Guatemala Highlands Journal

April 12
April 13
April 14

April 15

April 16

April 17

April 18
April 19


April 15
This morning on our way to breakfast, we passed by where the local women do their clothes washing. They had piled up rocks at the water's edge to serve as their washboards and work areas. There they stood for hours washing the family’s clothing.

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After breakfast we headed for Maximon’s current home. There were about a hundred people and a marimba band playing funeral procession music, but no Maximon. Rumor had it that he was "indisposed" because yesterday his clothes were washed and today he was being redressed. We were, however, able to view where he would normally reside and see the offerings from his followers.  The home was full of people and the band was playing at such a high volume we could hardly speak with each other.

After leaving Santiago Atitlan, we headed back around the lake. When we reached a town called San Lucas Toliman, we encountered a procession crossing the main road. We decided to park and join the locals. 

We watched as the procession headed toward the church. It consisted of a large main float being carried by twenty men and three smaller floats, one carried by four men, one by four women and one by four boys. The boys were having a very difficult time but with periodic help, they were able to make it all the way to the church.

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Continuing back along the lake, we headed toward Chichicastenango. This town is famous for its Sunday and Thursday markets, which have pulled people from far and wide for centuries, and for its church, Iglesia Santa Tomas. The church’s congregants display a unique blend of Christian and Mayan beliefs. We’re hoping to see the inside of the church tomorrow.

April 16

Our drive yesterday from Lago de Atitlan to Chichicastenango was quite an experience. We’ve discovered that it takes two people to negotiate the roads in Guatemala: one to drive the car and one to keep an eye out for the crazy buses. The buses are referred to as "chicken buses" and we have a number of theories as to why. First of all, the people are packed in like chickens in a crate, secondly, half of them are carrying chickens and thirdly the drivers like to play "chicken" with the other drivers.

The Pan American Highway, the main road out of Antigua, is a two lane highway, sometimes fairly wide, sometimes fairly narrow, sometimes with a shoulder and sometimes not, always mountainous and twisting. The chicken bus drivers maintain such incredibly high speeds that they can’t make the turns without crossing into oncoming traffic. So it is not unusual to come around a turn and encounter a bus coming toward you in your lane. More than once, we had to move as far over to the right as possible to avoid a head-on collision. Then there are the drivers who like to pass on curves where they can’t see if there is oncoming traffic. When this happens, sometimes you end up with three cars abreast. We also experienced three cars abreast with all three cars heading the same direction. It was quite an experience.

When we left our hotel room this morning we were very surprised to see so many people on the street. Considering that this was not supposed to be a market day, we couldn’t figure out why there were so many people. Turns out that because tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the regular Thursday market was changed to Wednesday. Talk about luck for us! 

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This market is world famous for its size, variety and huge numbers of indigenous people. While over the years more stalls have been added to cater to the tourist trade there are still many, many stalls that sell goods to the average Guatemalteco (Guatemalan people). Produce, meat, kitchen tools, fabric, flowers, you name it, it can be found in this market. And then there are the people. Lots and lots of people. All busy buying or selling. It was quite an experience.

We also visited the Iglesia Santo Tomas. Santo Tomas is the patron saint of Chichicastenango but though Tomas is a Catholic saint, the ceremonies held in this church are also very Mayan. Offerings such as pine boughs, candles, ears of corn and bottles of liquor can often be found on the floor of the church. There are no seats, just a large building with statues and paintings of saints lining the walls. On this day, purple banners were hung from the center of the ceiling to the walls and candles covered the floor. Worshipers on their knees were everywhere praying and having conversations with saints.

Outside the church, the local women had set up shop right on the steps leading into the church. They were selling flowers, candles and anything else that could be used as offerings inside the church.

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Too soon it was time to hit the road again and return to Antigua. But waiting for us when we returned was the most impressive velacion we’ve seen. On the road in front of Iglesia Escuela de Christo were small floats depicting the Stations of the Cross and inside the church, along with the alfombras on the floor, was a display of a reclining Jesus Christ atop a pyramid with waterfalls coming out of it. 

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The backdrop was an explosion of changing colors. Of course there was also an immense crowd to go along with it. A mass of humanity crushed body to body to file past the display. The numbers of people showing their devotion was amazing. Not only was the church packed with humanity but the streets around the church were likewise overflowing with people.

April 17 Maundy Thursday

This morning we spent an hour looking for a place to do our laundry. But because this is the beginning of the holiday for most of the people, none of the laundries were open. But when we returned to our hotel and explained to the manager where we had been, he told us the hotel laundress would do our laundry for us. We were happy to pay her for that service.

At 1:00pm the procession at Iglesia de San Francisco began. Because the church is located within a walled compound, we were able to watch the float exit the church and then run around to a gated entrance and watch it exit the grounds. There were less people on the street and we got a very good view of another magnificent float.

The procession wound its way through some of the narrowest streets in Antigua and the local residents really went all out in creating magnificent alfombras for the carriers to walk across.

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We took a break from the intense sun under a canopy that had been set up by street vendors to cover their impromptu eatery and had lunch. To our surprise, a different procession, this one reenacting the sentencing of Jesus passed by. Along the route the local children’s hospital had brought out the disabled children so that they could witness the procession.

Afterwards we followed the various processional routes to view the alfombras being created. Each one seemed more beautiful than the last. The residents used various shades of dyed sawdust, and so many different types of flowers that we couldn’t identify them all.

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Our path took us back to the La Merced Church where Friday’s procession will depart from. Inside we viewed several velaciones and their respective alfombras set up before the figures of saints. The worshippers do not think of the figures as mere statues but rather as the earthly figures themselves.

We’ll be back at 5:00 am tomorrow for the main procession.

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