Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I like to travel quietly, never in large groups, and as much as possible to soak in the local culture. This is how I would prefer it to always be but I have to admit I am a tourist, especially in a country where just by the way I look (pale skin with blue eyes and a travel book) I stand out like a sore thumb. Anyway, I have been a true tourist sometimes on this trip. Last weekend was a good example. The whole Guatemala Casira team travelled to Lago Atitlan by bus to visit the area. The bus is actually a former school bus from Quebec, painted white and sporting the many bumps and dents that are required to be on the road in this country. It still wears the logo of La Maison du Père, the Montreal organisation(shelter) from whom it was purchased.

Pierre and I visited Lake Atitlan on out trip here in 1974. It has of coursed changed a lot, as has the rest of the country. But I remember the beach on the lake in Panajachel where we parked our van and camped. That area is now part gravel and part sand, but there is a parking lot above it where the buses and vans park. And outside the window of our simple hotel this time, there were two similar vans parked. They were from Argentina and were travelling from the southern time of South America, to the most northern of Central America. As they cooked their meal behind the van and then closed up so they could sleep inside, I was once again taken back to the when we did the same.

The beach at Panajachel (40 years later)

The little girls in their traditional Mayan skirts and blouses (huipil) still look the same. They follow any tourist that arrives in town, trying to sell bracelets or beaded quetzals. 40 years ago the birds were made of dried corn leaves but that is the only difference.

The towns throughout Guatemala are busy this time of year because of Holy week. Every village has streets lined with colourful carpets made from tinted sawdust or corn meal. This is a tradition here and we saw people working on the carpets in many places. They will only last until a procession carrying Jesus and Mary on heavy wooden platforms passes over them.
In the churches in San Antonio and Santa Caterina de Polopa as well as others we visited, the women were decorating the altars and the men were putting the final touches on the large figures that represent the Easter passion.

Float waiting for a procession

It is interesting to see the mixture of Mayan and Catholic traditions that are part of the religious culture here. We saw groups of women weaving large crosses for Palm Sunday. They add flowers and other things to these beautiful crosses, very different from the dried ones that are manufactured on a large scale for Palm Sunday at home.

Church steps in Chichicastenango: a mix of Mayan and Christian tradition

The church in Chichicastenango was full to the hilt on Sunday. There was no room even to squeeze in. Whole families were sitting or standing everywhere there was an inch to do so. Mass was celebrated in Spanish and Quetchi, the Mayan dialect spoken here.
Although this is a very Catholic country as is evident during this week of celebration, with long slow processions every day and night (right out of a Fellini movie), there are hundreds of evangelical churches scattered through the towns. They too appear to take part in the Easter celebrations, as does everyone here this week.

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