The night before the grand processions of the Semana Santa festival in Antigua, Guatemala I found myself in the front pew of the Iglesias San Francisco. Now it’s not unusual to find myself in a Cathedral even though I am a non secular person. I will often allow myself a few minutes to enjoy the history and architecture of beautiful churches and temples while travelling the world.
I have long ago ceased to petition the Big Guy Upstairs with my insignificant concerns, but this evening I decided to throw in a few irreverent petitions…
“…and so Jesus and or God and Saints or whoever is answering the phone this evening. It’s been a long lonely day of travelling so if you could manage to divert a fellow backpacker my way it would be greatly appreciated…a drinking comrade for the evening perhaps”
“…thanks in advance, peace out, Joel”
Antigua comes alive with its annual Semana Santa Holy Week. The entire city participates in the solemn activities during the week with a joyous celebration and party on the Easter weekend. On Palm Sunday, “andas” or floats with images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus are carried on the shoulders of purple-robed devotees. The floats weigh up to 7,000 pounds (3600 kgs) and it takes up to 100 carriers to hoist the enormous platforms.
I left the Cathedral to hit the cobblestoned streets, lined with pastel covered homes, as I had planned to stay up all night to help build some Alfombras, the beautiful sawdust carpets that adorn the streets during the weekend.
If your reading this, go google ‘Semana Santa Alfombras’…take a look at the intricate designs made up of coloured sand, sawdust, pine needles, chrysanthemums, carnations, and even roses.
Around one in the morning I noticed there were two beautiful blond Finnish sisters morosely perched upon their backpacks on the street corner. I perceived something was askew as my Spidey Senses were tingling. It turned out that their house stay had fallen through and they had no place to stay in the most booked-out town in Central America. Luckily I had two empty beds in my room as the two Yanks I had been travelling with never showed…
…Jesus had given me two Finnish girls…Jesus is so cool!
Semana Santa was a truly spectacular experience. Jesus is really BIG down here…bigger than Wayne Gretzky in Canada or Steve Irwin in Australia. Take one hundred thousand or more people, ancient cobblestoned streets enveloped with beautiful art work, hundreds of hooded men in purple and black robes carrying eighty foot long platforms with iconic statues on them, followed by throngs of Roman Centurions on horseback. And of course throw in beer consumption on a massive scale…
There you have Santa Semena.
Side notes…I still haven’t figured out how the beer fits in with a religious festival and why Roman Centurions make me nervous…nothing but trouble those Romans…but the beer was .80 cents and delicious!
After 4 days of incense and crosses it was time to say goodbye to Antigua…plus I am pretty sure I pissed of the head Purple Guy in town and that’s not a good thing. I packed up my backpack and Finnish girls and headed for the Pacific Ocean…it was time to get rid of my not-so-healthy looking hue of Canadian white.
I know some travelers would prefer the beer soaked, tourist puking tents of Oktoberfest in Germany, or the surreal and blurry nights at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or the callous running of the bulls in Pamplona….but for me I will choose the more sublime beauty of Semana Sanata in Antigua. A festival seeped in culture, history and charm! Give it a try my fellow globe trotters…you won’t be disappointed.
I don’t know what festival Pete has chosen…probably the ‘Barbie Doll Collectors Festival’ in Des Moines. But I look foward to battling against his witty travel stories! Although being attacked by Pete is like being savaged by a dead marmot…
~ Joel Mundie