18 noviembre 2012 domingo
Glancing at a guide book on Guatemala will reveal that there is not ONE, but TWO special events in country for celebrating Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st. Now I know that Halloween has become ever more popular in the USA, especially for adults. However, November 1st is the big day here to celebrate deceased loved ones …with Americans having such an aversion to speaking about and dealing with death, this would be a great holiday for us to adopt instead of imposing our Halloween celebration on unsuspecting Guatemalans. Believe me, the Walmart store in Xela tried its best to jumpstart Halloween here with employees running around in ridiculous costumes, but it rang both false and strange. So back to Día de Todos Los Santos ….last year I enjoyed the enormous paper kites in Sumpango flown to commemorate the dead….spectacular colors and designs. Check last year´s blog posting for that panorama of photos.
This year the strains of marimba music lured me to the fiesta in Todos Santos where inebriated cowboys ride horses…Who could miss THAT show? Heading north to Huehuetenango on October 31st with fellow PCV, Laura, we bumped along in our camioneta, hanging on for the winding curves until a very loud kerplunk! Try as he might, the driver´s CPR was unsuccessful and the bus had breathed its last breath for awhile. Drats! We were just on the outskirts of Huehue. Everyone looked around, trying to decide if there was any hope, but Laura and I headed off the bus. No use waiting until the crowd was too big to fit on the next transport vehicle. Thankfully a micro (van) arrived very shortly and we forked over a bit more money to finally arrive to Huehue. I joked, ¨Let´s hope that this was only the ´trick´for the day and that we will get the ´treat´of arriving at our destination!!
At the bustling bus terminal, we purchased our ticket in advance, which is usually only required for fancy tour buses. Por suerte I had asked a friend yesterday how much was the fare and was told Q20. When the ticket man asked for Q25, I shot back I thought the price was Q20 and he agreed that it was. Nice try señor, but we are seasoned Peace Corps volunteers!
After half an hour we boarded and then began a more-than-usual barrage of food venders…cut mango in baggies, peanuts both sweet and salty, soft drinks, chuchitos (tamale dough with chicken and sauce), etc…it made me wonder, exactly HOW long was the journey? Obviously the venders expected us to be starving until the next meal! No, we didn´t have to travel to the end of earth, but it was a very windy 2hr ride, first uphill to quite an altitude…the man in front of us even suffered a nosebleed! And then descending down into a steep valley with a town nestled in its arms.
As we disembarked, we witnessed one of the few towns in Guatemala where men wear traditional clothes. I am not talking about a few here and there, I mean ALL men, from tots to grandpa. It is like seeing double, triple and more! I joked that we had entered the Land of Clone. Rumor had it that the young boys were decked out because of the town´s feria, but we confirmed that the men really do wear this clothing everyday. It is very striking apparel with bright pants of red and white stripes, a cowboy style shirt with a woven collar, and a brimmed hat with ribbon. As I looked closer, men could express some individuality in their traje…the stripes could be maroon (corinto) and not bright red. The embroidery on the shirt could vary and the woven collars were different. Teenaged boys sported monograms on their pants….gotta allow some rebellion even within the conformity.
Fellow volunteers decided to also be adorned in stripes. Riley treated himself to both shirt and pants, looking very authentic except for his light complexion. Three girls found a tailor who promised them a skirt made from the striped fabric…but curiously he measured each around their thighs. Despite receiving numerous assurances that he was indeed making a falda or skirt, the girls discovered the following day that their $20 or Q150 had bought each of them some Bermuda shorts in stripes!! They took it all in stride…wearing their new apparel which drew some very curious and bemused looks from the townspeople. I doubted that the tailor had EVER made a skirt in his life and besides, the stripes belong on pants!!
Dinner was a well-priced and delicious barbecued beef, salad, rice, tortillas and hot cocoa…can´t beat Q15 or $2! I had hoped to track down Fiambre which is a special dish of vegetables and various meats for All Saints Day, however, Todos Santeros do not eat this dish. Barbequed meat was the specialty. OK by me.
Realizing that the main event was the next day, we wanted to track down some evening entertainment. Band music resonated loudly from a concrete building, the municipal salon. Lots of male stripes hanging around outside. What? They wanted Q40 entrance, no gracias. So we window shopped at a women´s cooperative, where I asked the shopkeeper why the city was charging so much for the dance…she said in past years it was free or lower cost. She lamented that this year featured many less activities for youth, but at a loss for why. ¨Let´s go check the dance again¨ I suggested. Laura wanted a hot fruit punch from the venders at the entrance. This time they said ladies got in for free…so we pushed past the men in stripes and entered a cavernous room with a band blasting music from enormous speakers (Guatemalans LOVE loud!) and some female band members dancing in mini skirts. Only about 20-25 people present were rimmed around the room, with about 8 police. I suspected that the latter were seeking refuge from the cold rain because there certainly wasn´t much risk present at the dance. Finally some couples headed to the concrete dance floor, and only then did Laura and I join them…marimba, cumbia, meringue. I gave Laura a few spins and after awhile the travel fatigue and loud music sent us on our way.
Definitely much colder than our sites of San Bartolo and San Cristobal, we put on layers and Laura peeped out from her hoodie as she dove under covers. No, there is no indoor heating in pretty much all of Guatemala, so you learn to layer clothing…a lot!! Buenas noches we called out to each other.
Tomorrow the horse races! Peace Corps Guatemala had sent out an advisory to us that it was strictly forbidden to get on a horse at Todos Santos…no worries, I had no such plan. Part II- the horse race and TV interview. Stay tuned!!