Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘Guatemala

Sad Quiet

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Last night when Cyndie stepped out to walk Delilah before bedtime, I became aware of how empty and quiet the house seemed, despite the whirr of the overhead fan and the evening drone of chirping insects resonating beyond the screen door. It was far from silence, but it had a way of pointing out how otherwise silent it was.

Monday afternoon, our friend Dunia departed for her home in Guatemala, ending our stretch of what felt like a 2-week vacation adventure, even though most of it happened at our house. The long-distance separation from our dear friends causes a real bittersweetness when it comes time to say goodbye.

DSCN3776eThe sky was a cloudy gray when I got home from work, as I took Delilah down to the barn to feed the horses and linger with the herd. I got the sense they were missing Dunia, too, even though it had only been a matter of hours for them.

Delilah and I moved on after a while and walked many of our trails, coming upon a few photo opportunities. Despite her lack of interest in my pausing, she politely occupied herself while I worked the angles and light.

Over dinner, Cyndie and I watched a rented movie and then sat together in the quiet, puttering away on separate projects, surrounded by the void of missing companions.

I’m guessing there was also an element of fatigue lingering in the aftermath of the busy weekend filled with the activity and people here for training sessions. We’ll catch our breath and absorb all that’s happened recently, in hopes of conjuring up plans for the next offering sometime this fall.

I hesitate to face it, but fall is so close it is beginning to impact our weather already. My favorite weather blog is predicting an October-like storm moving in today.

It’s probably a good thing that Dunia got out of here when she did, even though her departure has left us with that sweet sorrow of parting. I wonder how much it would cost to fly our horses with us to visit the Morales family in Guatemala again.

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Written by johnwhays

August 18, 2015 at 6:00 am

We’re Family

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Saturday, April 4th, was our last day in Guatemala with our friends, the Morales family. Luckily, our departure was in the evening, so we had the whole day to enjoy. After breakfast at the beach house, we began packing bags and loading vehicles for the trip back to Guatemala City. I wandered out in the early morning sunlight to capture a few parting shots in hopes of adding more vantage points to aid my memories of our visit.

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Traffic wasn’t too heavy since it was Saturday of Easter weekend and the drive back to their house went smoothly. Marco and I made a run to pick up some ingredients for lunch, which they prepared and served at home. I discovered there was a US women’s friendly soccer match on their television and watched some of that with the boys, before the adults headed out to give us one last chance to purchase some gifts for people back home.

We started at a market with more hand-crafted items to select from, and then moved on to a fabulous outdoor center of many upscale shops. Their boys eventually met us there and we visited a specific coffee shop where Marco and Dunia wanted to buy some special coffee beans to send home with us.

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The sun was setting and the air outdoors was fresh. The energy of the people created a feeling of excitement for Easter weekend. That feeling mixed with our joy for the precious time we had experienced, and our growing grief over parting from our friends. When the time came for us to be heading toward the airport, we gave the boys hugs and said our goodbyes, and climbed into the Land Cruiser one last time with Marco and Dunia.

DSCN3356eDuring the bittersweet drive, they mentioned a number of times how happy they were to have us, thanking us and saying how much they would miss us. I told them it was like being family, and Marco said, “You are family.”

Yes, that is how we felt the whole time. Actually, that is pretty much how it has felt from the time we first met them in Arizona, and later when they stayed with us for 2-weeks at Christmastime. We are blessed to have come to know them and honored to consider them as family.

Cyndie and Dunia are definitely linked in their inspirations to offer equine facilitated lessons in the areas of leadership and personal development that they studied in their Epona apprenticeships. They both share hopes of being able to travel to assist each other for workshops in the years ahead.

Visit Dunia’s website for C’Ubuntu to see excellent descriptions of opportunities for equine facilitated learning and growing that are available. We are planning to come up with something similar for Wintervale Ranch very soon.

And then it was over. We flew all night Saturday and arrived home in the middle of the day on Easter Sunday. We had an absolutely fabulous time in Guatemala with the Morales family. Our thanks to them, and to their extended families and friends, for being such incredibly gracious hosts, and for allowing me to post all the images and details from our visit.

I hope it has been as fun for all of you reading as it has been for me to re-live in such detail. ¡Adios!

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Written by johnwhays

April 24, 2015 at 6:00 am

Beach Again

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I now return you to my tales of our Guatemalan adventure, reliving our third day at their beach house. It was now Friday and we awoke from another sound night’s sleep in which neither my wife nor I heard even a hint of rain. From the looks of things, it must not have been much of a storm, after all.

I’m not usually one to crave a hot beverage, but when I walked out of our room that morning, I instantly had the thought of wanting some hot chocolate. While we were seated at the table visiting with Marco, Dunia’s dad, and Jose, Dunia brought a cup of hot chocolate and set it in front of me. Neither of us had discussed it, and without a word, she acted on a sensation she felt to look for their chocolate and then brought me a cup. It is not the first time she has demonstrated her acute sense of intuition. Priceless.

DSCN3275eI elected to join Dunia and Cyndie for a walk on the beach that morning, picking up stones and shells along the way. Walking a beach has the potential of being an endless activity, and at one point I offered an invitation to Dunia to consider not walking too far. She graciously listened to my idea, and then continued on in conversation with Cyndie. I found myself choosing to slow down behind them a bit and soon after, she and Cyndie turned around and were walking toward me. Moments later, Marco showed up on the 4-wheeler to check on us. I think he and I were thinking along the same lines. Plus, it was soon time for a big breakfast!

DSCN3317eWhen we got back, I made a small tower of stones and left it on a ledge for them.

Marco’s brother arrived for the day, and Bill and Karin and their niece joined us for breakfast. Guatemalan breakfast was served, plus pancakes and amazing fresh fruit. It was all spectacularly delicious, especially Marco’s salsa again.

The rest of the day was filled with lounging around the pool and people enjoying a variety of arts and crafts, with Dunia and Marco working mostly on their paintings on the wall.

The boys took a few turns playing a game where they try to kick the soccer ball the full length of their field and strike the cross-bar of the goal. I played the role of photographer.

It was idyllic.

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Written by johnwhays

April 23, 2015 at 6:00 am

Reality Check

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I am going to pause today in my ongoing chronicle of our Guatemalan adventure to provide some perspective that I think will show why I choose to describe our 10 days with the Morales family in such specific day-to-day detail. This is the April reality that we have returned to at our home, latitude 44.7739° N:

IMG_iP0774eYou may be able to barely make out the silhouette of our horses in the distance through the falling flakes, but you won’t find any palm trees and I can attest that there was absolutely nothing similar to a balmy Pacific breeze.

IMG_iP0777eDo you blame me for wanting to relive every precious warm moment of that visit with our great friends in their beautiful country? It’s winter-cold here again and the wind is gusting mini-blizzards straight out of the Arctic circle this week!

Seriously, tomorrow I am going right back to describing our last days at the beach house and then our return to Guatemala City in preparation of boarding the flight home. Maybe it’s escapism. I’m not proud. I do it because I can.

Aw, heck. I can’t even wait.

This is what I am talking about…

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Written by johnwhays

April 22, 2015 at 6:00 am

Luxurious Relaxation

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It felt great to sleep a long night. On Thursday, we woke leisurely and then gathered with people around the table where the coffee drinkers enjoyed their morning treat. Once everybody was fueled up, Cyndie joined Dunia and her mother for a walk on the beach before the sun got too hot, and Marco invited me to join him on a trip to the vegetable market to buy fresh produce. There wasn’t space in the Land Cruiser to pick up anything when we passed by the day before.

Even though I already had pictures of this place from my first visit, I couldn’t stop myself from taking a few more shots of the wonderful array of colorful fruit and vegetables.

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DSCN3265eOn our way back to the beach house, we stopped to buy fresh mangos from a street vendor selling out of their front yard. Marco said he didn’t buy them from the market because these would be better. Marco is a very skilled chef and he added some flavor enhancements to the fresh-cut mango that were a particularly special treat for my taste buds.

Dunia’s brother and family arrived with contributions to a brunch meal. While preparations were underway, I played cards with Jose and then programmed a music playlist before the food was served. Marco’s fresh salsa was an outstanding addition to the scrambled eggs. Dunia’s mother made a dessert of chocolate covered plantains that I’ll remember for a long time, too.

After brunch, I played ping-pong with Jose and Marco, enjoying many ferocious battles, where the winner stayed on the table in a rotating series of games to 7 points.  We got drenched in sweat by our effort, which led to some relaxing time in the pool.

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After a break for lunch, for which Marco had slaved over the hot, hot heat to grill ribs, the boys wanted to play some soccer. Bill & Karin’s son, Anthony, wasn’t around to make it 2v2, so Dunia’s brother volunteered to play. I was having so much fun that I tried a little too hard and strained my calf muscle stepping quickly forward to steal the ball. I got the steal, but paid the price. I tried limping along to continue play, but further sporting activity was dramatically curtailed.

We jumped in the pool after soccer and eventually Cyndie, Marco, & Dunia joined us for a relaxing soak until dusk threatened an onslaught of mosquitos. After a shower, I climbed the new spiral stairs to their TV room to play some cards with the boys before calling it a day. While we were up there, it started to lightning outside and we heard a few good rumbles of thunder. When I came down, I stepped out from under the roof to check the weather and enjoy some of the lightning activity. Bill had stepped out from next door to look, as well, and he described the usual storm activity. If it comes from the ocean, as this one appeared to be doing, it is usually a pretty good storm.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be awake to see it.

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Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2015 at 6:00 am

Driving Adventures

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DSCN3252eWhen we awoke on Wednesday, the beginning of our 7th full day in Guatemala with the Morales family, we started packing almost immediately. It was time to leave Bill & Karin’s beautiful lake house and embark on a road trip to the beach house, reported to probably be 2-hours and 45-minutes duration. After a short time, just as we had on the drive to Lake Atitlán days before, we arrived at a mysterious stretch of road where up and down directions are reversed.

Marco stopped our vehicle, turned on the 4-way hazard lights, and shifted to neutral. The Toyota began to roll uphill. It’s crazy-making!

When we approach a “T” intersection very near to our planned restaurant stop for breakfast, the traffic came to a complete standstill. We were just a couple of car lengths from where we wanted to make a left turn, but were pinned with nowhere to go. Several guys on foot seemed to be trying to augment the single traffic cop’s attempt to orchestrate some progress, but many drivers just chose their own solution and drove around any vehicle in front of them. It only served to complicate the mess.

DSCN3253ePatience turns out to be the best course of action, and eventually we made our turn and got to stretch our legs and sit down to eat. The restaurant had a roof, but no walls around the seating area. Cyndie ordered in Spanish; an omelet with vegetables for me, pancakes for her.

Breakfast automatically came with cups of coffee and a bowl of a sweet porridge. I noticed Cyndie and Marco set their cups aside after their first taste and he ordered better coffee for the two of them. I normally don’t like cooked oatmeal or porridge, but this was sweet and not heavy. I liked it a lot. It was a great breakfast on the road.

Shortly after departing from that restaurant, we came to a stretch of divided highway with a very long backup of stopped traffic in the lanes approaching from the other direction. Shockingly, we suddenly spotted vehicles driving toward us in our lanes! After multiple cars switched lanes in reaction, everyone going our direction adjusted to the right lane. After the initial alarm, it wasn’t as unnerving as you’d think, because there is a lot of driving in each other’s lanes to make passes on the two-lane roads everywhere else. Still, they were driving into traffic and it was very hazardous, so Dunia got on her phone and reported the situation to authorities.

Despite the traffic challenges, it seemed a relatively short time had passed when we reached sights that I began to recognize from my visit there with Marco a week earlier. The beach house was just ahead.

Upon arriving, we were able to meet Bill and Karin. The two families each have adjacent beach houses beside the large shared pool. It reminds me very much of the community of families at Cyndie’s family vacation home in Hayward, WI. We also are greeted by Karin’s sister and niece, and later, Bill and Karin’s son, Anthony.DSCN3254e

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It was significantly hotter this day than any other we’d experienced, in large part because we’ve come down to sea level and it was sunny all day. I get my first chance to play some football with the Morales boys and Anthony, followed by a jump in the pool. Dunia’s parents arrived and we met them as Marco began preparations for a dinner of grilled lobster tail.

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As the sun got low, mosquitoes and the heat contributed to drive us into our air-conditioned room at around 6:45. It feels much later than that and we give in to beckoning sleep early, after a day that felt like we mostly just lounged in the pool. Hardly the exerting activities that should have caused such tiredness. Maybe the week was finally catching up with us.

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Written by johnwhays

April 20, 2015 at 6:00 am

Water Taxi

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Lake Atitlán mapOn Tuesday of our fabulous Guatemalan adventure, Marco arranged for a boat to take us to several different destinations around lake Atitlán. The portion visible from the house where we were staying near Santiago Atitlán was a small fraction of the whole. It is the deepest lake in Central America, filling a caldera that was formed by an eruption many thousands of years ago. Ash from that eruption has been detected as far away as Florida and Ecuador.

The first thing I noticed after we got out on the water was the view of the two volcanoes, Volcán Tolimán and Volcán Atitlán, that were behind us and much less noticeable from our perspective on shore. Our view was dominated by the magnificently sculpted San Pedro filling the sky across the water.

I wish I could describe every detail of the unparalleled beauty of each place they took us for a meal, luxurious cups of coffee (or chocolate), more shopping, and every superb view that accompanied them. I’m unable to find the words at this point.

Here are some impressions from my camera to give you a glimpse…

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Written by johnwhays

April 19, 2015 at 10:28 am

The Lake

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DSCN3250eIt was now Monday morning and we were staying at Karin and Bill’s house at Lake Atitlán. Marco and Bill are architects and business partners. The house is tucked beside the rustic hotel Posada de Santiago, and surrounded by incredibly gorgeous landscaped gardens.

The first thing we did when we woke up was walk across the road to the lake and sit in the hotel pool area, taking in the vista of the volcano San Pedro reflected on the water. The early morning air was calm. A cloudy mist floated above the surface of the water where fishermen in their canoes and flat bottom boats slowly plied their crafts.

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DSCN3180eA man was preparing the chairs and swimming pool for the day, and after some brief dialogue with Marco, he delivered tall glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. Marco had thought about the possibility of taking canoes across the lake to breakfast, but he learned the hotel was fully booked and they didn’t want to give up canoes for that long.

Instead, we gladly drove to breakfast, for pancakes. From the parking area, there is an incredibly lush and beautiful garden to walk through to the restaurant. For some reason, I only took a picture of the building. Some things just defy being captured in an image.

After breakfast we drove to the market in Santiago Atitlán where street vendors displayed the many bright-colored designs and craftwork of the classic Guatemalan look. We enjoy a pleasant stroll up and down the stone streets to shop for more souvenirs, while Marco went off to find a coffee maker for the house —an essential appliance they could have used when they woke up this day.

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With no agenda for the afternoon, we passed time enjoying relaxing pursuits. The boys went off together to do young Marco’s prescribed football (soccer, for US readers) exercise workout. I threatened to join them, but then passed on the opportunity. Instead, I caught up on email a bit until, somehow it had gotten to almost 2 o’clock and we needed to make it to the hotel restaurant before they stopped serving lunch. DSCN3196eI ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and happily found it to be customized to a Guatemalan version of ham topped with avocado and a fabulous cheese.

After lunch, I watched part of the movie, “Guardian of the Galaxy” with Jose on his laptop computer. We paused it when Marco Sr. invited us to join everyone for some afternoon coffee/hot chocolate and cookies. We played “Golf” with a deck of cards and the board game Cranium and even some “Heads Up” with Marco’s phone, after we had him download the app.

It was feeling wonderfully like a vacation at the lake.

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Written by johnwhays

April 18, 2015 at 9:02 am

To Atitlán

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Flush with excitement for all we had seen of the Palm Sunday events in Antigua, we settled back into the Land Cruiser for a couple hours of driving to get to picturesque Lake Atitlán, where we would have use of their friends’ gorgeous old lake house for a few days. DSCN2988eMarco decided it would make most sense to eat lunch before getting too far down the road, knowing the Restaurante El Mirador would again be a convenient option. That was at the same La Reunion Golf Resort where he took me for breakfast on our first day in Guatemala.

We had hoped to see a good view of volcanoes that first day, but the sky was thick with hazy clouds. Now on our second visit, we were experiencing a thunderstorm. In fact, with the lack of walls enclosing the seating areas, the sound of one crack was startling enough that Cyndie let out an involuntary scream. She was immediately embarrassed by her outburst and apologized profusely. I don’t believe many people noticed. Even though Cyndie was the only person to react out loud, I think everyone else experienced a bit of a silent scream inside their own heads.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much in the way of volcano views that day, either.

DSCN3158eMy being in vacation mode had me regularly losing track of time or what day it was, but after the spectacle of the Palm Sunday procession just a short time earlier, I wasn’t surprised to see the restaurant was serving a fancy looking brunch. I didn’t get around to taking pictures until I had selected desserts that looked too fine to be eaten. I liked the design that looks like a treble clef enough that it made me think of pulling out the camera.

Marco told us that it was uncharacteristically early for their rainy season to be starting, but our drive ended up involved in epic amounts of rainfall. Being seated in the car kept me from pulling out my camera to capture the drama of that afternoon, but it was probably too dark for pictures anyway.

I went so far as to make some ridiculous statement about how dark clouds always looks worse in the distance. When you eventually arrive to actual storm clouds that may have looked so ominous at a distance, they never seem nearly as dark. It didn’t take long at all for this instance to totally demonstrate the folly of my point. It just kept getting darker and darker.

Then it rained harder and harder. Unbelievable amounts of water came down as Marco heroically pushed the Toyota to proceed up the mountain road. Visibility on the windshield went from bad, to “clear enough we could see how bad.” Rain was coming down in multiple inch-per-hour rates. Runoff was beginning to become rivers which overflowed the ditches of the switchback road.

There were a few spots where it looked like a gamble to drive through, and in one place, the gushing water in a ditch was hitting an obstruction and shooting straight up into the air. Marco handled it all with a calm composure and successfully steered through the worst of it and over the mountain to the other side where the rain calmed down considerably.

When we got to the house there was a sense of relief. Then we spotted a few places where the roof leaked. It only extended the drama a tiny bit. The weather began to improve almost immediately such that we didn’t experience any further problems with leaks or floods.

DSCN3160eWe walked a short distance down to a restaurant at Posada de Santiago where Jose was quick to point out they had a guitar that was available for guests and customers to play.

We celebrated the end of our incredible 4th day with a fine meal in a very comfortable setting. Our pace would slow down a little bit now, which was well deserved, after the incredible adventures we enjoyed that Sunday. We turned in at a decent hour, and even though it was our 3rd bed in as many days, I slept wonderfully that night.

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Written by johnwhays

April 17, 2015 at 6:00 am

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