Wow I’ve been away a week already. Times flies!
But what a busy week – already a few days in 3 different countries!!
I had a nice lie in this morning (well, I still woke at 6am. But stayed in bed until 9am). Still not very good with this time difference!!
Antigua is one of the tourism hot spots of Guatemala. Which then surprised me that I didn’t see many non-local tourists around. This town was once the capital of the county and is now a UNESCO world heritage site (everything seems to be one of these now – been visiting one every single day!).
The town is surrounded by three volcanos – you can see one in every direction you look. Despite all the earthquakes that the area has suffered from over the years, the old churches are all still standing.
Whilst I am down this southern end of the town, I thought I would head over to the San Francisco Church, just a few blocks away.
The streets were quite quiet, the colourful buildings and the cobbled streets were so pretty. However as I got nearer to the church there were many stall set up, people selling fruits and hats, toys and souvenirs! Inside the grounds of the church was getting busy.
I had not realised that the Easter processions start from here!
People dressed in purple were all milling around, some others dressed as warriors, some in large pointed hat/mask outfits and others in grey costumes. The clergy men were all gathered around the back having a meeting before the day began.
The Semena Santa (Easter week) celebrations are a big deal here. There are things going on for the whole of Holy Week. People arrive from all over the country to take part.
It was extremely difficult to find any information about any of the Easter activities beforehand, so I had no idea where to head to watch.
I hung around the church grounds watching the men all getting ready and sorting their positions. The square was getting busier and busier. Some people were holding signs up to make you aware of pick pockets!
I headed back outside as I had not yet eaten! I bought a mango (5Q. 40p) and wandered around the moving stalls – there were now even more. Floods of people were heading this way. By 11am you could no longer enter the church grounds, it was so busy.
The band had started and things were starting to make a move! So I left – away from the crowds!! I headed up a few streets, most of the roads were closed for the processions. I passed by lots of people setting up drawings on the floor of the streets – made from grass, sawdust, sand and flowers. Some of the creations were very clever! And all very pretty.
I ended up by the main square the Parque Central. This is a large square with a park in the middle and a fountain which was built in 1738. To one side of the square was the Cathedral de Santiago and the other sides were old buildings and an arcade of shops.
Just up from here was the Arco de Santa Catalina – a yellow arch across the road, with a clock on it. In the background the Merced church was visible and the volcano behind. Very pretty.
In the small square just outside of the Merced church were more stalls – these ones selling mostly food. I bought some local style coconut ice and some fudge! (5Q) All the streets are very cute, I wandered for a while until 1pm and then I needed to move hotels. So went to pick up my bags and checked into the new hotel.
Later that afternoon I headed out to the markets. I wasn’t sure if they would be open, given all the activities and festivities happening. But they were open. A maze of rows and rows of small stalls, all piled high with colourful stuff! Purses, bags, t shirts, cushions, toys, books. All the usual touristy stuff!
Bartering was very easy (they bartered themselves down without you even saying anything!!) and it was cheap. Loved it – bought loads!
Around 5pm, back at the hotel, I could hear a lot of noise approaching. The procession was going right past! Hundreds of people dressed in purple, grey and black were up the front.
These were followed by groups of people waving burning pots of incense (very smoky!!). Then huge floats being carried by rows of people, they were swaying as they carried the large wooden floats – it looked extremely heavy – and they must have been carrying it for hours!!
The float was quite fancy and even had wine running through small fountains!! Behind the float was a marching band. They were good. And then the next group – this time women. Another float (again looked just as heavy and this time carried by the women). And another band behind. The groups of people and floats were trampling all across the amazing floor flower pictures. Such a shame!
And then right behind the whole procession were the clean up gang – complete with brooms, food tongs (!) and a tractor to clean up all of the grass and flowers. As soon as they passed through the crowds all disappeared and it was as if it never happened!
The town reminds me so much of Cusco in Peru. The small cobbled streets, the large square with the cathedral, the arch ways, the people and all the colourful fabrics.
From here onwards, I am no longer alone. I am joining a tour. So at 7pm, I went off to meet everyone else. And very pleased with the group – everyone seems very nice and of a similar age. We went out for dinner – I had some quasedilas, which came with a tomato salsa and some guacamole. Was very tasty! When we headed back to the hotel, the locals were back out laying new pictures on the ground. This time they appeared to be even more elaborate than the ones out earlier today.
Wow. A lot of effort goes into Easter here!!