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Posts tagged “guatemalan highlands

Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 3

This is the last post in my Todos Santos series. The graves in this remote highland village in Guatemala were vibrantly painted and adorned with flowers and gaudy wreaths for All Saints’ Day or El Día de Todos Los Santos on November 1.

If you haven’t already, check out my other posts Todos Santos: Cemetery CelebrationsTodos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 2 and Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race.

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Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 2

“The merry dance, beer in hand, in the grave choked hillside cemetery alongside marimba playing musicians.”

While visiting Todos Santos in the remote highlands of Guatemala during the festivities of El Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints’ Day on November 1, I found these locals celebrating in the village cemetery.

Men clad in the unique village uniform danced unsteadily, beer in hand, among the tightly packed, painted graves to the typical Guatemalan soundtrack of marimba.

Check out my first Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations post and the earlier Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race.

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Marimba band playing and merry locals dancing in the cemetery

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Local men dancing to the sound of marimba among the graves in the cemetery, beer in hand

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Everyday clothes for men and women in Todos Santos. The men have their uniform and the women have theirs. Each village has their own unique traditional costume worn daily not just for special occasions.

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

A little tipsy


Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations

‘The festival continues as families pay their respects to departed loved ones, praying and decorating tombs with gaudy garlands.”

As in other areas of Guatemala, the remote village of Todos Santos just over 8000 feet above sea level in the northern Guatemalan highlands celebrates El Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints’ Day on November 1.

Countrywide cemeteries are the heart of festivities. However, in Todos Santos locals also hold a unique horse race with Mayan roots; “…inebriated, traditionally clad locals race horses…. All-male jockeys, hardy residents of Todos Santos, spend a sleepless night beforehand ritualistically drinking themselves into an alcohol-induced stupor….”.

Below are a few shots of cemetery scenes taken on my arrival in Todos Santos on October 31 a couple of years ago.

While this post focuses on the cemetery, you can also check out Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race from where I took the extracts above.

Cemetery wreaths, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Plastic wreath and flower stall in the dirt street outside the town cemetery

Selling cemetery wreaths, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Selling plastic wreaths and flowers outside the cemetery

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. U.S.A. flag painted on a tomb. Houses scattered on a foggy hillside in the background.

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. A little girl arranging flowers at a tomb while thick fog creeps in.

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. Plastic wreaths and bunting adorn painted tombs.


Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race

International Living recently published my article about a unique Guatemalan horse race with drunken Mayan jockeys. Below is my original submission with many more than the one photo published with the article.

My childhood dream  was to explore the world, treading in the footsteps of past explorers while discovering the wonders of its landscapes and people for myself.

After many long stints of traveling and returning to save for my next trip I qualified as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and spent over five incredible years teaching in Thailand before hitting Latin American soil.

AWAI travel writing and photography workshops opened doors to an entirely new world and I’m now based in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala living my dream as a travel writer and photographer.

Last year I headed with a friend to the remote village of Todos Santos just over 8000 feet above sea level in the northern Guatemalan highlands.

We went to witness the famous annual festival with inebriated, traditionally clad locals racing horses on All Saints’ Day on November 1. All-male jockeys, hardy residents of Todos Santos, spend a sleepless night beforehand ritualistically drinking themselves into an alcohol-induced stupor.

The following morning, families dress riders in the unique traditional uniform worn every day by male villagers, tough red and white striped pants with thick blue and white striped shirts trimmed with embroidered collar and cuffs.

For the race, they wear a ceremonial red sash and their everyday straw hat brims with streaming feathers and multi-colored ribbons symbolizing the sacred quetzal bird.

Helped onto the back of a horse, rented especially for the day, these inebriated jockeys set off unsteadily in a muddle of flying legs and flailing arms, whooping and singing loudly, pounding point to point along a short dirt track in the cold mist and drizzle.

With no official start or finish, riders stop briefly at each end of the track to snatch another mouthful of booze before wildly dashing back in a tattered group, hooves throwing clods of dirt in the faces of onlookers.

Some tumble in the mud but are quickly dragged out of the path of oncoming steaming, rain-soaked steeds by helpers along the track. The chaos continues for seven hours, stopping only for lunch, participants joining and leaving (usually when they’re too drunk to stay on the horse) the event as they wish.

Spectators are mainly colorfully clad locals from Todos Santos and surrounding settlements with a handful of outsiders. Crowding against the wooden railings or scrambling up a steep grassy incline for a birds-eye view, neither cheering nor clapping, each village’s distinctive costume clashes against its neighbor.

Like no other horse race I’ve seen, Skach Koyl as it’s called in mam the local Mayan language, is more a rite of passage than a competition as there’s no winner. Its roots are vague but most agree it began around the time of the Spanish conquest when the Spaniards introduced horses to the region.

Mayan tradition expects village men to participate four times in a lifetime. The final year on the last mad dash along the track the jockey brandishes a live chicken triumphantly as he rides. Later that night he eats the entire bird alone to signify the end of his obligation.

The festival continues as families pay their respects to departed loved ones, praying and decorating tombs with gaudy garlands. The merry dance, beer in hand, in the grave choked hillside cemetery alongside marimba playing musicians.

The intrigue of new people and places, customs, foods and festivals not only quenches my lust for travel and adventure but provides an income too. Trips like these can pay for themselves with a little effort in the field to take photos and gather fodder for articles. But when you’re living your dream, doing what you love, you can hardly call it work!