A slice of Semana Santa

The week of Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) is considered the most important cultural and religious event in all of Guatemala.  Semana Santa has a long, rich history, which began over 400 years ago as Catholicism spread throughout Guatemala due to the Spanish Conquistadors.  Today, Semana Santa can be viewed throughout all of Guatemala, however, there is no city more important during this sacred week than Antigua. It can be argued that Antigua has perhaps the largest, most traditional and famous Holy Weeks in the world.  Thousands of tourists flock to Antigua during Semana Santa to witness the spectacular religious processions, alfombras (“carpets”), fabulous floats and vigils.  It is said to be an experience of a lifetime.

Unfortunately my trip was timed a month too early.  The height of Semana Santa happens the week before Easter.  However, little did I know that smaller scale celebrations start on Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent.  Thus during my short stay in Antigua I was able to capture a glance at the magic and sensational beauty of Semana Santa.

Above is a glimpse of a spectacular Alfombra.  Alfombras are made of sawdust or sand dyed in brilliant colors and carefully constructed as a work of art.

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The drive to Antigua

I finished my last class of Spanish and my week in Xela on a Friday afternoon. It was a bittersweet feeling. Saying goodbye to Xela, my class and my host family for the week proved harder than I imagined. Yes, it was only a week. But the week was way too short and quite frankly, not enough time. It felt like just as I was finally fitting in and understanding the world around me, it was time to go. Plus I knew in my heart that even just another week would have greatly improved my spanish. Seeing how much I had gone in a mere week was astonishing. I realized that true immersion is far better than any college course. It is the only way to go.

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Home at last!

Finally after two days in limbo in two US airports, I made it home. I am utterly exhausted yet of course it is right back to it. As a stay at home mom of two young children, there is not much time to relax or recuperate.

I made it home unexpectedly through a bit of luck. Two amazingly kind United Airlines gate agents, one in Houston and one in Chicago, were looking out for me. After I landed in Chicago, to my dismay things were delayed as well. There were 48 mph winds causing O’Hare to shut down runways and delay and cancel flights.

I used my weary head and immediately went over to the departure gate for the next flight out of O’Hare to Minneapolis. I told the agent my story and she put me on the standby list. The flight was supposed to leave at 2:20 pm but the pilots were delayed due to weather. Thus I ran over a few gates down and put my name on the standby list for the 3:30 pm flight. I was third on the list for the flight when the agent informed us that the plane had maintenance problems! Not knowing what else to do at this point, I ran back to the other gate for the delayed 2:20 flight (it was 3:30 at this point) and the gate agent told me there was no chance. It was leaving.

I turned to walk away not knowing what to do when I heard someone running after me, calling “Young lady!” urgently. I turned around, and it was her. “Come quick!” I started to run and before I knew it I was on the plane to Minneapolis, the doors closed and of course I lost it. I was so incredibly tired at that point that I could no longer control myself. I was going home.

At 5 pm, I landed and nearly raced off the plane to greet my children. Tears poured out of my eyes out of exhaustion and happiness to be home safe and sound. They kept saying, “Mama, why are you crying?” I told them that I’d have to explain it later. It was a long story!

Here are some photos of leaving Antigua on Sunday morning around 10 am. The city of Antigua is surrounded by three glorious volcanoes, in which one, “Fuego” (or “fire”) is active. It has been cloudy most of the day on Saturday so I never saw the peaks of the volcanoes. Yet someone was looking out for me because not only did I see all three peaks Sunday morning I also saw Fuego, the active volcano erupt! Right as I was leaving town, Fuego blew its top. It was a strike of pure luck! Somehow or another I’d make it home safely and in once piece!

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The last two pictures above are my first sight Sunday morning of the tops of all three volcanoes surrounding Antigua. I finally saw them!

Per Wikipedia:

Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon around Antigua.
The most commanding, to the south of the city, is the Volcán de Agua or “Volcano of Water”, some 3766 meters (12,356 ft) high. When the Spanish arrived, the inhabitants of the zone, Kakchikel Mayas, called it Hunapú (and they still do). However, it became known as Volcán de Agua after a lahar from the volcano buried the second site of the capital, which prompted the Spanish authorities to move the capital to present-day Antigua. The original site of the 2nd capital is now the village San Miguel Escobar.
To the west of the city are a pair of peaks, Acatenango, last erupted in 1972, some 3976 meters (13045 ft) high, and the Volcán de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire”, some 3763 meters (12346 ft) high. “Fuego” is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. Smoke issues from its top daily, but larger eruptions are rare.

Stay tuned….I promise I will back up and start from the beginning of my trip to Guatemala, with day one Arrival and my long bus ride from Guatemala City to Xela in the highlands, were I stayed for the week. I can’t wait to share more! Thanks for reading and all the comments! I’m working on catching up and answering them all!

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