DiploMom and I enjoyed one final trip to Antigua on Friday, sans the kiddos, which felt both refreshing and weird at the same time. We wanted to buy some final items at the artisan market and there were some ruins neither of us had seen yet – the Santa Clara Convent.
This past Sunday we were able to see the Jesús Nazareno de la Caída y Santísima Virgen de Dolores procession, one of the largest during Lent. We made our way in the direction of the procession after we arrived, not knowing how far along the procession was, beyond knowing that it was scheduled to start at 7:00 am.
The street started to get more crowded as we moved closer to the early stages of the procession route, so we finally decided to grab a spot to wait in the shade while the getting was still good, as the sidewalks were starting to fill up. At this point we had no idea how much longer we might be waiting until the procession passed.
After a while of incessant staring down the street on my part in an attempt to make out anything, DiploMom asked some men in purple robes near us if they knew when the procession would likely pass and they said it was a little behind schedule, but that it should pass within the next thirty minutes or so. Now having at least some reasonable idea of how much longer helped make the wait more bearable.
The anticipation in the air was thick and the streets were getting quite crowded. As we noticed people coming from the direction of the procession and no one else headed that way, we knew we had to be getting close. After some time, the advance elements of the procession ahead of the float began to arrive.
We could hear the bands from down the street, as well as see the smokey incense filling the air, so we knew we were getting close. Finally I was able to spot the approaching float above all the people, so we knew the arrival was imminent.
I knew to expect a very large float, but even knowing this, I was still amazed at the size when it finally arrived.
After the float has passed, followed by the band, I thought things were generally over, but apparently after the men, the women follow with a float of their own as well.
DiploBoy was a champ throughout. When all was said and done we had been in our spot waiting for about an hour-and-a-half, and we just knew he would start melting down just as the procession arrived. But, he did great and other than not being particularly pleased when the bands were playing right next to us, he didn’t get upset at all.
A big part of the festivities surrounding the processions in Antigua are the building of alfombras (carpets) in the streets along the procession routes. The alfombras are beautiful and very labor intensive, with people devoting many hours to their construction.
A base layer of sand is applied to the cobblestone streets, followed by a layer of pine needles. At this point, some of the alfombras will then be constructed with additional plants, flowers and fruits, while others will use colored sawdust and stencils to create intricate patterns and designs. I am most fond of the alfombras made with sawdust, but they are all beautiful sights to behold.
Since a procession can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, visitors will find the alfombras in various states of construction depending on where they are located on the procession route. When we arrived on Sunday, we headed in the direction of the procession and found mostly completed alfombras. After the procession we saw others underway at various other points along the planned procession route and many other streets still bare, since the procession was not going to arrive for hours and hours.
The alfombras were definitely one of my favorite parts of the experience.
After finishing up our tour at Tikal, the group was able to wind down a bit before catching the flight back to Guatemala City in the town of Flores, a quaint little town on an island in Lake Petén Itzá. Flores was a great little town, one that I could have handled having a bit more time in, and I was surprised by how charming it was. It was a nice way to end the trip.
One of the items on our Guatemala bucket list was to make it to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. With my in-laws in town visiting, DiploMom was kind enough to send me off for a long day trip to see the ruins. One can drive an insane 10 hours to get to Tikal, or book a tour and take a 45 minute flight and have a turismo van and guide waiting for you and other passengers for the remaining hour drive to reach the ruins.
It makes for an early wake up call to catch the flight that leaves at 6:30 am and then a full day with a return flight around 8:00 pm, but all the effort is most definitely worth it.
Here is the Great Plaza, with views of Temple 1 and Temple 2
Views from the top of Temple 4
Plaza of the Seven Temples
Mundo Perdido Complex
Before we left Guatemala, we knew we wanted to be able to check a visit to El Salvador off of our list. So, taking advantage of the Monday Presidents’ Day holiday, we headed out on Saturday to spend a couple of nights in the mountains of El Salvador on the Ruta de Las Flores.
The route has several nice little towns to visit and we stayed at a great little place that had a cabin with a separate room and a restaurant onsite, both of which were key to making this happen with DiploTot and DiploBoy. It is getting more challenging traveling with the kids now, so we weren’t sure if the trip would end up being a total disaster or not. All in all, things went pretty smoothly with them, save for the drive back which was an exercise in frustration.
Here are some of the sites from the towns we visited – Ataco, Apaneca and Juayua.
Not too far outside of Antigua, past Jocotenango is the little town of Pastores, where one can procure awesome deals on handmade boots. On a bit of a Sunday whim, we decided to load up the kids and finally head to the town to check out the selection. The only other pair of boots I had were a cheapo pair of ropers purchased 20+ years ago during my first semester at Texas A&M so I had something to wear to go two-stepping.
I really never ever wear them anymore (maybe once a year for the Rodeo when we were in Houston) and hearing about the good deals to be had, I decided it was finally time for a new pair that would be a great reminder of our time here, of much better quality and not to mention easy on the wallet.
There isn’t much to Pastores, but the main road through town is fronted with boot stores. Boot making is this town’s industry. We parked the car and got out to start browsing through the stores. We expected more of a hard sell when we would walk into a shop, but everyone was very laid back and there was no pressure at all. I ended up picking up a beautiful pair of boots for only $50. The price was so reasonable and the quality so good that I didn’t even bother trying to haggle.
We worked a good price for DiploMom at one store since she wanted to purchase two pairs and they were about $40 each. These are all super high quality boots – boots that I am sure would be selling for $150-$200 or more back home. DiploTot even got in on the action with some nice pink boots. These are much better than the cheap, made-in-China pair we picked up at Target for her Halloween costume when we were back home in the Fall.
We were so glad we made the effort to load up and head to the town. I’m tempted to go back once more before we leave to pick up another pair for myself and a pair for DiploBoy to have waiting for when he gets older.
I had been hoping to be able to make one more visit to Chichicastenango before we left Guatemala, but we knew we were not going to attempt the visit with DiploTot and DiploBoy, which meant the chances were looking pretty slim. So needless to say, I was thrilled when DiploMom told me that some other embassy friends were going to be at the Hotel Atitlan and that they were planning to go to Chichicastenango on Sunday since they had never visited before and I was welcome to come along.
We headed out shortly after breakfast on Sunday and I was eagerly anticipating the sights and sounds of the Sunday market. While the market has attracted more tourists, it really exists for the locals, which is why in the midst of booths selling masks and other items, you’ll see groups of women haggling over radishes and onions and others making their way through the crowds with baskets on their heads. Not to mention hearing the various indigenous Mayan languages along with the Spanish. It is all just a sight to behold.
This is a pretty standard sight in highlands, but I’m never able to try to grab a shot since I’m always driving. This truck was ahead of us just as we were getting to town. And for what it’s worth, we’ve seen these little Toyota trucks filled with even more people, or sometimes 6 mattresses, or piled high with so much fruit that it seems as if the slightest bump or swerve would send them all crashing to the road.
Things hadn’t gotten too busy when we first arrived, which made snagging a parking spot a little easier. It didn’t take too long, though, before the streets started to get pretty full. My cash was stashed away in a pretty secure zippered pocket, which is necessary when visiting. Our friend Jim had nothing in his pockets, but told us that after one particular point of congestion where things got quite tight and folks were shoving a bit, that he felt a hand digging into his pocket.
Here are more photos from the morning. I had a great time and was so pleased that I had the chance to work in one final visit.