Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 11/26/2012

Todos Santos…Galloping Horses and Dancing with the Dead, Part II

25 noviembre 2012 domingo

Still resting in the prone position from all that feasting? I, too, celebrated Thanksgiving here in San Bartolo with 17 Guatemalan friends, 8 kids and 10 adults. Unlike what many of you experienced, our weather was a moderate 70F so we sat outside on my covered patio feasting on roast chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, beet greens, spinach and fruit salads, cornbread, banana bread and pumpkin bars….my friends were very thankful for the multi course feasting!

Ready to race

So back to the actividades locas in Todos Santos…the colorful horse races begin in the morning, a linear race course of 500 meters about 30 feet wide. Todos Santeros line the race course, forming a sea of white straw hats and red striped pants, scattered with the majesty of deep purple huipiles or blouses. There were foreigners sprinkled throughout the crowd, but many less than I expected….perhaps 50 to 60 total. We struck up conversation with an American who has journeyed to Todos Santos at least three times to photograph this event. Such dedication!

Galloping Todos Santeros

Decked out in stripes, the riders also wear some colorful headdresses which give them a slight resemblance to our Native American horseback riders.  They all shout excitedly as they urge their steed to fly faster than others. Up and back, up and back on the dirt race course, about 8 to 10 riders race each time…surprisingly the crowd is remarkably quiet so it is hard to discern any favorites.  The morning riders seemed relatively sober, however, rumor has it that accidents are more likely in the afternoon after hours of drinking. Fortunately, we did not witness any falls from their steeds, but we heard of 3 injuries happening that day, the worst being a broken leg….which is quite mild because there can be deaths, and just 2 years ago a rider died.  Although whipping the horse with a live chicken is now prohibited, we did see afternoon riders brandishing chickens or roosters in hand…more like a trophy, and some feathered trophies had sadly passed on.

A sea of straw hats and stripes!

Yes, colorful is what I told the TV newsman who interviewed me as we departed from the races in the morning. I added that I was impressed with the traditional clothing of the men. My friend Laura got to share her impressions of Todos Santos as well. When I returned to San Bartolo a few days later, some friends remarked that they had seen me on TV on Guatevision. Famosa! Actually the best was my friend complimenting me on my Spanish!!  Caught off guard for the interview, I had my doubts re how the interview had turned out.

Sweet music to soothe the Dead

The next day, November 2nd, is for cemetery celebrations….so after a morning hike, we followed the crowd down the winding street to the resting place of the deceased. Marimba bands and more. I counted about 5 to 6 marimba bands playing in the cemetery.  The family of the deceased would be gathered, dancing and enjoying the music and then 15 minutes later the band would pick up the marimba and head off to another grave…what the? it seemed that a family paid for a few favorite songs for their departed loved one and then it was on to the play for the next gravesite.

Families were picnicking in the cemetery and this happens throughout Guatemala, not just in Todos Santos. Often families enjoy serving up the favorite dish of their relative, offering a plate full of food for the departed as well.  My eyebrows raised a bit to see the public drinking in the cemetery as well, but it seemed that the alcohol not only lessened inhibition to dancing but also freed up expressions of grief. One woman was particularly vocal in her cries of grief, then would begin dancing to the marimba.

United with the USA in death…

Curiously, we saw some tombs painted with American flags and USA. It was uncertain if the loved one had died in the States and then had been returned to Guatemala, but it just confirmed the strong ties between our two countries.  As the sun began to dip in the horizon, the chill of mountain air descended upon us…time to head to warmer quarters.

So buenas noches Todos Santos, with your colorful races and celebration of the Dead!!


  1. Enjoyed the article Janet! Did you get a video tape or DVD of your TV interview?



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