Saturday, April 22, 2006


Semana Santa (Holy Week) is probably the biggest, most festive holiday week in almost any Latin American country. Spectacles throughout the week include a deluge of parades featuring Jesus on his way to crucifixion, the burning of effigies of Judas, and large numbers of shockingly drunk people staggering through the streets and occasionally sleeping there. Although based in Catholic tradition, the festivities here in Guatemala also occasionally include elements of ancient Mayan customs from before the Spanish conquest. They do not, however, include painted eggs, rabbits or chocolate.

Throughout the week, various “alfombras” (carpets) made of carefully arranged brightly dyed sawdust appear on the streets in nearly any Guatemalan city. Depicting various Christian scenes, they are subsequently trampled by a variety of religious processions throughout the week.

The high point of the week is generally Good Friday, when Lent is finally over and major processions and parades take over most of the cities and towns in the country.

Jesus is at center stage, riding on various floats carried on peoples’ shoulders, sometimes on his way to the cross, sometimes on the cross with a crown of bloody thorns, sometimes in a coffin...lots of pleasant stuff like that. His face decorates lots of banners, while purple- and blue-colored streamers and pine needles decorate many city streets.

A few towns in Guatemala go as far as to stage a re-enactment of the crucifixion on Viernes Santo (Good Friday). In Chiantla, a mostly Ladino (descended from Spanish and indigenous mixed) town a couple of hours from our home in Xela, we joined at least 5000 others in the central plaza to watch such a dramatic performance.

One of Jesus' companions lugs a heavy wooden cross through the street while a "Roman" whips him.

Carley insists that the blood dripping from Jesus’ abdomen is fake, but Rob still thinks it’s real.

Everybody has the week off from school and work, so it’s probably the biggest week of the year for tourism throughout Latin America. Predictably, the beaches are staggeringly crowded during this time.

This unbelievable beach scene was pictured on the front page of the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libra on Easter Sunday.

With this in mind, we stayed away from the beaches and headed for the mountains. Our first destination was the Lagos de Montebellos, a national park just over the border in Mexico.