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Published: November 14th 2009
As we try to leave Chichcastenango we have our first independence Day encounter - all the roads are blocked and a large parade is coming down the street. Independence Day is not until tomorrow so we were a bit surprised. Turns out its the children's parade today and the adult parade tomorrow. So we settled ourselves down for the next 2 hours to watch the parade go past. The great thing about Guatemalans is that they are only 4ft something tall so I am a giant here and can see over the top of the crowd. The parade seemed to consist of representatives from all the schools and collages so the mathematics float went past with black boards full of sums, the art school float went past with students painting pots (one of which was given to Edwin) etc. etc. all to the accompaniment of brass bands and traditional dancers.
When we eventually made it out of town we headed down to Antigua, the old capital (we were supposed to be going up into the mountains on a dirt road but a landslide followed by several days of torrential rain put paid to that). We stopped at the Mayan ruins
of Iximche on the way. These are supposed to quite, out of the way, little visited ruins but today the little village was in chaos with coaches and buses everywhere - our 2nd Independence Day encounter. The locals from all the surrounding villages seemed to be at the ruins with bus load of people being shipped in. Most of the car park had been taken over by several groups playing football which made driving round trying to find a parking space interesting. There was a steady stream of locals through the ruins and out into the woods beyond. We followed them to find a Mayan ceremonial site with a shaman presiding over ceremonies and liberally sprinkling substances over fires and people. It was nice to see the Mayan ruins still alive with people continuing with traditional ceremonies. As far as the locals are concerned the ruins aren't deserted they are still in use its just that no one lives there any more.
Continuing onto Antigua we kept passing teams of runners with burning torches running along the road followed by their support buses announcing who they are. Seems this was also to do with Independence Day and the local
tradition is to have plastic bags filled with water to throw at the runners. Luckily foreign motorbike riders generally aren't considered good targets but a few locals, on passing buses, are brave enough to use us as target practice. In Antigua the mayor and other bigwigs were making televised speeches in the floodlit main square with family groups queuing up to get their torches lit and do a lap of the square. All topped off by a firework display.
As the old capital Antigua has lots of cobbled streets and old colonial houses with 3 volcanoes providing a picturesque backdrop to the town. These volcanoes have caused a few problems over the years and many of the cities churches are now piles of rubble. Its usually a quite laid back place where people come to escape from Guatemala City. However, today is Independence Day so the place is heaving with people who are visiting for the celebrations - in contrast to Chichi they are all in modern clothes rather than traditional village outfits. The parade was more formal and serious than Chichi but still great fun to be involved in. It went on for over 12 hours. As it
got dark the parade got more lively with the brass bands wandering down side streets playing energetically and tourist and locals, who had indulged in too much aguadiente (local fire-water at 1USD for a big bottle), rushing out of the bars to dance in the street when just encouraged even more energetic playing.
The next day it was like we were in a different town - everyone had gone back home and Antigua was back to its usual quite, laid back old self. Just as well really, we needed a day off from celebrating in preparation for the 180 mile ride to the border with Honduras. This included negotiating Guatemala City which we were confidently told had no rush hour - famous last words!!! Now we just have another 4-6 hour border crossing to negotiate.
PS - a week after leaving Guatemala they ban pillion passengers due to too many drive by assignations. Unwary foreigners carrying pillions are being fined US$3000
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