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alfombra
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Guatemala Journal
Wanderings

 

 alfombra

25 marzo
The Women of Burrito, as they call themselves, invited a group of teachers and friends to spend the night at their places in Antigua on Callejito (little street) del Burrito. The occasion was to view the procession of a nearby church, Jesus de la Cáida San Bartolemé. We would make an alfombra (carpet) in the wee hours before the procession passed at about 8 am on its way to snake around the city streets.

I arrived in the afternoon, two bouquets of flowers in hand, in time to meet friends returning from town with overflowing armfuls of blossoms. We scattered to find water buckets, baskets of chips and wine bottles. There was a lot of yellow, someone suggested we create a sun at the center. Michael and Anita, art teachers, helped organize ideas for a carpet design, using the sun as a starting point. We each drew a variation before heading out to dinner, and Michael combined them into a workable starting point. Walking back to Burrito late at night, we found many locals already hard at work at carpet construction. Sawdust carpets could be make the night before, floral creations would be fresher in the morning.

At 5 am we rose, grabbed some coffee and a light breakfast, and carried the flower buckets out to the street to begin our task. After hosing down the cobblestones, the first layer was a bed of soft green pine needles. Then the sun emerged, circled by sunflowers. Some of us cut flowers or pulled petals, even the greens could be used, some fashioned the rays of the sun and a background of rose petals. A long brown pod was cut open and the wheat like seeds inside used as a border. The neighbors next door, three women, were building their own alfombra at the same time. As the sky grew light, we finished our mission, and sprayed the carpet with water again.

The streets were getting crowded as spectators strolled the route to admire the endless variety of carpets, every one unique. It was hard finding space to walk in some places, one did not step on the carpets until the first procession float passed by! Vendors were plentiful. We wandered around to view the carpets until the streets became impassable. Then we took our positions to watch the procession, excitedly anticipating the destruction of our morning labor.

The purple guard, men in purple robes, lined the streets to keep the crowds back. The first to pass were the red hooded men (there are names for these groups, but I don't know them, having only heard them in Spanish). Although the hoods are reminiscent of those used by racial supremacist groups in the states, these costumes are from ancient Spain and have no such connotation. Next the Roman soldiers arrive, and the men swinging incense burners prepare the way. The float carrying Jesus is carried by men in purple, stepping over the carpets. This church had an apparently well known statue of Jesus kneeling, the only one in Antigua. Then the bystanders joined the procession and all treaded over the carpets. A brass marching band or two, a cart or two of additional statues, then the Madonna float, flanked by women dressed as shepherds or covered in black lace. (At a procession last week, I saw children carrying smaller floats, assisted by adults at the corners.) Followers pick up flowers and make their own bouquets as they walk. Before long, the crushed petals or strewn sawdust is swept up and loaded on trucks, and it looks like it never happened!

27 marzo
Earlier this week I visited friends in Tegucigalpa for a few days. There is a lot less green in Tegucigalpa, none of the tree lined boulevards and parkways dotted with statues that adorn my Guatemala City neighborhood. The major streets are bordered with stores, many American chains. Water rationing is in place until the rainy season begins. Jenn's house has a sistern in the back, the water came in from the street every three days instead of one. She collected water in the pila, or backyard sink, common throughout Central America. The first day we could shower and flush toilets, by the third day we needed to heat water on the stove for washing and there was no water pressure. Her full time maid helped with the water rituals, washed her clothes by hand, and made fresh juice every day by squeezing oranges or other fruit.

The highlight of the trip was an afternoon walk around the town of Santa Lucia, less than an hour from the city. The quiet village is built on a steep hillside, a white church with red tile roof down the hill, and at the top, a park with view and a large white cross. A curved walkway follows the shore of an opaque green lake. We poked in and out of a few artisan shops and enjoyed a banana licuada (smoothie) to get out of the heat for a while. The potters of this area create large brown wheel thrown pots with narrow necks, adorned with small stained overlapping papers, they look like decoupage. Guatemala City is deserted during Semana Santa, most residents head for Antigua or the beach - stores are closed. It's been a relaxing weekend..

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