… a travel photography blog

Posts tagged “antigua

Holy Week’s Finale – Easter Sunday Resurrection Procession

In Antigua, Guatemala, Easter Sunday’s (Domingo de Resurrección) modest procession celebrating the resurrection of Christ (Procesión de Resurrección) contrasts starkly with the solemnity of the Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions.

Suddenly the blanket of sadness lifts and there is a festive air. Smiling folk in colorful costumes play lively music and dance over candy-strewn alfombras that children pounce on like booty from a battered piñata. Shreds of colored paper scattered from rooftops float in the breeze like confetti and firecrackers echo throughout the city.

Sadly missing the Semana Santa extravaganza in Antigua this year, I felt compelled to go through my archive of photos taken while living there. Check out my earlier posts here.

Happy Easter!

Waiting for the procession to leave Hermano Pedro church. View of Volcán de Agua in the background. Antigua, Guatemala

Waiting for the procession to leave Hermano Pedro church. View of Volcán de Agua in the background.

Procession walking over a flower alfombra (carpet) after leaving Hermano Pedro church, Antigua, Guatemala

Procession walking over a flower alfombra (carpet) after leaving Hermano Pedro church

easter-sunday-domingo-de-resurreccióIncense to purify, shouting "Cristo Vive!" (Christ Lives!) before the procession from Hermano Pedro church, Antigua, Guatemalan-resurrection-procession-antigua-guatemala-3

Incense to purify, shouting “Cristo Vive!” (Christ Lives!) before the procession from Hermano Pedro church

Merrymakers dance and play music while paper confetti rains down from rooftops over the procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Merrymakers dance and play music while paper confetti rains down from rooftops over the procession

Dyed sawdust alfombra (carpet) in the path of the procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Dyed sawdust alfombra (carpet) in the path of the procession

Here he comes! Antigua, Guatemala

Here he comes!

"I am the bread of life". Walking over an alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

“I am the bread of life”. Walking over an alfombra.

Smiling nun, Antigua, Guatemala

Smiling nun


Holy Week in Antigua – A Close up of Alfombra Making

World famous for its Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations, Antigua and surrounding pueblos in the central highlands of Guatemala buzz with people, emotion and activities at this time of year more than any other. Families, friends, neighbors and communities spend hours together creating elaborate ceremonial carpets called alfombras along the route of religious processions.

Some make simple alfombras of pine needles strewn with flowers. Others create intricate, time-consuming works of art using stencils and sawdust (called aserrín) stained the varying hues of an artist’s palette. For these, they level a surface of sand or plain sawdust over the uneven cobblestones before sifting a fine layer of dyed sawdust to paint a colored background.

Placing their choice of cardboard or wooden stencils cut into various images and patterns on the blank canvas they carefully sift contrasting hues of sawdust to create the effect they want. Laying on platforms of sturdy planks of wood placed on blocks spanning the width of the alfombra, they avoid damaging their art.

After months of planning and hours of work and painstaking concentration, masterpieces carpet the cobbles in the path of processions only to be trampled moments later into an impressionistic mishmash between gray stones.

Here’s a photo tour of the elaborate process of alfombra-making! Click here to see all my Holy Week posts from previous years. For this year’s Semana Santa photos and all things Antigueño, check out Antigua Daily Photo.

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind, Antigua, Guatemala

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras

Stencils for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Stencils for making alfombras

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín), Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín)

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers, Antigua, Guatemala

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra

Flower and pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Flower and pine needle alfombra

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra

Different hues of dyed sawdust, Antigua, Guatemala

Different hues of dyed sawdust

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman, Antigua, Guatemala

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it, Antigua, Guatemala

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it


Antigua’s Volcanoes: Fuego and Acatenango

Following on from my post of Volcán de Fuego erupting here are some tranquil views of the volcano nudging its twin-peaked companion Volcán Acatenango, two of the three volcanoes surrounding Antigua.


Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego: An Erupting Volcano

A river of scorching lava blazed and flowed from the crater’s rim as fire shot out of its belly.  Last night Volcán de Fuego or volcano of fire, one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala and one of the three volcanoes overlooking Antigua, erupted furiously.

Privileged to witness the spectacle from my rooftop terrace I watched and photographed it until after midnight. Here are just a couple of the shots I took.


Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2

My post Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1 was just a taster of the thousands of alfombras created during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, Guatemala. As so many intricate details grabbed my attention, I had to break them down into separate posts.


Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1

Semana Santa (Holy Week) has come and gone again in Antigua, Guatemala along with thousands of ceremonial carpets known as alfombras, laid and destroyed in the path of processions.

This post is dedicated to details of these pieces of art made of dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruit and vegetables where biblical and Mayan themes, crosses and hearts predominate.

For more of my alfombra posts check out  Holy Week in Antigua: Alfombras and Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras. For all my Semana Santa posts including processions and velaciones (Holy Vigils) click here. Also, Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2 is now posted.


Antigua: A Highland Colonial City In the Land of Eternal Spring

Volcanoes soar into cobalt blue skies creating a surreal backdrop to the highland colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala, nicknamed the land of eternal spring.

Blossoms cascade and fountains gush in leafy plazas while a patchwork of low candy-colored buildings cheerfully clash against the muted tones of earthquake torn ruins and tidy grid of gray cobblestone streets.

Although I never tire of wandering the crisscross of quaint avenues and alleys and am never short of photo fodder, a recent visit from a fellow blogger re-opened my eyes to its unique beauty as I led her on a whirlwind tour of my adopted hometown. Thank you Nicole of thirdeyemom!


Climb for Life: Guatemala’s Protest against Violence

Sweating and choking on dust as it coated our skin and clothes in thick layers we slowly climbed the narrow path up the side of the extinct Volcán de Agua (Water Volcano), that looms 3,765 m (12,352 feet) above the colonial city of Antigua, about 45 km from the capital Guatemala City.

But this was no ordinary volcano hike. We were far from alone.

On January 21 around 12,000 people took part in the campaign “Subida por la Vida” or “Climb for Life” to protest Guatemala’s domestic violence. Hoping to change cultural attitudes with a call for peace and love while raising funds for its victims, activists joined hands up the volcano’s slopes to her summit, aiming to form a record-breaking human chain.

A Guatemalan flag was then passed over heads along the chain to the top amidst patriotic cheers while about 1,500 people stood holding hands in the crater forming the shape of a giant, possibly record-breaking heart.

British ambassador Julie Chappell hiked with the hordes, her embassy having helped fund and organize the campaign while national and international media helicopters buzzed overhead filming the event creating whirlwinds of dust as they landed.

Security was high with a heavy presence of armed national police and soldiers as Guatemala’s new President, Otto Perez Molina was among those taking part.

Here are the photos I took that day although as I only climbed about half way up I didn’t get shots of the crater and views from the summit. For those, check out these photos.


Guatemala: 190 Years of Independence

Packs of runners of all ages, seasoned athletes or not, blast on whistles as they pound Guatemala’s streets, independence torches ablaze. Runners, spectators and parades crowd main squares and central parks, a festive buzz charging the air.

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica proclaimed independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. This year they celebrated 190 years of autonomy.

Each year, for weeks beforehand, neighborhoods vibrate daily as student bands practice, the patriotic decorate windows and doorways with independence bunting and street vendors sell Guatemalan flags.

Runners charge excitedly through the streets all over the country on September 14, heading to city central plazas to fetch the independence flame from burning beacons for their community’s independence torch.

On September 15, colorful celebratory parades of brass bands and dancers boom and boogie their way for hours through streets teeming with expectant onlookers.

At 6 p.m., towns and cities nationwide hold civic ceremonies in their central squares. Speeches commemorate the signing of the Independence Act and pledge allegiance to the flag. The Guatemalan flag is then lowered while crowds solemnly sing the Himno Nacionaltheir national anthem.

These are some of my favorite images of the runners shot on September 14, 2009 and 2011 in Antigua, a favorite place for fetching the independence flame. Last year, due to severe weather causing treacherous landslides countrywide, authorities suspended the tradition for safety reasons.


A Guatemalan Election Campaign: Dancing Characters, Confetti, Firecrackers and a Prayer

A carnival buzz charged the breeze. Colorful confetti fluttered like a plague of butterflies, landing in people’s hair and staining the cobbles. Exploding firecracker sparks ricocheted between painted house fronts a few feet from the crowd, deafening echoes blasting the eardrums and smoke clogging the air.

Two days before the Guatemalan General Elections, so much sound pollution invaded my apartment that I decided to grab my camera and head outside to see what all the noise was about.

Just outside, next to the little park, an election campaign was in full swing, a small stage blocking the street entrance. A candidate for the mayor of Antigua, flanked by his family and followers waving red flags, was promoting himself enthusiastically, loudly spewing his political spiel into a microphone.

A small crowd of supporters wearing identical red t-shirts emblazoned with the political party slogan and youths half-dressed in clumsy character costumes clustered around the stage avidly following each word. They sang and chanted. They cheered, clapped and waved.

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

An assortment of giant gaudy character heads littered the ground behind them, removed and momentarily abandoned once their role in the outlandish dancing display was over. I’d heard the loud music from inside my apartment, blasting out of oversized speakers but I’d missed that part of the spectacle.

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign firecrackers antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign firecrackers antigua guatemalaAs the campaign came to a close, the hopeful future mayor of Antigua recited a prayer while everyone bowed his or her head. Guatemalan law required all vote soliciting to end at midday on September 9 in preparation for elections on September 11.

Youths retrieved their character heads posing for photographs while helpers dismantled the stage, packing it up into the back of a pickup truck and driving off. Everyone else trickled away on foot through the park and normal daily life resumed.

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala

election campaign antigua guatemala


Guatemala’s Elections: Political Propaganda

For months, in the run up to the Guatemalan General Elections, political propaganda plastered walls and electricity poles, billboards lined the streets and banners waved in the breeze overhead in every town and village. Even rural areas didn’t escape the onslaught as election publicity littered the landscape.

Political parties blasted out their campaigns nationwide, noise pollution escalating with microphone speeches and overly zealous music pumping out from giant speakers, all the while cheered on by their supporters dressed in matching t-shirts and waving colored flags.

The people lined up at voting centers across the country on September 11. There were ballots for municipal mayors, departmental congress members, Central American parliament, president and vice-president.

As there was no clear winner in the presidential election (candidates need to win 50 percent of votes to win) there will be a presidential run-off on November 6.

Take a tour through some of Guatemala’s 2011 political propaganda.

Jocotenango

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda church jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

election propaganda jocotenango guatemala

Antigua
election propaganda antigua guatemala

Baja Verapaz
election propaganda baja verapaz guatemala

election propaganda salama guatemala

election propaganda baja verapaz guatemala


Just Kids: Work, Rest, Play

Following are some photos taken of kids working, resting and playing during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua.

Work

1. Selling "ramos", handmade flower and palm leaf bouquets, for Palm Sunday processions

2. More kids selling "ramos"

3. Selling toys in the street

Rest

4. Sleeping

5. Wandering around after a procession has passed

6. Break time

7. Worn out from too much walking following the processions

Play

8. Playing in the debris of an Easter Sunday procession

9. Fighting for sweets left in a trampled Easter Sunday alfombra

10. Recreating their own Semana Santa procession complete with anda and cucuruchos

11. Close up of anda and cucuruchos


Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras

Guatemalan kids love to express their creative side helping their parents in the art of making elaborate, vivid alfombras (carpets) of gaudily dyed aserrín (sawdust), pine needles, flowers and fruit during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Engrossed in their handiwork, mostly oblivious to onlookers, they play with color and form. Laying flowers and petals on carpets of soft, scented pine needles or sifting, spooning and massaging with fingertips psychedelic sawdust into carved out shapes in wooden stencils: this is the ultimate art class for kids!

Here are just a few images captured in Antigua at this time.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.


Just Kids: Little Girls

Not just the cucurucho boys take part in the processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Mothers dress up their young daughters in formal black and white, often covering their heads in lace shawls, and either carry or lead them while they take part in processions.

Like the boys, the girls too have their own procesiones infantiles, mini child processions where they carry their own andas (floats) helped by adults and chaperoned by their parents.

Here are a few photos of some girls in Antigua.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.


Just Kids: Cucurucho Boys

Guatemalan catholic families initiate their kids into Semana Santa (Holy Week) at an early age.

Parents dress up their male children, some still babies, in the purple robes of the cucurucho, (the color purple symbolizing Christ’s suffering) and fathers carry them in their arms or lead them by the hand in the processions.

Some days young boys carry their own andas (floats), the main load taken by men, in mini child processions called procesiones infantiles while parents walk along beside them.

Following are some shots I took of the boy cucuruchos in Antigua.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.


Holy Week in Antigua: Processions

Incense fragranced smog chokes the air while dozens of robed, head-dressed men known as cucuruchos, shoulder an anda (float) bearing a figure of Christ.

Processions ceremoniously leave churches and tortuously navigate their way step by step along the topsy-turvy cobble stoned streets between crumbling ruins and colonial houses, trampling in their path intricate carpets (alfombras) of garishly stained sawdust and flowers.

After each block, new recruits subtly weave their way into the procession relieving the tiring cucuruchos from their burden. Organized by a brotherhood or hermandad, locals pay the church to participate, considering it a great honor and a way of displaying devotion to their faith.

At the tail end musicians blow solemnly on brass horns accompanied by the pounding of giant drums as they shuffle over the mishmash of impressionistic color splashed cobbles.

1.

Streets jostle with locals, expats and international visitors waiting patiently for a view of the passing procession then mingling with the trailing hawkers crying out their wares.

Finally, locals salvage broken stems of flowers before the advancing tren de limpieza (cleaning train) of bulldozers, trucks and an army of men wielding brooms and shovels who clear up the aftermath of trampled sawdust and trash.

2. Volcano Agua looming behind

3.

Processions vary but each one includes an anda bearing Christ carried by purple-robed men although the hermandad wear white robes and everyone changes to somber black after the crucifixion. A smaller float with women dressed in black and white, bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary follows.

The revered Franciscan monk Saint Hermano Pedro, also known as the Saint Francis of the Americas, imported the Semana Santa (Holy Week) tradition to Antigua when he arrived from Spain about 1650. He reputedly made the earliest alfombra in Guatemala and led the first procession.

These are just a few of the images I took of the processions during this period. More will follow in my next post.

4. Early morning procession on Good Friday with romans on horseback

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11. Smog fills the air in this nighttime procession

12.

13.

14. Another nighttime procession against a backdrop of Volcano Agua

15.

16.

17.

18.

19. Anda with the Virgin Mary carried by women

20.

21.

22.

23.

24. Cucuruchos carrying the anda with Christ are the first to step on the alfombras. Those in front walk around them.


Holy Week in Antigua: Velaciones

Velaciones or holy vigils adorn churches around Antigua, Guatemala and surrounding villages at least every Friday throughout Cuaresma (Lent) and about two days before processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

1. Velación with fruit and vegetable garden arranged around the blue dyed sawdust alfombra

A brotherhood, known as a hermandad, organizes their church’s velación, displaying their religious processional image near the altar against a giant biblical backdrop. At its feet lies a vibrant handmade alfombra (carpet) of sawdust, hemmed by a huerto (garden), an eye-catching display of flowers, fruit, vegetables, candles and specially shaped loaves of bread, brought to the church as offerings the day before.

2. Velación with natural colored sawdust alfombra decorated with fruit, flowers and candles

3. Colorful sawdust alfombra surrounded with fruit and flowers

4. Alfombra dyed the traditional mauve of Semana Santa surrounded by a huge array of vegetables

5. Close up of the alfombra with an image of Jesus bearing the cross

6. A brightly colored alfombra edged with displays of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Some processional images sit below the backdrop

7. Another colorful velación

8. One of the processional images, a figure of Mary

9. Close up of a velación huerto of fruit, vegetables and specially made bread

10. Some velaciones have caged birds in the garden

11. The corozo, a giant seed pod, grows on a species of palm tree in Guatemala. It's a traditional adornment for alfombras during Semana Santa

12. Close up of the corozo seed pod

Sacred music plays while the faithful or the inquisitive flood into the church to pray and admire these temporary works of religious art. A festival atmosphere fills the evening air outside as hordes of visitors hang around in groups gossiping and jostling for the best bites around smoky grills and seasonal food and drink stands.

13. The faithful praying and admiring the velación at the front of the church

14. Smoky grills awaiting the hungry

15. Firing up the comal to cook tortillas


Holy Week in Antigua: Alfombras

A religious fervor of Holy Vigils (velaciones), masses (misas) and processions (procesiones) sweeps over the Catholic community throughout Lent or Cuaresma from Ash Wednesday (miércoles de Ceniza), forty days before Palm Sunday.

Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish, is the last week of Lent starting on Palm Sunday and ending the day before Easter Sunday. During this time, in Antigua, Guatemala, the passion and solemnity intensifies among the faithful with almost daily processions that bring the normal daily life of the city to a standstill.

Here, part of the tradition involves the laborious laying of ceremonial carpets or alfombras in the path of processions. The devout dedicate hours to create intricate alfombras, patiently sifting dyed sawdust through wooden and cardboard templates, slowly covering the grey cobblestones with multi-colored, elaborate patterns.

Others design simpler carpets of pine needles, seasonal flowers and fruits, the aroma mingling with incense and saturating the air. Hours to make yet in minutes solemn processions slowly trample these works of art to obliteration.

My third Semana Santa in Antigua didn’t disappoint. Every day, my camera in hand, I pounded the uneven streets capturing moments of the passion. This post shows a tiny reflection of the most elaborate alfombras over those three years.

1. Outside La Merced church on Palm Sunday 2007

2. Early morning in front of Ermita Santa Lucía

3. Crowds checking out the alfombra-laden streets before a procession wipes them out

4. The results of a dedicated all-night team effort

5. All-night teamwork also produced this elaborate alfombra

6. And another

7. In front of La Merced church on Palm Sunday 2011

My next few posts will cover more of Semana Santa.


Antigua: In the Land of the Maya and Volcanoes

Below is an article that I wrote for V!VA Travel Guides, published on their website and in their print guidebook. It’s about the city that has been my home for four years.

Also check out my article on International Living’s website Living in Antigua, Guatemala: An Expat’s View.

1. The city center. The cathedral and central plaza (Parque Central) against the backdrop of Agua volcano.

In a highland valley some 1500 meters above sea level, the charming colonial city of Antigua lies, surrounded by three volcanoes. It’s tickled by the skirts of the extinct Volcán de Agua to the south and is within the gaze of two (one dormant and one active) volcanoes to the southwest, the double-ridged peak of Volcán Acatenango and the smoking Volcán Fuego.

2. Antigua sheltering in the folds of Agua volcano.

3. Volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango at sunset.

Once the seat of the Spanish colonial authority in Guatemala, Antigua oversaw a vast area stretching from southern Mexico to the impenetrable Darién Gap. The city is officially named La Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, (“The Very loyal and Very Noble Knight’s City of Santiago of Guatemala”) but shortened to La Antigua Guatemala, or simply Antigua.

Nowadays, Antigua’s population stands at about 47,000 and its status as a world heritage site has preserved and restored its colonial architecture and old-world appeal. The local government only approves certain shades to paint the exterior walls of buildings and prohibits the display of signs or notices that are out of character with the rest of the city. Cobblestone streets are splashed with colorful house and shop fronts and old churches and crumbling ruins are dotted throughout.

4. Antigua's landmark arch with Agua Volcano peering beneath it.

5. Agua volcano looming over the colorful streets.

6. Distinctive La Merced church.

Due to its location, beauty, history, variety of cultural activities and outdoor excursions both inside Antigua and close by, it has become a thriving landing-place for globetrotters. The mixture of locals, travelers and expats gives it a certain worldly air.

Get a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding volcanoes and villages from the cross on the hill, Cerro de la Cruz, to the north. For security reasons it’s always advisable to go with a Tourist Police escort.

7. Antigua at the hemline of Agua volcano's skirts. View from Cerro de la Cruz.

If your time is limited, take a city walking tour of the main sights, ruins and museums. Wander through the handicrafts market to pick up souvenirs and take a look at how jade is transformed into jewelry and masks in one of the store factories. Get out-of-town to visit a coffee plantation and trek up to the edge of a flowing river of red-hot lava on Volcán Pacaya.

8. The central fountain in Parque Central overlooked by the cathedral.

9. The carved stone fountain adorned with mermaids spouting water from their bare breasts is the focal point of Parque Central.

10. The main tourist drag, the 5th Avenida. Lined with shops, restaurants and bars, spanned by the iconic Arco de Catalina and watched over by Agua volcano.

11. The ruins of San José el Viejo.

12. Santa Clara ruins.

13. Exquisite, handmade huipiles in the handicrafts market.

14. A jade factory inside a jewelry store.

15. Coffee beans.

16. Within arm's reach of red-hot lava on Volcán Pacaya.

Many travelers hang out here a while to recoup energy and recharge on the good eats. There is no shortage of restaurants in Antigua. Grab tasty bites from street venders, comedores (eateries) or restaurants serving cuisine from most corners of the world.  There are also plenty of bars to wash it down after.

17. Delicious street food.

18. International restaurant.

19. Street candy stall.

20. Fire artist performing during a fund-raising event in a popular bar.

Scores are lured by the well-earned reputation of the city as one of the choice spots to study Spanish and there are hordes of language schools of all calibers vying for the bucks.

21. This high-end Spanish school has individual classrooms in a beautiful garden overlooked by ruins. Many of the schools have ample courtyards and gardens to study in.

Volunteering opportunities are endless both in Antigua and in outlying areas with NGO organizations and projects all focusing on different social, educational, health and environmental issues. Many students invest their afternoons donating whatever skills they can offer.

22. The KIDS Restaurant is a T.E.S.S. Unlimited project to help kids learn English, develop social skills and learn to work as part of a team.

Forever a popular place to learn salsa, there are qualified instructors running classes for all levels in dance studios around town.

23. A restaurant based salsa studio.

There are infinite options for laying your head at night. The streets of Antigua are brimming with hostels, guesthouses and hotels of every description and for every pocket from penny-pinching to luxury.

24. Guatemalan style hostel terrace.

25. Luxury boutique hotel.

Tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy and language schools are one of the major employers along with hotels and restaurants. The production of typical handicrafts and fabrics and the cultivation of coffee, macadamia nuts and veggies are other big income earners.

High season is June through August and November through April. On July 25 the streets come alive with colorful parades for the Day of Santiago, the city’s patron saint.

26. A desfile or parade to celebrate Antigua's patron saint's day.

27. Trumpeters sweating under the strain and heat.

28. This desfile marched and thundered straight past my house.

Antigua is at its most crowded during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when thousands of people engulf the city to participate in and observe the ceremonies. Solemn religious processions slowly trudge the streets trampling in their path the beautifully elaborate and artistic alfombras (carpets) of dyed sawdust and flowers. Not to be missed for visitors in Guatemala at this time. Accommodation during Holy Week is filled to bursting and needs to be booked months in advance.

29. Procession during Semana Santa.

30. Finished stained sawdust and pine needle alfombras waiting for the procession to pass.

31. The 5th Avenida during Semana Santa. Making intricate sawdust alfombras in the path of a procession.


Folkloric Dancers – Bull Masks and Angel Wings

Golden winged angels and masked bulls and demons performing traditional folkloric dances, their colonial roots touched by a Guatemalan twist, is one of the various festivities that ignite the main tourist drag in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, on 31st of December.

A pruned version of the dances held in Ciudad Vieja the day after the Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, but enough to shed some light on a tiny part of local culture.

For a taster here are a few photos, but for a much wider view see my post Día de la Virgen de La Concepción – Pyrotechnics and Folkloric Dances.

1. Folkloric dancing with a hazy view of Vólcan de Agua or Water Volcano looming in the background.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.


Baile de Gigantes – Dancing Giants

Troupes of giant dolls or gigantes dancing in the streets to the sound of marimba during pueblo pageants, are a rare sight for the foreigner and a popular Guatemalan tradition.

Inside these towering jumbo manikins, tucked away under the folds of cloth with tiny feet poking from below, a mortal stomps and sways and twirls its skirts to the rhythm of the music.

Every so often the melody stops and the figures stand motionless allowing puppeteers to catch their breath and cool down in the harsh sunlight, and onlookers to get close and snap photos.

On the 31st of December in the 5a Avenida Norte, the street with the landmark arch in Antigua, against the colonial backdrop of crumbling ruins and color splashed walls of soft hued reds, blues and yellows, gigantes welcome in the New Year festivities.

1. The famous arch in the 5a Avenida Norte ready to say adios to 2010 and welcome in 2011.

2. Schedule of festivities for New Year's Eve.

3. Dancing gigantes with marimba band playing in the background.

4.

5. Under the arch.

6. Taking a breather.

7.

8.

9.

10. Indigenous women selling locally made scarves to tourists watching the gigantes.

11. One of the taller gigantes.

12. Agua (Water) Volcano, wreathed in clouds, peering through Antigua's landmark arch.

13. A tourist posing for a photo with one of the smaller gigantes.

14.

15.

16.

17. Clambering back under a gigante after a brief break.

18.

19.

20.

21.

22. Indigenous children sellers walking past a gigante.

23.

24.

25.

26. Gigantes taking a break.

27.

28.

29. Dancing feet under a gigante.

30.

31.

32.

33. Photo time. Showing the scale of some of the taller gigantes.

34.

35. Sombrero wearing gentleman, typical of Guatemalan pueblos, watching the spectacle.

36. Close up of a gigante's colorful dress.

37.


Guatemala’s Musical Darling – Marimba

Following is an article, with added photos, that I wrote for V!VA Travel Guides, published on their website and in their print guidebook, about Guatemala’s musical darling; the marimba.

The origin of the marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument, is unknown. Some maintain it came from Indonesia, others from the Amazon, yet it’s more widely believed that slaves brought it over from Africa in the 16th century; after all, a Zulu myth tells of a goddess named Marimba creating a musical instrument of wooden palings and hanging gourds.

The background sound track of many a festival, both in rural areas and in the city, the marimba is an integral, beloved and authentic part of Guatemalan culture with no ethnic boundaries. A fiesta without marimba would be considered no fiesta at all, and the sound of its lively melodies echoing through the streets is a sure sign that something is being celebrated.

A poem about the marimba is recited during the commemoration of independence and gigantes, the giant figures that are such an important part of pueblo pageants, are accompanied only by the sound of its music. There are also a number of traditional dances that go along with various marimba rhythms.

Similar to a wooden xylophone, this beautiful percussion instrument is played by differing numbers of musicians depending on its size. The keys, usually made of rosewood, are arranged like a piano and are tapped with mallets, creating its distinctive musical tones. There is a Guatemalan saying about large families having una marimba de hijos, likening the horde of children to the abundance of keys on the instrument.

It’s said that the marimba evolved from simple wooden bars placed over a hole in the ground, which the indigenous people of Guatemala copied and refined to create their own style. The first documented account of the existence of marimba is from a performance in front of the cathedral in Antigua in 1680, and it can still be heard every year on July 25th, Antigua’s patron saint day. Modern marimba bands dress formally and consist of a smaller marimba for three players, a larger one for four, a drum kit or other percussion, and a string bass.


JADES, S.A. recently made the first marimbas with jade keys. They were inspired by the Chinese who have used the semi-precious stone for thousands of years to make musical instruments, due to its special acoustic properties. Now three various sized marimbas of jade, each producing a different sound, are on display in their museum in Antigua.

To get a taste of this diverse culture, head for the 5a. Avenida Norte on a Sunday. A father and his family including young children, all dressed in typical indigenous attire, perform together in the street. It’s also played in La Fonda de la Calle Real and sometimes in Parque Central at weekends and festivals.

To feel the heartbeat of Guatemala keep your ears pricked for the pulse of marimba wherever you go. No visit here is complete without hearing the harmonies of the instrument that identifies completely with Guatemala.


New Year’s Eve – Indigenous Street Jam

All day on 31st of December the main tourist drag in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, the street with the landmark arch, buzzes with festivities to welcome in the New Year.

Amongst them, an indigenous family band of father and children, called Grupo Maya Kaqchikel, jams on marimba, drums and a combo of instruments made from seashells, vegetable gourds and turtle shells while the youngest son dances. They are also part of the regular Sunday scene in the same street.

1. Father and son playing marimba.

 

2. Youngest son dances in front of them.

 

3. And he doesn't look too happy about it.

 

4. Tourists and locals watch.

 

5. Instruments from turtle shells and seashells.


Christmas Traditions – Nacimientos

A tradition brought over to Guatemala by the Spanish Hermano Pedro is the nacimiento or nativity scene. El Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, on the 8th of December, is officially the beginning of the Christmas season and nacimientos start appearing in churches, homes, offices, restaurants, hotels and even in the streets.

Guatemalans take great pride in their nacimientos and many of them are brilliant works of art using vividly tinted sawdust (aserrín), pine needles, chamomile fruits (manzanillas) and incense to create color and aroma.

The following photos of nacimientos were all taken in the town of Antigua.

La Merced church

Baby Jesus is missing until midnight on 24th December.

It is customary for the manger to remain empty until the figure of baby Jesus appears at midnight on the 24th accompanied by prayers and carols.

Close up of empty-handed Mary.

 

Angels at the altar.

 

Poinsettia (pascua) is the typical festive flower found everywhere here at Christmas.

 

The Cathedral

Crowned Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

 

Private homes

A simple nacimiento next to the Christmas tree.

 

Hermano Pedro looks down on a nacimiento.

 

Close up of the animals.

 

An elaborate private nacimiento.

 

One of the three wise men.

 

Close up inexplicably showing two figures of baby Jesus.

 

Another simple nacimiento lit up at night. The hats are a Guatemalan touch.

Nativity scenes are a worldwide custom but here it is not uncommon to see a touch of local flavor in the form of traditionally dressed Mayan figures and typical Guatemalan volcanic landscapes.