Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘Antigua

The Procession

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With the mule tour of the coffee plantation completed, it was time to return to the commerce center of Antigua for the spectacular Palm Sunday procession. This story probably has as many versions as the number of people involved in our day, but my version is a mixture of curious, interesting, entertaining, and magnificent beauty and pageantry. Mine is the version you are going to get.

A significant percentage of my perspective is through the filter of not having been able to decipher the language being spoken around me. I was also basically a blank slate in terms of expectations for the events in Antigua. With each subsequent mention of what was in store, I gained an increased sense of the magnificence about to be revealed.

Before we were even close to our destination, the traffic became congested and the number of people navigating on foot increased significantly. I got the impression time was running out and Marco wanted to get us as close as possible. It reached a point where I didn’t see how we would ever find an open spot to park so close to all the activity, when suddenly instructions came for us to climb out with Dunia and Jose, while the two Marcos (father and son) graciously elected to stay behind and figure out what to do with the vehicle.

DSC04057eThe 4 of us on foot immersed ourselves in the flow of people hustling along. We studiously attempted to maintain contact with each other as Cyndie and I snapped photos, and Jose navigated a map he had acquired. Dunia relied on her intrepid intuition to forge ahead, while soliciting advice from anyone who would respond. I came to understand that we were in search of the most elaborate sawdust “carpets” that get created on the stone streets. We needed to find them ahead of the oncoming procession because they walk on them, stopping over each creation to offer a blessing. That meant we needed to figure out where the best carpets were and we needed to know where the procession was, and which way it was traveling.

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DSC03987eI can assume Dunia was asking passersby a variety of all these questions, but I couldn’t tell. In my observation, it appeared that no matter who she would stop for directions, she received the same advice: go two blocks and turn left. So we did, over and over again, it seemed. There was enough variety that we didn’t make a perfect circle, but I did begin to get the impression we had been some places more than once. Sometimes we ended up in the largest mass of people and traffic, either moving with them, or against them. Other times, we found ourselves on a much quieter avenue. We would come upon some carefully crafted creations of pine needles and wood shavings, topped with floral arrangements. Regardless the relative splendor, I could tell they didn’t match the criteria of what Dunia ultimately had in mind for us to see.

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DSCN3126eWe forged ahead, with increasing urgency. After what was beginning to seem like a fruitless effort to out-flank the procession as we navigated beyond the clamor of the main hub of activity, we turned a corner to find a perfect example of one of the more incredibly precise and intricate compositions of brightly colored sawdust that Dunia wanted to show us, while it was still in process of being finished. After spending some time visiting with the family working on the carpet, we suddenly discovered that we were standing less than a block from a straight-on view of the oncoming procession, just minutes away and about to turn a corner right in front of us. It was a double bonus!

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Throughout the entire search we had seen an endless number of church faithful draped in purple robes with white headdress, looking very much the biblical shepherds. They amassed in large numbers as the float of Catholic Passion-of-Christ sculptures being carried on shoulders approached, preparing to take a shift as load-bearers. As a side note, this procession started at 11:00 a.m. and would last all day, carrying on into the late evening hours. We watched just a few minutes of it.

DSCN3137eWe ended up witnessing the added drama at this corner, of the sculpture catching on an overhead wire. There are men carrying tall poles to lift the many low-hanging wires along the route, but one of them failed to hold his wire long enough for the float to finish the turn, and the back corner caught. There was a gasp from the crowd, as the top of the sculpture pulled the wire tight, digging in enough so the returning wire lifter couldn’t just raise it up out of the way again, but had to wrestle it out from where it cut into the sculpture. The wire pulled a chunk of the column out when it came free.

A marching band followed the float, playing a slow, mournful cadence to guide the teeming mass. Just as the last of the procession cleared, younger Marco’s face appeared from the crowd, honing in on us like he had our GPS coordinates. He had come to guide us to our getaway car. We walked up the street in the direction the procession had just come from, taking in the sights of the disrupted carpets until we realized everyone had moved to the sidewalk. Uniformed women were ushering us off the street as we suddenly spotted a second float being carried by all women, again followed by a band.

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Our double bonus became a triple bonus!

It was a stupendous finish to our expedition of witnessing the amazing Palm Sunday Antigua, Guatemala Holy Week procession, in person. Our hosts had outdone themselves, once again, with perfect timing and superb results. Thank you, thank you, Marco, Dunia, Marco, and Jose! You provided us with another fabulous and wonderful experience.

And folks reading, I’m still only on day 4, and I’m only two-thirds of the way through it! Next, we head for Lake Atitlán…

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Written by johnwhays

April 16, 2015 at 6:00 am

Mule Tour

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DSCN3086eIt was Sunday morning, Palm Sunday, and we awoke from an excellent night of sleep —if I disregard the one moment of waking before dawn in total disorientation about where I was.

It was a gorgeous looking day outside and we marveled over the minute-by-minute changes in cloud formations that appeared around the cone of the volcano visible from the balcony of our room at the Filadelphia Coffee Resort. The accommodations were exceptional. I was glad we had taken a swim in that pool the night before, because it was looking irresistible in the morning, but there was no time for it at that point.

The view out the door of our rooms looked over the coffee production facility, with drying beans spread in decorative patterns on the ground.

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Our plan was to pack up the car and check out of our rooms after breakfast, then walk to a mule tour of the coffee plantation. When Jose came out of his room, he persuaded me to join him in a little ping-pong until everyone else was ready to go. That was a good way to get the blood flowing. At breakfast, since I’m not a coffee drinker, I went for the next best thing: hot chocolate. It looked so good, I took a picture. It was good.

DSCN3097eDSC03952eThe mule tour turned out to be more horses than mules, because most of their mules were being given a day off after being worked too much. That was okay with me, especially as my horse was very cooperative. The horse that Dunia was on was a little more feisty and when it took to kicking to claim some space, Jose’s foot was in the way of the kick. Things settled down after that and we plodded along, taking in the sights of the short coffee bushes growing among the taller shade trees that protect them.

After 8 or 9 years, I think it was, they replace the plants with new ones, so they have a very extensive nursery of new starters ready to go. I tended to lose focus of details when the guide described the different flavors and bitter vs. sweetness of the coffee beans from different regions, since I’m not a coffee fan, but overall it was a fascinating and rewarding thing to see.DSC03947e

The “tour” was not very formal, and it seemed the best way to get information from our guide was to get close enough to ask questions. Toward the end, after learning some fascinating things about the business of growing coffee, I had a nice one-on-one visit with the guide as he inquired about details of our Wintervale Ranch and I learned of his broad ranging work experience and current plan to become a barista, maybe someday opening a coffee shop of his own.

I was a little wobbly when I got out of the saddle and landed on the ground again, but was no worse for the wear in the long run.

Visiting a coffee plantation was almost enough to entice me to want to start liking coffee, but only almost. I think I’ll stay with my preference for hot chocolate or chai.

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Written by johnwhays

April 15, 2015 at 6:00 am

To Antigua

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On our third day in Guatemala City we woke up to instructions to pack for a road trip. It immediately reminded me of the old stand up routine of George Carlin’s about “Stuff.” We needed to pack a smaller version of things we brought with us for an overnight in Antigua and then a few days in Santiago Atitlán

Trip Map

DSCN3079eDue to limitations of space in the vehicle, our larger luggage would be trucked directly to the beach house where we would eventually arrive. We packed a smaller version of our travel bags. That still turned out to be a lot of stuff, especially compared to the bag Jose packed. He put on shorts and a tank top shirt and told me “This is how you dress for Antigua!” The small duffel bag he carried looked like it didn’t even have anything else in it.

“You told us to pack light!” he said to his parents when they remarked about his almost empty bag.

We dealt with a moderate amount of traffic on the relatively short trip to Antigua, where Marco strategically chose parking in a hotel that wasn’t the one we would be staying at, for reasons of convenience. That decision led to an unlikely coincidence of Cyndie surprisingly coming upon a Minnesota friend and colleague on the sidewalk of the hotel. What are the odds of that?

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We walked and browsed the bustling streets of historic Antigua. It was a superb experience. Cyndie was an excellent shopper, finding many potential items that captured her fancy. We enjoyed a lunch outdoor at an Italian restaurant that served delicious wood-fired pizza. We splurged on tiramisu cake for dessert.

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In trying to navigate the winding narrow streets from our daytime parking spot, to the exclusive Filadelfia hotel at a coffee plantation nearby where we had reservations, we came to a few roads already closed in preparation for Palm Sunday events the following day. Of course, that spectacle happened to be our objective for tomorrow. Having been naively and blissfully oblivious to many of the details of our itinerary, it was at this point that I began to grasp the enormity of what lie ahead for us in Antigua. Seriously, I had totally missed that it was actually going to be Palm Sunday.

I will never be able to adequately convey my full appreciation for the excellent and inspired planning that Marco and Dunia did to give us the absolute BEST experience imaginable while we were with them. There just aren’t enough superlatives to do them justice.

DSCN3082eWhen we arrived at the hotel we were floored by the greatness of everything. It is exquisite. Our rooms provided an amazing view of volcano Agua that is entirely captivating. We dipped in the pool for a swim after dark, soaked in the hot tub, and then went to dinner in the hotel/plantation restaurant.

It was another day that ended with us feeling as though the events were the equivalent of several days worth. Truly a magnificent experience for us.

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Written by johnwhays

April 13, 2015 at 6:00 am