Lake Atitlan
chicken bus

Santiago Atitlan
Independence Day
language school

a new year
Semana Santa
las Americas
Machu Picchu
year 2
Santiago Sacatepequez
lake weekend
UK in winter
Caye Caulker
El Salvador
year 3
Carnival Trinidad
Rio Dulce
Semuc Champey
journey's end


Guatemala City
Colegio Maya
Lake Atitlan

Guatemala Journal




7 diciembre
A Sunday night
, this was the Day of the Devil, I'm not sure it's celebrated outside of Guatemala, but it is all over the country, night of the full moon. Impromptu stands along all major roads appeared selling red paper mache and newspaper constructions of the devil, they look like big pinatas, and fireworks. At 6pm people go out in the streets and set them on fire, with other trash and flammables, to get rid of bad things, many write words on the devil representing things to be destroyed, another rite to prepare for the upcoming holidays. I walked around a few streets with a neighbor, we could hardly talk there was so much noise, flames and smoke billowing, several plumes on each block. There's something magical, spiritual, superstitious about this place!

8 diciembre
Safe Passage is a school community project for the children that live in the city dump. The impoverished inhabitants live in shacks actually in the dump and housing nearby, and scavenge through the trash for salvageable items to eat, use or sell. In Guatemala, you must wear black shoes to attend public school, so one of the projects for Safe Passage is to raise money to shoe the children of the dump so that they can attend school (the school year is January to October). After a school-wide fundraising effort, over 300 pairs of shoes were purchased and gift wrapped by Colegio Maya students. I invited myself along as photographer to deliver the presents, a gathering in a building alongside the dump that serves as a church. Happy faces and giggles as the children ripped opened their boxes and hugged their shoes.

14 diciembre
Friday night, Kami, a long-time American transplant to Guatemala, took me to the Christmas market in Zone 1. Her car was in the shop, so I drove through the downtown streets, made narrow with shopping stalls and people walking, with Kami shouting and pointing directions. Blocks and blocks of Christmas items for sale out on the street - nativity figures and animals, wood and thatch structures to put them in, lights and handmade decorations for the holidays. On this night of the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, very small children were dressed in indigenous clothing and make up - little boys with painted mustaches and beards, girls with lipstick and rouge. Child sized clothes for sale at booths around the central plaza. Returning to Zone 10, I found myself driving in a processional, walkers paraded down the middle of a main street, stopped every half block or so and set off fireworks, then continued on with a brass band playing, before I found the ubiquitous U-turn opening.

A hike up the volcano Ipala on Saturday with a dozen teachers, one of the many volcanoes in the ridge of mountains a ways inland along the Pacific coast, this one near the El Salvador border. We met at school at 5:30 am, drove two and a half hours by van through fields and villages. A resident journeying home hitched a ride with us up the mountain to where the trail started for the rocky ascent to the crater. Black and orange butterflies and flowering trees - white, yellow and orange - marked the trail. Along the way we passed a little house with fat turkeys grazing. Two small boys passed us on the road with their black dog trotting behind, and a few minutes later we laughed at the frenzied sound of barking and gobbling below on the trail. A deep tranquil lake, 1 km wide, filled the extinct crater, a few of our party went for a swim. Some boys played soccer nearby, carefully kicking around the cows laying on the dusty field. Upon our return to the van, we celebrated by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.

When I pulled in, Debbie, music teacher and neighbor, met me at my car and asked if I would join her to see the Nutcracker at the National Theatre that night, I had an hour and half to recuperate. This was a treat I hadn't enjoyed for years. Not one to miss an outing, I agreed to go but didn't want to drive, we took a taxi. The National Theatre, an unusual modern building, is part of a larger cultural complex in Zone 4. The ballet was lovely, with a Latin flavor in the decor and costumes, although the music was disappointing - it was recorded, not a live orchestra. An impressive fireworks display entertained the crowd after the show. Walking out to the street to await the taxi we called, we found gridlock, loud and continuous horns honking, and waited in vain for the taxi - every other taxi on the road was full. After a while, we made our way down to the main road and I rode a red chicken bus home in a dress. The driver cut across the sidewalk at one point to avoid a slow moving intersection. We jumped off a few blocks early since traffic was hardly moving on Avenida la Reforma and walked the rest of the way.

25 diciembre
Adam, my 19-year old son, arrived Friday night for a few weeks. We spent a few days sightseeing, to Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Christmas eve dinner with friends. Pam gave Adam a small package of fireworks, so we went out into the street to watch him set off. I knew from my limited experience here that Guatemalans love fireworks, and I had heard that they would be plentiful on Christmas, but I couldn't have imagined the festivities. From about 11:30 at night till well past midnight, they were non-stop, in almost every yard - the night was lit up and full of sound and smoke. Downtown the spectacle will be repeated at noon and 6pm as well.


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