Feliz Cumpleaños a Antigua
Lo siento for the big gap since my last entry. I hope you are all having a wonderful (hot) summer. I am a bit jealous of the US heat wave, as despite being a bit north of the equator this is actually considered winter to most Guatemalans. The frequent afternoon and evening rainstorms keep the temperature on the cool side most of the time.
I began this blog about a week ago and I am finally getting around to publishing it. I guess i am beginning to live on Guatemalan time.
Buenas Noches Amigos! I am taking cover from yet another rainstorm in one of Antigua's ubiquitous internet cafes. Although i should have known better, i left my place about an hour ago without an umbrella or a jacket. The almost daily torrential afternoon and evening showers are starting to wear on me, but tonight i felt almost obligated to forgo my Spanish studies to attend the festivities in Parque Central. Tomorrow is officially Antigua's birthday as well as the day honoring the patron saint of Antigua: Santiago de los caballeros (cowboys), and unlike Americans who mark their country's independence with one evening of celebration, Antiguans celebrate their city's birthday for a good week or so. This is not surprising as they have bi-weekly Easter processions for at least a month in advance of the holiday. Anyway, tonight we were promised a fantastic display of fuegos artificales in the sky. Unfortunately, living a few blocks from the Seattle Lake Union fireworks has spoiled me and heading toward the park i was more than a bit skeptical of the pyrotechnic display i was about to witness. Soon after arriving the rain began to fall and I thought the fireworks would be nothing more than the few bottle rockets sporadically going off dangerously close to where we were standing. The guys from my place seemed amused that we were allowed to stand within about 20 or 30 feet of the fireworks, but as soon as the first big one went off directly over my head, I ran for the hills, well; really it was the cover of another tree a bit further away from the action. I never did catch up with my housemates, but I enjoyed a colorful and somewhat impressive display of amunition for 20 minutes or so among as many locals as tourists.
The chill from wearing wet clothing as well as the bad 80´s music blasting in my ears drove me out of the internet cafe last night long before my cuento fue terminada (my story was completed). Although today is officially Antiga´s special day, it seemed rather anticlimatic compared to Sunday, when despite the afternoon down pour, masses of Antiguens poured into Parque Central to literally wish Antigua a Happy Birthday (sung in English).
On Sunday morning around 11 I headed to the park for a dependable if not American priced cup of cafe' con leche. I was sitting in the cafe and chatting with another young American woman when our conversation was interrupted by the music of a fairly large marching band passing through the park as part playing an oddly familiar tune which we both recognized as American. in a few seconds i realized that the song was "Stars and Stripes Forever". What made the experience even stranger, was that just ahead of the band 30 or 40 Guatemalans of all ages were carrying a large platform on top of which stood a large statue of Santiago Atitlan, the patron saint of Antigua.
While walking back towards home via the park around 3:00 that Sunday afternoon I encountered a tent housing the biggest sheet cake I have ever seen decorated with a sugary model of Antigua, complete with the city's signature big yellow arch. The lonely dessert was being guarded by a few official women dressed in yellow shirts and hats advertising the cake company responsible for the monstrosity. I asked one of the woman "¿A que hora cortara' el pastel? At what time will you cut the cake?" She replied, "A las cuatro. (4:00)" so i hurried t home to get my camera. Just as soon as i began retracing my steps toward the park with gringa backpack and camera in tow, it started to rain. By the time i hit the park masses of locals and fellow gringos were beginning to fight for space under the shelter of the cement awnings along the edges of the park. Within minutes the cobblestone streets began to fill with puddles deeper than a kiddie swimming pool (well at least the one i had according to my baby pictures). More than a bit frustrated, i decided that no rain storm was going to keep me from getting my keepsake digital pics of the fiesta. As i prepared to venture out into the storm i noticed that a Guatemalan woman standing next to me was breast feeding a rather large infant or toddler who she was carrying in the typical Guatemalan style, bundled in front of her in a colorful shawl. A couple minutes later another woman approached me with a similar bundle hanging from her neck. She took one look at my gringa outfit and instead of a baby, she reached into her bundle and pulled out of some sort of textile and shoved in my face. i took that as my cue to hit the street and opened up my dilapidated paraguas (umbrella) and entered the sea of a street and towards the tent housing the cake. Fortunately, in Guatemala i am not exactly vertically challenged when standing in a crowd of locals, and i was able to sneak a couple of shots of the giant dessert despite the hoard of people attempting to both keep dry and ensure that they would get a chance to eat part of mini Antigua. More interested in the photos i had just snapped than tasting the apparent gooey mess, i puddle jumped my way across plaza and landed under a tent housing the marimba band about to perform. The marimba - a relative of the xylophone is Guatemala´s national instrument.
Since the band, which included 7 boys and men playing two large marimbas, a drummer, timbale player (another type of drum) and an electric base player, didn't seem to mind sharing their leaking tent with myself and several others attempting to stay somewhat dry, i stayed and enjoyed the up-close entertainment. Actually the band was awesome and, mesmorized, i forgot that i was soaked and cold while enjoying watching and listening to them play. After 30 minutes or so, the rain began to let up and i cleverly found away to circumvent the huge puddle surrounding the tent. I was about to leave the park when i noticed the parade of giants (i am still not certain of their significance) nearby. Basically several people were holding up (and hiding under the cloaks) giant figures resembling humans but with a bit of a cartoonish flair. Soon the marimba music started up again and the giants began to spin and dance in the park square. It was a really interesting and entertaining performance accompanied both by the music and by several loud fireworks which created a pretty layer of smoke haze rising up to the low cloud line. i took lots of pictures and short videos.
Excited, exhausted, soaked and starved, and maybe missing Seattle a bit, I headed for Antigua's only Japanese/Thai restaurant. I reviewed my pics while awaiting my very non-Guatemalan Tofu teriyaki, miso soup and Jasmine Tea. Although the soup came at the end of my meal, I must have enjoyed it because the waitress commented on the large quantity of food i had just inhaled. I think i will stick with Guatemalan fare for the rest of my stay here.
Speaking of Guatemalan food, it's about time for my cena (dinner).