Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Festive!

JANUARY 1, 2010


Mexico has it’s Zócalos (public squares), and every town in Guatemala has a Central Park. The Central Park of Antigua (Parque Central) is one of the most beautiful in all of Guatemala. And it is the epicenter of the action down here; a focal point for couples, friends and families to meet, hang out and to watch the world go by. The park is one square city block and is in the center of the city.

Here is a typical scene in the Park; a band from South America playing music from the Andes:

Here is the park on a Sunday afternoon late in the day, but with a special twist, since it is all lit up for the holidays (2 parts):

And here are some photos I took which feature the pretty lights; this one is one side of the park looking down the "main street" of Antigua:

Yours truly by the main fountain


On one side of Antigua’s Central Park is the stunning Cathedral; originally built in 1670 and then rebuilt after the great earthquake in 1773. On a normal day, it looks like this:

And at night it looks like this:

But, this one particular night about 2 weeks ago, something special took place. It was the annual Christmas Festival performance by Guatemala’s National Symphonic Orchestra; and they were accompanied by the Modern and Folkloric Ballet Troup. You have to admit, with this backdrop, it is a pretty splendid setting to see a concert - al fresco, amidst the beautifully lit ornate Cathedral. And it was especially nice because it was free ;-) And, since I only live 5 blocks away, it is a very convenient location - I didn't have to arrange any transportation or deal with any parking hassles!

Here is an overall view of how it looked that night. Yes, that’s right, the tiny little guy at the bottom in red is….. you guessed it… Santa was conducting the concert!

Here is a close-up of our friend from the North Pole:

Here are the dancers:

At the end, this guy lit himself (rather his “wings”) on fire and danced around (this is a tradition down here):

Here is a really good photo of what these on-fire “Wing Men” look like up close:


Speaking of lighting oneself on fire, I attended the annual “Burning of the Devil” festival here a few weeks ago. Devils are big down here, and so is burning stuff (especially firecrackers). The belief is, that just before Christmas time, everyone burns things (specifically Devils) to make way for a safe holiday. So people will buy small versions of the devils and cast them out on the street in front of their houses and burn them. Or they will just look around their houses and gather up stuff from their junk drawers and burn that. Many towns in Guatemala have some sort of Devil-burning celebration, of course Antigua is not without its own.

I couldn't get up close to photograph the Devil very well nor have I been able to find online photos or a video of the actual Devil in Antigua this year, but here is a good photo of the Devil from last year's burning in Antigua:

And this video will give you an idea of what an actual burning is like. I think this Devil burned in the Capital (Guatemala City):

Here are some photos I was able to take - I took this of the crowd so that you could see the surrounding scene:

Here are 2 photos of the Devil burning that night -kind of wimpy if you ask me! But I am a burning snob since I've seen the "Burning Man" burn twice in Northern Nevada!

And here is some random guy who was ‘lit’ on fire (same sort of “wings of fire” like I mention above in the Concert section) and he was running down the street:

All in all, given that they light this Devil on fire on a residential street between 2 gas stations and therefore are prohibited from making a really big explosive event (no pun intended), I would say that it was a fun and festive evening!


For New Year’s Eve, thousands of people gather in Antigua’s streets, congregating in two main places: the Central Park and around the famous arch. There are multiple stages with lots of entertainment (a huge variety of different musical groups and dancers) or some of the action is just taking place in the street, like the ever-present “wing-man” on fire, this time he is more like a dancing human firework launching station:

I couldn’t really find a good video or photo which shows the scale of how many people were in the streets, but at midnight they launch tons of fireworks and here is a mediocre video which kind of shows this. If you watch the whole thing you can see that every now and then they will pan down to show the park where the fireworks were launched:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scenes from my life in Antigua

DECEMBER 27, 2009


A few weeks ago, I decided to augment my classes with my private Spanish teacher by taking some classes at a ‘proper’ Spanish school. I think it is one of the prettier schools down here plus they also have a great reputation for the quality of instruction. Here is a link to my school's website:

I thought you might enjoy it if I gave you a tour of it so I took some videos (3 parts):


And here you can (finally!) see where I live. This 10 minute video gives you a little tour of the complex I live in, Olgas’s house (where I have my meals), and my cottage (casita).


Monday, December 21, 2009


DECEMBER 21, 2009

Often time my life down here will be humming along and then something comes along that reminds me, “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.” People in third world countries are often incredibly resourceful with things they repair, build and/or create. Frequently, laws, rules and regulations don’t exist for constructing things like the way we are used to back home in The States. I thought I would share some of these ‘creative’ infrastructure examples with you.

Here are some interesting electrical configurations - you see these ALL OVER HERE. I can only wonder what the electrical ‘code’ here is supposed to be…that is, of course, if there is one:

So many of the outlets I have seen are old and out-of-date. And most don’t really accommodate plugs very well; you might actually have to tape them in so that the plug doesn’t fall out! I saw this interesting group the other day:

And here is an extension cord I brought with me. Obviously the old electrical system fried it!

Many stores/families use their roofs as exterior storage areas like this example which I saw in Alotenango:

Here is my shower. Most showers here are electric. You can see how they’ve taped my wires down:

And here you can see how the path of the wires is kind of makeshift; on the left it goes out through my window:

Friday, November 20, 2009

La Madre Naturaleza – Mother Nature’s Broken Heart

NOVEMBER 20, 2009

As I mentioned on one of my previous blogs, it is the rainy season here in Guatemala. The season goes from June through October. They tell me that before I arrived here, they had had staggeringly low levels of rain; in fact, I have personally seen many failed crops - dried out corn stalks to be exact. And this drought has caused thousands of deaths. Well, as luck would have it, Mother Nature decided, better late than never. So it has been raining almost continuously since I arrived six weeks ago; and they tell me that just the rain we have had here over the last 2 weeks was more rain then they have had over the last 4 months.

I joke about it at our table during meals. In Spanish, I propose, “I think that some guy has broken Mother Nature’s heart and she continues to cry. Well, I am going to have a chat with her; I think she needs some girlie advice on this matter. Because enough is enough - the rainy season was supposed to have ended already!”

So about 2 weeks ago, I was out to dinner with Bonnie and Ana who both live at the same complex as me. About half way through our dinner, it started to rain. And then it was REALLY pouring. We were quite far (about a 15 minute walk) from where we live and even though we were looking for about 20 minutes, there weren’t any taxis passing by. Luckily, I had the phone number of a taxi driver in my phone. I called him, and, although he was in Guatemala City, he sent by another driver who reached us in 5 minutes. WOW, it was raining so hard!!! None of us really wanted to leave the restaurant and go to the taxi since it was pouring so much.

As we started to near our side of town, we noticed increased amounts of water in the streets. And on our corner the water was GUSHING down the street, flowing swiftly like a river. Ana noticed a ‘bubbling fountain’ in the middle of the street. Later on we determined that the sewer cover had burst, causing pressurized water to spew out.

The taxi somehow, miraculously, made its way down through this rapidly rushing ‘river’ to Olga’s door. We were actually terrified to get out of the taxi – it was pissing down with rain and the water on the street was about a foot high - maybe more – we couldn’t really tell. In front of Olga’s door, which is where we were going to enter our complex, there is a barrier:

I never really understood why it was there, rather, I just considered it an inconvenience since always we have to step over it to get in & out. However, I now know why it is there and I now know why I call it a ‘barrier’! The racing water was just a few inches from the top of this barrier.

I mentioned before in a previous post about all of the various things jutting into the sidewalks and all of the holes, etc. Well now, swirling in my head, were visions of me slipping on the cobblestone or falling into an open sewer, loose street grate or drainage ditch. As you can see by this photo, there is a long drainage ditch on our street:

It was so dark, there was so much water and none of us could remember exactly where these deep ditches were. I’m sure that the others were thinking the same as me – that we would either be swept up and carried away by the rushing water or the other frightening proposition - that we would step in or get caught in some sort of a hole.

I sensed that the taxi driver really wanted to leave so I took a deep breath and finally braved it since I had my key ready (which I was tightly grasping, afraid that I would lose it to the rapid river). I made my way, pretty much knee high in water, to the door. My shoes were squishing all over the place. I guess that in all the commotion, I was really clasping my key hard because later on, in the morning, I realized that it had broke in half; the remainder had gotten stuck in Olga’s door!

I snapped this photo of the taxi leaving our street to go ‘upriver’:

Once ‘safely’ inside, I realized that the adventure wasn’t over yet. For our whole complex had been invaded with water and I had no idea how hard it would be to wade through it to get to my cottage. Here is a photo of what the entryway outside of my cottage usually (when dry) looks like:

Here it was the night of the flood:

It continued to rain strongly on & off all week. But the good news is... we haven’t had rain in more than a week now (yeah!) I think that my chat with La Madre Naturaleza worked –for it appears as though she is finally over him…whoever he was!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Halloween – Latin American style

NOVEMBER 16, 2009

The Latin American ‘equivalent’ to Halloween is called “Dia de los Muertos” –Day of the Dead; specifically in Guatemala it is called “Día de los Difuntos” - Day of the Deceased. And here, in Guatemala, they certainly have some unique customs and ways of celebrating their Deceased.

There are two places in the whole country which are really famous for elaborate celebrations and it just so happens that both of them are pretty close to Antigua (“La Antigua”). So I decided to go to one of them to check it out personally. After a beautiful 30-40 minute drive from Antigua through a countryside of lush, green rolling hills, I arrived at the Mayan town of Sumpango (Tzumpango is the Mayan name). There, I was met with a swirl of colors, a flurry of activity and quite a lively celebration. The first stop was the bustling cemetery to view the locals, who literally are partying in the cemetery! They bring food, music and all types of intricate decorations, which they use and enjoy around the gravesites of their dearly departed. The cemetery definitely comes alive and gets a vivid facelift this day as it is literally ‘littered’ with hundreds of people; many wearing their finest clothing (especially the hand-woven huipiles – traditional blouses of the women) as well as colorful fresh flowers, new paint jobs on the graves and mausoleums, incense, food smells and all sorts of other delights for your senses. Most people are mingling about, but for people with recent losses, the day can obviously be quite somber.

Here are some cemetery scenes (I highly recommend that you double click on these to enlarge them so that you can see them with better detail):

The second stop was just a 5 minute walk through town to the local football (soccer) field. The tradition is for locals to build massive and extravagant kites, display them for public viewing (oohing and aahing) and fly them – both parts are judged in separate competitions. In some cities/villages, they will fly the kites high above the local cemetery and in others (as is the case in Sumpango), they use an alternate location, like the football field. They view the kites as a symbolic link between the living and the Dead; a way to communicate with the Dead as well as a way to release of the souls of the Dead from agony.

Here are 3 excellent links which explain the festivities, traditions and customs more in detail:

Here is a video which I took from a rooftop; including the cemetery, kites and surrounding land; this should help you to understand the scale of the event:

And here are some of the photos I took of the kites:

Here I am in front of the festival’s tallest kite – 18 meters (54’ high).

Each participating kite has a sign telling how big, how many people worked on it (this group has 21 people), number of years they have participated, etc.

Each kite takes months to construct due to their size and design detail; here is a close-up of the workmanship and materials (the kites consist of pieces of tissue paper which are taped together and affixed to bamboo sticks).

Some of the spectators (including Ana, Bonnie and me).

The “Miss Kite Festival” finalists lineup.

This is a kite that one group is bringing over to the completion to see if it will fly.

The first batch of kites (the smaller ones) are all lined up (on the "runway") and ready to take their turn to try to fly.

Here is YouTube video of one of the kites in flight; just imagine how many people it takes to get them in the air: