheese, and buy crafts or bread from local folks without much else for a way to get by. The scene and industry and culture is very accomodating. almost...too easy. I´d heard a lot about how there is tension between the hipster whiteness and the native communities and it is evident. That said, I want to go back.

My second day there I stumbled across a coffee mill in the middle of town and watched people loading bags of freshly picked cherry until I was invited to help out. for a couple hours I heaved hundred-fifty-plus pound sacs of coffee out of a pickup truck and onto a scale, off from the scale and dumped into a pit where from there they fell into the depulper, and i asked all the questions my spanish would allow me to. Where is this coffee coming from? Who is buying it here? what´s the price like now? do you guys do the picking? how much do you get paid per quintale? Where is the coffee ending up? how does it get there? the answers to these questions at times surprised me, for some I knew the answers before i asked. Ultimately, I gathered that this was a pretty conventional operation. Coyotes involved, no certifications, not the highest quality processing, water running from the mill to the lake with no treatment...but the kids (late teens... I call everyone kids...) were excited that I was working with them and I was invited to the fields to harvest with them, unfortunately later in the week than I´d be around. and surprisingly, I had a good conversation about coffee markets with the person buying the coffee there at the mill and overseeing the operation. I was also shocked to hear that the price they said the pickers get was over three times more than the price I´d heard was typical elsewhere. This is one reason I need to get back. to clarify.

The next day I heard about another mill just outside of town, so i went there. I gathered with my first visit that it´s a Fair trade and organic association of indigenous maya coffee farmers from around the area, and I was invited back later by Pedro, the agrarian technician of the association, to see the processing. he was inviting, generous, knowledgable, passionate and glad for my visit, it was an altogether different feeling from the mill in town. When I returned later that night (on a motorcycle borrowed from my new friend Phil. Dreamy. Riding a motorbike around lake atitlan to visit a coffee mill? thanks phil!) I caught the first bit of processing the days harvest before being introduced to the president of the organization. All I said was "hello, My name is Marcos, I´m from the United States" and the man´s face lit up and I was eagerly escorted into his office. From here we spoke, strictly spanish, for almost an hour about the organization, the communities it serves, the challenges they face, the assistance they need, the projects they want to start, and the hospitality I would be shown if I were to return. And so I feel I must. I made it clear to him that I came to learn but alone don´t have the resources to offer the assistance they need. I am, after all, only me. But I think that the prospect of having their story heard in the states is enough.

So in San Pedro I have one operation in the middle of town where I have been eagerly invited back by the workers and the buyer to learn more, though the social responsibility of it is questionable. There is much more for me to find out. I have been invited to return and stay with a fair trade and organic certified association of indigenous coffee farmers in the same town. to do both would be tricky. but I think I´ll have to chance it.

one last note:

- President of association, when asked if the coffee in town was produced with just practices and social responsibility.

- Buyer of coffee at the mill in town, when asked where the coffee would ultimately end up.

So there.

Monday, February 23, 2009

¿Really? ¡No Way!

I rented this?

And rode it here?

This is my life? nuh-uhhh.

¡Xela! ¡Chichi! ¡Lago de Atitlan!

Arriving via bus in Quetzaltenango, aka Xela, the trip took a sudden turn. The first couple weeks of this adventure had an agenda. I was running around getting to places that were expecting me, going to meetings, touring beneficios, meeting farmers, and frequently being the only white person or english speaker around (I know, we love that, don´t we. how adventurous...) In Xela, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by extranjeros, mobbing in bands around the city babbling in a foriegn language wearing hawaiian shirts with shorts and sun-hats and cameras around our necks. okay. so not really, but I started feeling a bit more like a tourist than a traveller when I left the coffee farms and got to the very gringo-friendly city with cafés that advertised vegan donuts and whatnot.

As well, it became a vacation. Nobody is expecting me, I don´t have any work to do, there is no itinerary. It is sunny and beautiful, the weather is warm, and I am at the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. El Lago de Atitlan. Damn. The lake, rung by volcanic mountains, is itself the crater of an ancient volcano. You gotta check this place out. As luck would have it, we wound our way through coffee fields to get here and our hotel is next door to a wet-mill. Eduard, the teenage kid we walked a half hour around the lake with on our way here, told me he´s worked as a picker before and we spoke briefly of his experience. It is here that my spanish skills frustrate me, I have so many questions that I don´t know exactly how to ask and if I did the response would likely be too complicated to fully understand. Nonetheless, I imagine that, among motorcycle and kayak rentals, boat rides, volcano-hikes and the like, I´ll have more opportunities to interface with farmers and pickers and workers while I´m at the lake. Next, the coast. BEEAACCHH!!

(p.s. I´m awfully sorry to hear about all the snow new england is getting...)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

El Injerto

Hacienda El Injerto

Beans in pergamino, drying in the sun on the patio.

The deep red clusters of the Bourbón varietal.

Its amazing what a person will do for a good cup of coffee.

On Tuesday the 17th, I began waiting at a bus stop in San Pedro Carchá near Cobán, Department of Alta Verapaz, at 3:00am. Three busses, one taxi, a pick-up truck, hundreds of kilometers and 16...and a half... HOURS... LATER, I arrived at Finca El Injerto. And the moment I did, I immediately knew that every minute on the bus and every kilometre was worth it. Let me try to explain...

Six Km from the border between Huehuetenango, Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, there is a barely noticeable left hand turn onto a dirt road between a hotel and a hardware store. 8km of climbing up the road, around tight turns, over rocky mounds, between mountains in a narrow ravine, takes about 45 minutes and gains at least two thousand feet in altitude. I was let out of the back of the truck I hitched a ride in at an empty market plaza and followed the directions to the finca. "over the bridge," I was told, and was amused to find that this was a bouncy, rocking suspension bridge strung with cord and planks high above a river below, wide gaps between the boards and all. On the other side I climbed a rocky trail through branches of Bourbón and Catuaí coffee trees that reached eagerly into my path. On the branches were clustered the healthiest and most voluptuous bunches of coffee cherries that I have ever seen in my life. This, already, to me, is heaven. At the top of the trail, I finally meet Arturo Aguirre, son of the finca´s owner, Arturo Aguirre.

El Injerto was begun in 1874 by the great grandfather of the younger Arturo, and taken over by the third generation in 1956, at which time the farm produced only 300 Quintales of parchment coffee, or about 3,000 lbs. Today, nearly 500 acres of coffee surrounded by virgin rainforest produce over 6 containers of coffee per year at roughly 37,500 lbs each. El Injerto coffee is widely regarded as one of, if not the best coffee in all of Guatemala. The finca is the only one in the world to ever place first in two Cup of Excellence competitions, with two separate varietals no less. On site there is a significantly advanced wet-mill with a number of unique innovations in coffee processing, an 8,000 sq. meter drying patio and five enormous drying drums, a fully operational dry-mill for final processing and sorting, a roasting and cupping facility, vermiculture and composting, hydroelectric, water treatment, a tortilleria with a machine that cranks out 3,000 tortillas per hour to feed the 4-600 seasonal pickers, all of whom recieve higher than usual payment for their strict attention to detail in harvesting.

Me with the little babies. To replace trees that have outgrown their productive years, between 15,000 and 20,000 new ones are planted every year.

Only the reddest of the red cherries, the best ones at the peak of ripeness, are harvested.

After a long day in the fields, the pickers bring the cherries to the wet mill to begin processing the same day.
You can read books and cup coffees and peruse websites in the states, for sure. But I learned early on that the best way to learn about coffee is to go down and hang out with it. One of the things that I hoped to learn more about during my time in Guatemala is one of the more complex and specialized elements of specialty coffee: Varietals. I left the workshop over a week ago with a much better idea of the importance that varietals of coffee have on cultivation practices and cup qualities. Different sub-species and hybrids take to different altitudes, have different levels of productivity, are more or less disease resistant, and so on, and it is important for a farmer to know what he or she is working with. Here at El Injerto, I finally had the chance to walk the hillside with a knowledgable farmworker and be taught "That´s Catuaí," shorter plants, denser foliage, slightly smaller fruits packed closely together along the whole branch; very good productivity, and in the cup a nice acidity but less sweet, balanced and refined than Bourbon. "That´s Bourbon," Taller plants, lighter foliage on horizontal branches, deep red berries wrapped in seperate clusters around the branch, more disease prone and less productive but absolutely prized in the cup for sweetness, cleanliness, balance and complexity. "That´s Pacamara," broad leaves, large berries, mid-sized plants and one of the most notoriously amazing qualities of coffee in cultivation. "That´s Maragogype." woah. Trees more than twice my height with very sparse foliage and eNORmous cherries so few and far between it´s a wonder to me why anyone would bother farming a plant with such low yield - until I taste it, that is.

One last note before I move on. It´t interesting to me to find how refind cupping, or the systematic, methodical tasting of coffee, can get. You can start by cupping coffees from different countries. A sumatra and a kenya and a guatemala will all be remarkably different even to a first time cupper. Then you can cup different coffees from the same country. Ten Guatemalans, though all Guatemalans, will taste different depending on the farm where they were grown and the processing, altitude, etc...this I´ve known for some time but was reinforced earlier this week at a cupping I did with the master cupper at the regional office of ANAcafe, twelve different Guatemalan coffees, all from the same region of Guatemala, and twelve remarkably different coffees on the table. Now here, at El Injerto, I cupped seven coffees, all grown here at the same finca, within the same 400 or so acre area, and all distinct from one another in some way. Catuaí from Bourbón, well rested Bourbón from too fresh of a picking Bourbón, first quality Catuaí/Bourbón blend from beans of the same harvest that were sorted out as floaters. And so on. We get pretty geeky.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It´s incredible how different this trip has been compared to my first excursion to the coffeelands. There, in Mexico, I learned about worker´s struggles and indigenous resistance, stayed with a Maya family, slept on a dirt floor. Here, I have slept in the guest quarters of the Casa Patronál and shared the dinner-table with the landowning family while struggling through self-consciousness about this (and my spanish speaking abilities) to strike up conversations with the indigenous workers. While my research and reading about Guatemala has focused on the lives and the rights and struggles of peasant farmers in a strikingly segregated society, I can´t help but concern myself with the inevitable distinction of class in the patronal system of landownership. Before this, I have only spent time with indigenous campesinos who cultivate their own plots hundreds of times smaller than this property and operate as members of co-ops and farmers associations. At El Injerto, I walked the land with workers, had conversations with them at the wet-mill and learned of the ways that the Aguirre family re-invests the quality premiums their specialty coffee receives into the farm and community. While many questions go unanswered having had only two days to explore, I leave the farm with confidence that the owners of El Injerto truly concern themselves with the well-being of the people who work so hard there. They´ve invested in a tortilla factory to help feed every worker for free and distribute masa for making at home. There is a clinic on-site where workers can get medical assistance and prescriptions for free. Pickers are payed more here per quintale than any other farm in the area. Workers are continually educated in the art and craft of producing high quality coffee. Two months ago, they received the comprehensive social responsibility certification given after careful inspection by the Rainforest Alliance. While the complexities of such a worker-owner relationship certainly remain, It is clear that within this system, few if any fincas maintain such a high commitment to their workers as El Injerto. I will end these thoughts with the words I left in the guest book:

"Bummer for everywhere else that it will be difficult for me not to judge other coffee farms by El Injerto´s standards of quality, dedication, responsibility and hospitality. I wish I had the words - Spanish or English - to express the extent of my awe and gratitude."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Week 2 in Guatemala, Part 2

Part 2, 2/16/09 journal excerpt

Until last night, I hadn´t written anything in my journal for the past three days or so. But not for a lack of things to write about, Oh no. I´ve been too busy recording memories in my brain and my camera, collecting more experience in the past two days than any other two days in recent memory. Holy crap. And to really do it all any justice here would take days and days and pages and pages. So since it´s late and I´m tired I´ll have to settle for more of a list than a narrative, and maybe have more time to write tomorrow, but it doesn´t look like tomorrow´s shaping up that way, either. Wake up, meet Marvin, the manager of the APODIP coffee farmers´ association, do a cupping at ANACAFE, the Guatemalan national coffee association, tour finca santa margarita, consider renting a motorcycle, finalize travel plans to huehuetenango and pack to get ready to start making my way there around 3am Tuesday. Oh yeah, And finish Silence on the Mountain in time to donate it to the language school EcoCabaña. And write in my journal. sure.

So. Since Friday. This weekend. Toured a beneficio, got surrounded by coffee plants, met Romeo, who I´ve heard is one of the best cuppers in the business, cupped three coffeest from the association and community I visited last week, passed Romeo´s informal oral exam, went to a finca of friends of my hosts Sal and LIbby, hung by a river, climbed barefoot over moss covered rocks in the middle of a river to the mouth of a cave, explored in the cave, stalagtites and all, stuck my hand in some vampire bat guano climbing down, met two incredible people that I want to get to know much better, got harassed and nearly assaulted by a belligerent drunk at a beautiful restaurant, went clubbing and bar-crawled around downtown Cobán and slept in a hostel. Saturday. Sunday woke up, had brunch, walked around Cobán, did more research on the near impossibility of getting to Huehuetenango in one day without having a motorcycle or sprouting wings, stumbled upon the minutes-recent aftermath of a broad daylight downtown drive by murder, played a game of soccer with a 6 or 7 year old Guatemalan kid who totally rips it up, went to the farm, said bye to my friends, spent a couple hours talking around the kitchen table back at the house, wrote some epic emails, explored my route to Huehue on google earth and came upstairs to read, write and crash. Many single elements of my weekend could easily, with little more effort than the ability to stay awake, take up many pages alone. The experienes and imagery has been so dense that I feel like I am bursting at the fingernails to release the pressure of the words it would take to describe them. But alas, if I want to finish the book I´m reading about Guatemala´s culture, history and political violence in time to donate it, I need to make some progress tonight.

Allow me to at least try to finish this page by saying that I needed this trip and I´m thrilled that I took the steps to get myself here. Guatemala ain´t Brattleboro and winding around mountains at the edges of cliffs ain´t another day at the office. I can´t really thank myself until I´m back safely in the states but when I am, I will definitely treat myself to a beer. That is, if I have three dollars and fifty cents left to spend on one.

Week 2 in Guatemala, Part 1

Part 1You´ve never smelled coffee quite like this before. Pulp and skin from the cherries, used as organic fertilizer, smells ....pretty rich.

Coffee cherries in Paraiso Privado. It´s late in the harvest season here so the trees are a little bare.

Coffee drying in parchment On the ridge of the Sierra Las Minas mountain range, Paraiso Privado.

On Wednesday the 11th, I woke up at 4:30am in order to be ready for the three and a half hour drive on winding, bumpy dirt roads east to the municipality of La Tinta. At just after 5:10 I said farewell to my host, Sal, and climbed into what I would later come to understand is one of the toughest little pick-up trucks out there. I was making the ride with Glenda, assistant manager at the APODIP coffee farmers association in Cobán. As we pulled away from the curb I knew that would be my last chance for nearly three days to hear or be understood in my native language. With Glenda, who knew to speak slowly and clearly, I could communicate surprisingly well, holding a steady conversations the whole trip down. I realized as soon as we turned on the road to La Tinta that there would be no sleeping on this drive. When we arrived I was exhausted from waking so early, but soon felt ridiculous when we met Mario, who walked five hours beginning at 4am to attend the meeting we´d just drived to get to. The next day I would meet Miguel, who walked four hours beginning long before sunrise to attend another meeting. And prejudiced ladinos call indigenous people lazy? guess they haven´t met Americans.

After struggling to stay awake through a meeting held mostly in the native language of Q´eqchí (yes, I know how it´s spelled now), We wound up into the mountains on the most incredible and frightening road I´ve ever had the adventure of experiencing. Narrow, washed out, tucked against cliffsides like the road itself was pressing against the mountainside for fear of falling off, dried mud tracks, deep holes, huge rocks, hairpin switchbacks requiring five point turns reversing toward cliff edges, up and up and up. It´s strange to be so in remote a place and pass by cell towers and soft drink ads. when we finally arrived after an hour and a half of not looking down, we stepped out of the truck (resisting the urge to kneel and kiss the ground) in the community of Paraiso Privado - "Private Paradise."

Here I saw my first coffee plants of the trip, and toured the Beneficio, or processing plant. They had a set-up unlike anything I´ve seen before, with a ten foot tall drum drier that can handle 6,000 lbs of coffee beans in parchment and a dual-hopper, diesel powered depulping machine bigger than the living room of my last apartment. Here 40 indigenous farmers cultivate the mountainsides and process their coffee, hard bean and strictly hard bean qualities (SHB being the top of the top) of the varietals Bourbon, Typica, Catuaí and Maragogype. Four days later I would be surprised by the opportunity to cup these very coffees from this very community. I was pleased to find that the SHB Catuaí/Bourbón blend and the Margogype are both fantastic, scoring in the mid to high 80´s according to my pallete and that of Roméo, the cupper at a Beneficio in Coban and one of the best in the business.

The next day, down in the valley, I attended a day long workshop in four parts. One was on the importance of and methods toward increasing productivity, the second was on the characteristics of different varietals, sub-species and hybrids of Coffea Arabica each with unique growth habits, bean sizes and shapes, tendencies toward microclimates, altitudes and humidity levels, leaf shapes, fruit colors, plant sizes and flavor qualities in the cup. The third part of the day was spent discussing the method for selecting the best cherries for re-seeding and how to process them effectively to produce the healthiest plants possible. Part four was on early cultivation, replanting, soil care, seedling maintenance and nursery-level coffee plant health. I have 12 pages of notes from this day, all in spanish. I was disappointed that the following day, Friday, instead of following the agrarian technician from ANACAFE, Guatemala´s national coffee association, and the many indigenous farmers I´d met at the workshop up into the fields to dig in the dirt and practice what we´d learned via powerpoint on Thursday, Glenda and I along with the president of APODIP left that area, drove another hour and half into the mountains to attend a symbolic meeting of farmers, co-op representatives and NGO´s that, unlike the day before, I didn´t understand a single word of. Having not slept much at all the night before, I spent the first two hours of the meeting lost and exhausted, wishing I was out in the fields, and the last hour and a half asleep in the truck.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guatemala: week One

It´s farther down than it looks. The road you see is the one I walked up to get here.

Monja Blanca - Guatemala´s national flower

Spanish isn´t a language for me yet. It´s still a code, a collection of words and sounds that it is my job to decipher, to change into my familiar english meanings before they are understood. Quiero means ´I want´, it doesn´t yet mean ´Quiero,´ itself, alone. But I am close. when I am having a conversation in Spanish my brain has to work twice as hard and fast. Hear the word or sentence, Decipher it into english, Formulate my english response, Change it into spanish, Speak it, Repeat. Somehow I manage to keep up. Mostly I feel like a semi-literate child when I speak in slow, broken half-spanish, asking at least once per sentence by way of raised inflection followed by a pause if the word I´m in the middle of guessing is actually correct . Sometimes I imagine what I would sound like to myself if I were just learning english and trying to make my way in the states. Earlier this week I was having a conversation with Doña Lila about the weather. I wanted to say that when the clouds are there, it gets really cold, but when they go away it gets very suddenly very hot. Unfortunately, I didn´t know the word for clouds so I found myself looking quizzically while pointing up and asking what is the word for the white things in the sky that make cold. heh. They are Nuves. Another student, Anna, and I were bouncing around the back seat of a little SUV on the rocky, washed out road through the mountains up to the school trying to think of the phrase for '4-wheel drive' and the best we could come up with was the equivelant of '4-tire-go.' Speaking with my teacher, Maria, and her husband, Alex, about my motorcycle I remarked that all the motorbikes I´ve seen here have only one cylinder. When I told them I once had a bike with 4 cylinders Alex remarked that it must be very big and strong. I wasn´t sure how to communicate that although the engine was 6 times the size most of those I´ve seen here, that it wasn´t the stongest bike out there. the conversation ended in laughs when I referred to the bike and communicated through body language that it wasn´t so strong. I hit my chest a couple times with my fist and made some rasping coughs before pantomiming death, lolling tongue and all. They understood. ¨your motorcyle had bronchitis?" asked Alex, laughing. Yeah, you could say that.....if you knew how.

The mornings at the farm are full of activity I miss most of it because it´s damn near impossible to drag myself out of bed before 7:40 for my 8am class. I get myself together, have a breath of fresh air on the balcony and am ready to face the morning already bustling noisily beneath me. Doña Lila is hurrying away at some essential task or another, Libby is entertaining and hosting whoever is awake at that point, by now Anna has been conscious for an hor at least and our teachers are sitting quietly patiently waiting in the living room for the gringos to shake the sleep out of their eyes and be ready for the class they travelled a half hour over barely existent roads to get to. Then we fan out. Maria and I at a whiteboard in the living room, Alex and Anna at a counter by the kitchen and Joé, the new guy, with his teacher Loreni at a table upstairs. For the next 4 hours it´s intently focused Spanish instruction in every room in the house, Señora Libby milling about some way, entertaining guests or preparing to leave, and Doña Lila preparing lunch, keeping the fire stoked, cleaning up from breakfast, sweeping and mopping all at the same time.

Anna, Joe and I have fallen pretty easily into a groove. After all, here we three are. Anna has been in the country for a few months and has much better spanish than the other two of us. Joe came just recently and is starting from scratch here. Left to our own around the house we share beers, spanish notes, cooking, cleaning, tea-water-heating, fire-stoking and daily life like we´ve been doing it seamlessly for years.

It´s very safe here. almost like a compound. I think that nobody here is fond of the idea of sleeping on just mats or, worse, earthen floors. Here we have outlets in the wall, two flush toilets, a fridge, gas stove and microwave. There is a gate at the end of the driveway, from the house you pass a citrus orchard to get to it. On the other side is a road that is necessary to have a car of 4-tire-go to traverse and a small collection of modest huts and humble indigenous folks and very many earthen floors and not another microwave within miles. It´s been amazing here but I´m looking forward to getting more experience outside the compound, staying with coffee farmers, digging in the dirt and, with pleasure, sleeping on some.

So this is what´s next. Sadly, tomorrow is my last class with Maria. Following class I´m going to head to Coban for a coffee cupping at the offices of APODIP with one of my wonderful hosts, Sal. I´m excited to finally cup coffee at origin again, it´s been more than two years. Then on wednesday morning I´ll head out around 5am to trek for a few hours into the mountains toward a small community of indigenous Kek'chi maya coffee farmers. I will be present at a meeting between the campesinos and a group of Belgian financiers as they discuss terms of pre-financing, I imagine, next years crop. This is a really important part of the fair trade coffee system and I hope I can learn, through the translations from kek'chi to spanish and back, a little bit about how it works. Then on Thursday and Friday, and this is really the good stuff I´ve been hoping for, I´ll be attending a two-day workshop with the farmers about early cultivation and planting seedlings in the fields and nurseries. YESS!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

This is a photo of the small farm near San Juan Chamelco, outside of Coban, Guatemala where I have been taking spanish lessons for the past two days. My entry into Guatemala was almost too easy, getting picked up from the airport and brought to the guest house, then the next morning a taxi right to the bus to Coban where I was met immediately by my wonderful hosts from the EcoCabaña language school. my lessons are fast paced and the homework is intense. today I have to write about the entire process of coffee production, from the soil to the plant to the harvest to the processing to cupping and grading and roasting, packing and brewing. in spanish! today was my second day! oy. After this intensive week of schooling, I will be free to get up to the fields and stay with coffee farmers for a night or two, hopefully longer. The next step in the plan was to get to a finca where they produce some amazing coffee in Huehuetenango called El Injerto, but late rains have rendered the roads unpassable between Coban and huehue, so I´ll have to go through El Capital to get there, which will take days, and I foresee myself getting distracted in Xela or lago atitlan on the way from Guate to Huehue.

soon, it´ll be all about the coffee. right now it´s all about learning spanish.