Semana Santa in Antigua


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Published: April 27th 2009
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I decided on short notice to go to Antigua for the end of the week of Semana Santa. I found on the webpage "AroundAntigua" that there were only two hotels with vacancies. I took my chances on one of them, although the name (Villa de Antano) was unbeknownst to me. It was rather pricey, but afterall it was the week of Easter and it was last minute.

I left Panajachel by Xocomil Travel Services shuttle at 9:30 and we arrived in Antigua at around 1:00. Due to the streets being so crowded and many of them closed off to vehicles...the driver was unable to drop us all at our respective hotels...instead leaving us off very close to the entrance to the city. I packed rather light, as it was just for the two nights, three days...and so I enjoyed the several blocks walk to my hotel at the very end of 5th Avenida Sur.

I arrived at VdAntano to find a lovely courtyard behind an iron gate, and thru the doorway of this old magnificent converted convent, to an inner courtyard and a lovely sitting/reception room where I was pleasantly greeted and told I could leave my things, but that check-in was not until 3 pm.

I headed just up the street... when I came upon gardens that caught my eye. The gate was wide open, and it so happened to be a fabulous little restaurant, where I had the most enjoyable and delightful lunch. After leaving, I headed up to Parque Centrale and walked around a bit only to realize that there was a procession about to begin at 3 pm from the main cathedral! This was quite the experience. Very moving. I don;t know how it happened that with so many people in the square and in the streets, I was able to make my way (without any pushing or shoving about) to get just about as close to the procession as one could...without being underneath and carrying the float!.

This is a tradition that has gone on for centuries. The procession begins with the 'floats' coming out of the church, and down the steps, passing in front of the crowds and then being carried by about 50 men thru the streets for the next two hours. The second float of Mary our Mother, was carried by all woman in black dress and black veils.

Many of the streets, were being decorated with carpets of colored sand, and flowers, and black, white and red beans. Grandparents, grandchildren, families all on their hands and knees in the streets, designing their own part of the carpet. I took some pics of them in progress, and the pics of the completed ones were taken inside the Casa Santo Domingo at the alter.

After the procession, I walked along the main street (5th Avenida Norte) towards the arch and visited some of the beautiful shops along the way.

Saturday I walked forever, from one end of the city to the other, and stopped in at Casa Santa Domingo for a tour of their museums, which were beautifully done and very interesting. I had an unmemorable lunch at the Cafe NoSe, although I had an interesting chat with one of the expat owners. It is a very funky little joint, that I am sure has a fun and lively eclectic crowd at night time. I just cannot reccommend their nachoes! I stopped in at the amazing San Francisco church and just observed the piety of the people all here to honor and pray...lighting candles...again of different colors...signifying different requests I believe. They also had another huge 'float' bearing Jesus and the cross along with Mary and a few other saints. Beautiful.

It was a very nice day. That evening I had a reservation for dinner...for one...at Meson Panza Verde.
I arrived a little before 8 and was immediately seated at a small table for two in their outdoor terrace. I ordered a half bottle of Cabernet Savignon and a Caprese Salad to start. Excellent. My main course was baby lamb chops with delicious potatoes au gratin and vegetable medley all cooked to perfection. All was exquisitely presented, tasted superb and the service was the best I have ever experienced. Overall one of the best dining experiences of my life.

On Sunday, Easter, I attended mass at the cathedral again. The alter was dramatic....all covered in white hydrangeas...and huge five and ten arm standing candleabras all with white lit candles too.
It was the most magnificent alter I have ever seen. The mass was again all in Spanish, but a joy to listen to...along with the entire congregation with voices like angels all singing the most beautiful hymns.

As I was walking back to my hotel.. I fell upon a hotel I have wanted to see. Casa Encantada. I went in and got a tour, although alll the rooms were occupied, so I was unable to get inside one...but decided to book for two nights following my return trip home from the Cape on April 25 and 26th. Ohhh, goody...I can eat at Meson Panza Verde again, too!! I am really looking foward to it.

I need to also say that my room at Villa de Antano was very very lovely and very very quiet, given there were processions going on throughout the night, along with bands and fireworks. With all this, I slept very well. I would highly reccommend this hotel, and would stay again, although it is slightly out of my alotted budget...(which now needs to be adjusted accordingly!)

My return trip to the lake was uneventful. I got back on Sunday afternoon, and then headed back to Guatemala City on Wednesday for my flight in the morning for Boston. (It is a 5 hr trip to Guatemala City from Lake Atitlan)

My trip home was short and wonderful. First order of business was my hair appt on Friday morning at 10! That night I met my sister for dinner at Betsy's Diner in Falmouth where Meg is working....(I love the food there...it is all comfort home cooking...all cooked fresh that day). The next morning we headed to Providence for my nephew's wedding...at which my brother Noel officiated. It was a very nice simple wedding, although the venue for the reception was elaborate...held at the Federal Building which was a grand old Belle Epoque building converted into a reception hall/conference center. The owner of the building, Bob Burke sabatiered a magnum of Moet Chandon Champagne. This was the first time I have ever seen this done! It was fun to see all the grown neices and nephew's ... but it made me feel really O L D at the same time!! Where does time go???

The rest of the week has gone very fast. I leave the day after tomorrow. I have not seen any friends this time...just family. Last night I went to dinner at the invitation of my Matthew's new girlfriend, Adri.
She has the lovliest apartment all perfectly kept and appointed and cooked the most wonderful dinner and made the most beautiful presentations of it all too. (Just when I was convinced that young woman these days do not keep house and do not cook!!!)

I have been slowly working on a new project. I have been going to this market in Panajachel every Tuesday and Friday, buying huipiles (Weepeels). Huipiles are the 'tipico traje' of the Mayan women. It is the upper garment they wear, which is initially a piece of backstrap loomed fabric in either a solid or stripe...upon which they embroider in colors of their particular village...designs of their choosing. If my photos come out well...you will see some villages do smaller motifs (Coban)...others do more of a crewel style of embroidery where the motifs 'sit' on top of the fabric (Santa Catarina...using very vibrant blue-greens and purple)...and the colors of very vibrant oranges, red, blue in larger 'flame-stitch' patterns, I am told are from Chichicastenango.

I have been buying them while at the same time looking for a 'sastre' to make pillow covers for me. After my third try, I have found my man. He is actually a maker of panama hats and different styles of cowboy hats...and has about 100 employees sewing for him. He has many international clients he ships the orders out to. He agreed also, to come to the market with me, as he knows he can get the huipiles at a much lower price than I can! The more I show up at the market, I notice the better my prices have gotten...although I do not like the bargaining process. These huipiles are amazing. One of the woman I bought from told me it takes about 6 months to finish one huipile! These woman come down from the hilltowns two days a week, and lay out hundreds upon hundreds of huipiles in this parking lot with their feet bare and no teeth, and WE come along and try to get their work for nothing. It's been hard for me. Yet i do want to make a profit on my pillow covers... so I have to approach this in more of a business way. Santos my new sastre will be very helpful with this!! Anyway, now when I attend the market..I have woman from whom I have previously purchased...come up to me and hug me while being draped in whatever huipile or textile they are hoping to sell me today! The woman in the pic sitting on the ground is one of them. She is from Santa Catarina and she would not budge for one Quetzal off of the price she wanted for her amazing huipile. I was so taken by her .... that I bought it and paid her price. It is actually one which I think should not be cut up...but rather hung up on a wall...it is very different and very unique. (It cost 300Q. Divide that figure by 7.8 and you will know what it cost in USD. My sastre is charging me $10US to line the inside...put in a zipper...cord the edge. The more work I give him, the lower the price will be) I am enjoying this process. I sit on the ground and pick over these huipiles and am choosing colors I like that show no fading, or signs of wear. Many of them, are in such great condition...and those are the ones I look for.
I then take them home and undo the seams and cut them into pieces to be sewn and wash them by hand several times before bringing them to Santos to be sewn.

Since being home, I have decided to rent my old apartment in Barnstable again for the month of Aug 15 - Sept 15 and have also secured a great apartment in the San Telmo section of Buenos Aires for two months following in the Fall. I met a couple from Canada who were visiting the lake, and after having ran into them for the third time on the launcha, they mentioned that they have a friend who has an apartment in BA. They gave me her email. I had done other research, but decided upon her (Nadia's) apartment. It is two bedrooms and two baths with two patios, grand high ceilings and architecture, parque floors...and a gorgeous old neighborhood with many small boutique shops, great restaurants and cafes. San Telmo is to me what Soho is to New York, or the Marais is to Paris! My kind of neighborhood, it is also the oldest section of BA.

My time at the lake has been a very rich and wonderful experience. I do wish I was moving on at this time though, as there are so many other places I want to explore. I will do this differently next year. I will try to keep my stays in one place at no more than three months. I realize I am not ready to settle down. I find myself itchy lately to move on. (I did just get robbed of $260usd from my cottage two weeks ago, which could have something to do with it!) I am still curious about San Miguel al Alende in Mexico, and Santiago, Chile (thanks, Dave ...I googled and did some research after you mentioned it to me that night at the Roadhouse!) both for long stays. The Providencia and Bellevista sections of Santiago look very nice!

My reflections of my time thus far in this adventure are too numerous to mention all here. Synopsizing is difficult for me ... but I feel like I have been looking at the world thru the eyes of the maya who surround me each day on the launcha and in the marketplace. It is the simplest of lives. It is about hard work, family, God and survival. I don;t think they worry much about surviving. I think they know they will. I think they know that God will provide. They are many times in generational groups of grandmother, daughter and grandchildren...a few in tow, and always one tied with a large woven textile to the mother's back. They do what they can to make a living. They grow produce to sell in the markets, or along the side of the road, they weave and embroider, they bake breads and set up tables with old metal pots and sell the most delicious food during lunch hours and sell to locals for 3Q and to gringoes like me for 8Q. What you see in their eyes is a lot of deep-rooted pain and suffering...yet they still have their hearts intact...their smiles and willingness to always help and please ... show me this is so.

The theft that occurred at my cottage was even culturally different than a theft that would occur at home. It was done by one of the workers on the property. Someone who is a good person. Someone who is there to lift and haul my groceries, or get my luggage to the dock, show up in a second flat from a more important chore than removing the stinger from a scorpion in my bathroom and disposing of him outside or do all my laundry to perfection by hand. The money was taken in increments...one bill or perhaps two bills at a time. They did not trash my place and take everything they could...ie...my small laptop, my camera or cell phones. They took what they needed .. perhaps to help feed their family... or perhaps an alcohol habit. They thought I would not notice... and i didn;t until I was preparing to pack for my trip home. They left me 2 one hundred dollar bills in an envelope they had already removed three fifties from at some point over the course of four weeks time. Back home they would have taken the whole envelope in one fell swoop!

I do not feel particularly comfortable, but I do not feel my safely is threatened. I understand from Eric, my landlord that it very upsetting to have had this happen, but these people think differently than we do. Stealing is about survival for them...and sometimes that is about feeding an alcohol habit which they cannot afford to feed on their salaries. The alcohol rate is somewhere around 50% of all males in Guatemala. In any event, the end of the story is that a safe is being installed in a wall at my cottage at this moment, and I WILL never leave cash hidden anywhere in my living space again!

I hope you are all well and enjoying the Spring that is in the air in New England right now. It is so nice to see the crocuses and the daffodils up after the awful winter you had.

Continued.....
I arrived back in Guatemala City on schedule, with no flight glitches at all. I was met by Gustavio from the hotel Casa Encantada. He is going to show me an apartment for rent tomorrow in Antigua that a friend of his manages. I have ideas of perhapss giving Antigua my last three months before heading home in August. We shall see.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I was then greeted by Gustav's brother, Douglas who also works here and was told they had a gift for me?! A gift? Yes, he said.. 'we are putting you in the suite'! I was so happy as I would never have splurged on their suite, as it is considerably more money ... although it was the room I would take if money were not such an object!
The room is so nice and the bed was amazingly comfortable. The sheets are amazing. (Of course I looked! Rivolta Carmignani)
This morning I had a lovely continental breakfast on the terrace which is the most delightful spot too. (It is actually where I am writing from at this moment with a glass of wine and some cheese (it's a little early...3 pm...but lovely breeze...and all alone up here). Gustavio picked me up and took me to see the apartment. It is lovely. Far nicer than I had expected. Two floors, three bedrooms (one tiny with a half bath downstairs)...large kitchen...with open dining and living area...with sparse but nice furnishings. Upstairs two bedrooms, and an office with desk...set up with internet connection and cable and a full bath). It is gated and in a nice area. I do not know the price yet, and that is a serious deciding factor, if I want my other plans for the Fall to work out. I will find out tomorrow.

After leaving Gustav I went to the cathedral again for Mass and then roamed ... bought a huipile for 75Q from a woman at a market they hold here on Saturdays and Sundays. It was the same colors and pattern of one of my favorites I have already made into a pillow. Now I can keep one for myself.... and it was a fantastic price. The longer I hemmed and hawed...the lower she came down in the price. I also found a guy along the side of 5th Avenida Norte painting...and I liked his style. It is a scene of one of the cathedrals I have a pic of and will share with you. It is the San Pedro church which has been turned into a hopital for the invalid. I came upon it again, this day, as I was roaming, and as i approached there were carpets just being started in the street outside. I inquired as to what the procession was for, and it was a celebration of San Pedro... a birthday i think. I sat for an hour and watched these woman decorate a field of pineneedles they laid in the street. Alongside it was another carpet of colored sand being designed. Soon all the healthcare providers from the hospital began wheeling the patients outside to observe the procession and celebration. The procession began at the San Francisco church and came by San Pedro and stopped for a special blessing, and then went on down the streets where it passed the main cathedral at the parque centrale. Hoards of people were in the streets. It is really quite something to see.
I also want to mention that the cathedral was packed again this morning, for 10 o'clock mass. The same priest said the Mass and he must have quite a sense of humor as he got a number of laughs from the congregation. If only I understood what he was saying!

I am now back at my lovely hotel having my wine and cheese and will attempt to get this blog out to you all before I am done. I hope you are all doing well.

With Love,
Dolores




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