I’ve spent the last two weeks picking up a bit of Spanish in Antigua, and living with a lovely Guatemalan family. I went into the lessons with the minimum expectation of coming out fluent, but have sadly come out merely brilliant. Well, I’ve picked up enough to get by, and have indeed had many (three) conversations with locals since and held my own in them.
Living with the family was brilliant; they’d been taking students for 18 years, so were well practised with living with complete no-hopers in their language. Indeed, there were 6 of us at one time there, all with varying levels of competence.
During my time there, it was of course the start of lent (se llama ‘cuaresma’ aqui), and it was then that I think I realised why Guatemala is not the economic tour de force it could so easily be. Talking to my Bible-bashing teacher, it emerged that during the 5 weeks of lent, there is a pilgramage every Friday to a different church around Antigua to look at the alfombras, which are pretty little pictures made on the floor of the church out of different coloured sawdust, surrounded by fruit donated by locals and standard candles and quotations from the Bible. Think Neil Buchanan and his Big Art Attacks.
So every Friday at some point during the day, everyone religiously (boom boom) goes to each of these different churches to look at the alfombra, which are exactly the same as the previous weeks’ ones, just a slighly different picture. And also, to kick it all off there’s an extra-special big one in the same church in San Felipe on Ash Wednesday, so everyone goes there too.
Además, every Sunday there’s a big procession round the town between all the churches just to remind each other it’s still cuaresma.
And in the week before Easter, it seems that no one goes to work at all, as there’s all week parties and processions where people make their own alfombras in the street in front of their house, for the mammoth procession on Good Friday. My teacher told me that that’s a sad procession, as it’s when Jesus (pron [/]haysoos) died, and everyone wears black. And then another big one on Easter Sunday when the big man’s back again and everyone’s happy again.
My teacher said there was in fact a procession on average every 8 days here. So about once a week, they have a morning or afternoon off. Groovy baby.
Also, Valentine’s day is absolutely massive here! Back in England, we should be grateful the fuss extends to just one evening. Here, yep, a full 5 days. Kimberly and Brayan, the adorable little kids of the family, started making cards and cool little party eggs at school I think on the Thursday, and they said they continued celebrating it until the Monday or Tuesday.
On the day itself, the whole extended family came round to visit (bearing in mind 2 grandparents, 2 parents and 2 kids live in the house anyway, with 5 or 6 students) during the afternoon, so the students made themselves scarce. In the evening, when most had gone, the family had another fiesta with us and had a barbecue in the middle of the house. It was then that the cool little party eggs came out, and according to tradition got smashed on everyone’s heads. They’re eggs with the tops cut off, and filled with little bits of sparkly paper called pica pica (nope, I couldnt resist going pikachuuuuuuuuu when I found out either) and then covered with coloured paper, and they make an almighty mess around the house.
I have however now sadly departed Antigua, and am in Coban about halfway up the country. Having a lazy day today, chilling in the sun reading my book on a hammock. Que bueno. Busy few days ahead though – off to see some nice pools (I think like Agua Azul again) and caves tomorrow, before more travel up to Flores the next day to see some more ruins (these are meant to be the best) at Tikal the day after that. And then after that, I’m off to Belize for a bit more chillaxing and snorkelling or scuba diving by the Caribbean!