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*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

The Procession

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With the mule tour of the coffee plantation completed, it was time to return to the commerce center of Antigua for the spectacular Palm Sunday procession. This story probably has as many versions as the number of people involved in our day, but my version is a mixture of curious, interesting, entertaining, and magnificent beauty and pageantry. Mine is the version you are going to get.

A significant percentage of my perspective is through the filter of not having been able to decipher the language being spoken around me. I was also basically a blank slate in terms of expectations for the events in Antigua. With each subsequent mention of what was in store, I gained an increased sense of the magnificence about to be revealed.

Before we were even close to our destination, the traffic became congested and the number of people navigating on foot increased significantly. I got the impression time was running out and Marco wanted to get us as close as possible. It reached a point where I didn’t see how we would ever find an open spot to park so close to all the activity, when suddenly instructions came for us to climb out with Dunia and Jose, while the two Marcos (father and son) graciously elected to stay behind and figure out what to do with the vehicle.

DSC04057eThe 4 of us on foot immersed ourselves in the flow of people hustling along. We studiously attempted to maintain contact with each other as Cyndie and I snapped photos, and Jose navigated a map he had acquired. Dunia relied on her intrepid intuition to forge ahead, while soliciting advice from anyone who would respond. I came to understand that we were in search of the most elaborate sawdust “carpets” that get created on the stone streets. We needed to find them ahead of the oncoming procession because they walk on them, stopping over each creation to offer a blessing. That meant we needed to figure out where the best carpets were and we needed to know where the procession was, and which way it was traveling.

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DSC03987eI can assume Dunia was asking passersby a variety of all these questions, but I couldn’t tell. In my observation, it appeared that no matter who she would stop for directions, she received the same advice: go two blocks and turn left. So we did, over and over again, it seemed. There was enough variety that we didn’t make a perfect circle, but I did begin to get the impression we had been some places more than once. Sometimes we ended up in the largest mass of people and traffic, either moving with them, or against them. Other times, we found ourselves on a much quieter avenue. We would come upon some carefully crafted creations of pine needles and wood shavings, topped with floral arrangements. Regardless the relative splendor, I could tell they didn’t match the criteria of what Dunia ultimately had in mind for us to see.

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DSCN3126eWe forged ahead, with increasing urgency. After what was beginning to seem like a fruitless effort to out-flank the procession as we navigated beyond the clamor of the main hub of activity, we turned a corner to find a perfect example of one of the more incredibly precise and intricate compositions of brightly colored sawdust that Dunia wanted to show us, while it was still in process of being finished. After spending some time visiting with the family working on the carpet, we suddenly discovered that we were standing less than a block from a straight-on view of the oncoming procession, just minutes away and about to turn a corner right in front of us. It was a double bonus!

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Throughout the entire search we had seen an endless number of church faithful draped in purple robes with white headdress, looking very much the biblical shepherds. They amassed in large numbers as the float of Catholic Passion-of-Christ sculptures being carried on shoulders approached, preparing to take a shift as load-bearers. As a side note, this procession started at 11:00 a.m. and would last all day, carrying on into the late evening hours. We watched just a few minutes of it.

DSCN3137eWe ended up witnessing the added drama at this corner, of the sculpture catching on an overhead wire. There are men carrying tall poles to lift the many low-hanging wires along the route, but one of them failed to hold his wire long enough for the float to finish the turn, and the back corner caught. There was a gasp from the crowd, as the top of the sculpture pulled the wire tight, digging in enough so the returning wire lifter couldn’t just raise it up out of the way again, but had to wrestle it out from where it cut into the sculpture. The wire pulled a chunk of the column out when it came free.

A marching band followed the float, playing a slow, mournful cadence to guide the teeming mass. Just as the last of the procession cleared, younger Marco’s face appeared from the crowd, honing in on us like he had our GPS coordinates. He had come to guide us to our getaway car. We walked up the street in the direction the procession had just come from, taking in the sights of the disrupted carpets until we realized everyone had moved to the sidewalk. Uniformed women were ushering us off the street as we suddenly spotted a second float being carried by all women, again followed by a band.

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Our double bonus became a triple bonus!

It was a stupendous finish to our expedition of witnessing the amazing Palm Sunday Antigua, Guatemala Holy Week procession, in person. Our hosts had outdone themselves, once again, with perfect timing and superb results. Thank you, thank you, Marco, Dunia, Marco, and Jose! You provided us with another fabulous and wonderful experience.

And folks reading, I’m still only on day 4, and I’m only two-thirds of the way through it! Next, we head for Lake Atitlán…

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Written by johnwhays

April 16, 2015 at 6:00 am

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