My wife and I recently got back from a week in Peru and while there are many things that I want to talk about, today I want to talk about my experiences (trying to) speak Spanish while I was there.

Machu Picchu

Background on my Peru trip

My wife and I try to take one trip each year just the two of us.  Of course, that does beg the question of who watches our 6 kids while we’re gone?  Although they are getting older, they are still not quite old enough to watch themselves while we’re gone for a long time.  We have bartered for babysitting before, but this time we split them up between the grandparents; 3 went with my mom and 3 went with my mother-in-law.  We had a “draft” to decide who went where 🙂

We do also try to take one trip each year with each of our kids (I do 3 and my wife does 3) as well as a variety of family trips.  Since learning the secrets of how to score tons of airline miles and hotel points a few years ago, we have definitely been traveling a LOT more.

My Spanish skills (question mark?)

I took 5 years of Spanish in middle school and high school and felt like I did okay.  Then I was called on a mission for my church in the Dominican Republic.  After 2 months of all-day intensive language classes and 2 years in the Dominican Republic, speaking Spanish pretty much all day, every day, I considered myself completely fluent / bilingual.

But…. that was 20 years ago.  In the past 15 years or so, I have not had very many opportunities to speak Spanish to everyone, and my language skills (like my video game skills) have atrophied.  Even when we were in Puerto Rico a few years ago, everyone spoke English and so I didn’t really have to do much in Spanish.  So I was a bit nervous to spend a week in Peru where I figured pretty much everyone was going to be only or mostly Spanish.

Surviving Peru with my gringo Spanish

And…. it actually went pretty well.  I think that for the most part I felt like I could have conversations with people and we could understand each other.  Or… at least, I felt like I could understand most of what people were saying and they at least weren’t staring back at me with blank looks on their faces 🙂

Riding back in a mototaxi from Yucay in the Sacred Valley

There were definitely some times when I felt like I was floundering and not possibly making any sense, and I could definitely tell there were some times when I lacked the vocabulary to say exactly what I wanted to stay

We stayed 5 nights in Urubamba, which is a small town between Cusco and Machu Picchu.  The hotel we stayed at (Tambo del Inka) was definitely an upscale hotel and most of the (customer facing) staff spoke decent English.  But even my gringo Spanish was enough that I felt comfortable going out into the town and talking to people there, which had some definite positive effects.  For example, instead of taking the USD$25 taxi hired by the hotel to go to Ollantaytambo, we were able to walk out into the town and take a taxi for S/15 (about 1/4 of the cost!).  Without some basic Spanish language skills, we might not have felt comfortable doing that.

Have you ever been in a location where you didn’t speak the language as fluently as you might have liked?  Leave your experiences in the comments!