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 solola

7 agosto
Summer was a welcome break, hiking the Colorado mountains and visiting friends and family. An invigorating five day diversion to New York with Adam and a soothing week on the beach in Mexico gave me my travel fix. August snuck up on me this time - before I knew it, it was time to go back to work and my home away from home, Guatemala.

The flight attendant passed out immigration forms as we descended over the volcanos surrounding Guatemala City. My seat partner, a cleanly dressed man in his 60's with a bright white cowboy hat, tipped his pen toward me. No thanks, I answered in Spanish, I have one. When I completed mine, I realized he was still studying his. "Quiere ayuda?" I asked, offering to help - many campesinos (village folk) are not literate. In the process of filling out his form, he talked a bit about himself. He works as a farm laborer in a small village and had been in the states visiting his children. "Eight" he proudly told me in English, holding up his fingers carefully.

19 agosto
The new teachers
and a few oldies (yes, I am already one of the oldies) took a Sunday trip to Comalapa, the town of artists. I was happy to see the Sunday market busy and colorful, much more activity than my last visit. I stopped in a couple of art galleries and a museum I had not visited before. We happened upon the annual meeting of the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter (yes, they are international). An artist we knew told us that for 17 years he would paint half the day, then drink half the day. Two of his sons also were recovered alcoholics. He was now painting a poignant series depicting the lives of drinkers in the village.

Settling in for a quiet night after a pleasant day trip, Sherry called in the evening with "I don't know if you want to do this again tomorrow, but…" A smaller group was heading out to Solola for the festival of the Virgen de Asuncion, and there was one more seat in the car. Different cities and villages have their own day to celebrate the virgin - Solola's coincided with Guatemala City, so we had the day off. It was an opportunity to view an unusual event. So I set my alarm early once again, ready for the 2-1/2 hour ride each way.

Snaking briskly along the mountain roads with cars and trucks weaving in and out with no regard to what we consider lanes, it occurred to me there were no lines on this road. "It wouldn't matter if there were, and this way they save money on paint," Kami commented. Solola is the town perched at the top of the hill before plunging down the steep descent to Lake Atitlan. The bustling local market was one of the first I visited when I first came to the country.

A crowd was already milling about, people from villages in the area converging for the celebration. The church was filled with the sound of Spanish hymns. Outside the church sat the "confrades" - five or six brotherhood groups in indigenous clothing, each with their own constructed float decorated with mirrors, ribbons, flowers, religious items. Men collected coins from those paying homage, or taking photos. On the other side of the plaza, an open area was being prepared. Firecrackers were set on their mounts. There was an announcement of the start of the celebration, and a man in a large black cowboy hat stepped out and lit the explosives one by one with a cigarette.

I strolled around looking at the vendors and their wares, and stopped to talk to a man with parakeets in a brightly painted cage. He explained a bird would tell your fortune for 5 quetzales. He asked if I was married or single, then opened a box with colored papers packed in tight. He moved it so the "senorita" side faced the cage and opened it to let a small green head out to pick a paper from the box for me. The bird picked two, so I paid for both. A friend helped me read the fortunes - upbeat pronouncements about love and life.

When church let out, worshippers poured into the streets. Kami and I were in front of the church standing next to a young boy selling candles on a wobbly table. We held steady either side of the table to help him keep it from falling as the crowd pushed by. One by one the painted statues of the virgin and her holy cohorts were carried out ceremoniously and placed into creches in the floats. A man in a traditional red headdress with silver staff emerged from the church. Before we left, we worked our way through the onlookers to the open area, to see festive dancers with large heads entertaining the small but vibrant community of Solola.

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