Okay, so here we go. Another attempt to let you all know what happened in Guatemala! (Not like anyone who reads this blog doesn’t already know, but that’s besides the point. This is going to be long, so sit back, relax and grab a cup of tea. Or coffee. Or anything, really.
So we left for Guatemala on December 1. The weeks leading up to then, however, were filled with anticipation as it was Elvis’ first trip home in almost 6 years. We started to buy things in…oh…June of last year as soon as Elvis’ paperwork was approved, so we had packed and unpacked our bags more times than you can count! By the time we went to check in, 2 suitcases weighed 51 pounds (they let that slide considering that the scales may be off by a pound) and the other 2 weighed 49.5 pounds. Our carry-on bags were also quite heavy, but since they don’t weigh those, it didn’t really matter!
Anyway, with no major interruptions (well, there was that flight delay from Atlanta due to someone checking bags and not actually getting on the plane so they had to find and remove the bags) (and there were all those questions from Elvis about if the plane was going to hold all of us and if the pilot knew where he was going and if we were going to land – we’ll classify those as “minor interruptions”, though) we landed in Guatemala City 10 hours after we had left our apartment.
But the trip had only just begun. Elvis’ Uncle Chalo and Aunt Mirtala picked us up at the airport and we began the journey to Canilla. The start of
the journey was perhaps the worst as it took us over an hour to get out of the airport parking lot! Okay, but at least the ground was smooth in the parking lot which was NOT the case for the next 7-8 hours of the journey where we were going up and down mountains, slamming on the brakes to avoid flying over speed bumps, narrowly missing HUGE piles of stones and dirt that were in the middle of the road and squinting to see the road through all of the fog…but that was quickly pushed aside in our minds when we arrived at the house! Someone set off an ametralladora which translates as “machine gun” but refers to a type of firework that sounds like a machine gun when it goes off. Elvis’ mom gave me a huge hug thanking me for bringing Elvis back to her and there were tons of hugs from all of the in-laws, cousins, aunts/uncles, neighbors, who knows who else was there! That evening we spent most of the time sitting on the porch chatting and, after much begging from Juan, we gave the boys their scooters which they loved!
I think Elvis slept for about 2 hours when he got up to help his dad and uncles kill a pig which they butchered and divided the meat for use in tamales, chicharrones, and all of the other yummy food we ate the first few days. I got up slightly later, but there is no such thing as sleeping in in a house where Juan is present! We gave everyone all of their other gifts – mostly clothing and some shampoo/body wash stuff and also some games. The kids did a really good job at Operation and Connect 4 – both of which they really enjoyed! (Especially the sound effects in Operation!) That night we went to Otto’s house to welcome him home! He had been here in Maryland as well for several years, but went back to be with his wife and girls!
The next day we made a trip to the pila – the natural hot springs – that are not far from the town. Everyone had a great time splashing around and laughing!
Every evening, Elvis had to meet up with all of the guys to perfect his moves for the convite – no easy task, I’m told, as they changed around some of the different steps and formations since the last time he danced!
On Saturday, I went with Elvis’ mom and Sara to get food from the market. We should have taken a cart with us because our arms had SO many bags that weighed a lot, and we still weren’t able to carry everything that we needed! I like the markets there, though, food is a reasonable price (unlike farmer’s markets here where the prices is 3x the amount you would pay in a grocery store) and it’s delicious! You have to buy all of the fresh produce on Saturdays, though, because there isn’t really any place to buy it during the week. We also had a little party at Otto’s that evening – carne asada and dancing – fun stuff!
Sunday, Silvia and I headed to Chichicastenango to do some shopping. Elvis’ dad and Noe came along for the first portion of the trip because they had to pick up the costumes for the convite from the store in Quiche. Quiche is the capitol of the department (like a state) where they live which is also called, unsurprisingly, Quiche. We had to go through there anyway to get to Chichicastenango, so we traveled together and ate breakfast at a place where their specialty is Caldo de Pata – a soup made with pig’s feet. I don’t really understand why anyone likes to eat pig’s feet, but c’est la vie. I ate the broth and veggies, leaving the foot behind while Noe did just the opposite! It was good though, and at the end, we were able to combine our bowls to give to a homeless guy who had wandered in looking for food.
From there we wandered around town a little to take in the sites and drop off Silvia’s laptop to be fixed and then went to the market. The market attracts a lot of tourists, but almost all of the stands sell the same things – t-shirts, things made with typical fabrics, and carved masks. We bought a few things (okay, perhaps more than a few), had a delicious lunch of fried chicken and headed back to Canilla.
Oh yes, from Friday onward, the fair was set up for the most part, so we had also visited there quite a few times, playing foosball and other random carnival games, and watching the kids go on rides like the inflatable bouncy house, cars that go around in circles and the scary ferris wheel.
We decided to celebrate Elvis’ mom’s birthday a day early, on Monday, instead of the 7th (because the 7th is the night when the guys dance all dressed up and it tends to be forgotten) so Elvis and I made hamburgers and pasta salad for lunch, we bought cakes the day before which we enjoyed in the afternoon, and folks from the church came to have a special
service both for her birthday and for Elvis’ and my arrival.
I don’t really know what we did on the morning of the 7th, but that night was the big night. The guys had their ensayo general. Translated I guess it would mean something like dress rehearsal. Except at a typical dress rehearsal in the US no one shows up – everyone shows up to this. Who knows. They all dress up in nice clothes and dance to a few different pieces. It is cool to watch them this night because they perform on the basketball court which means that they have more room and the figures look like the figures should.
All of this celebration is in honor of the Virgin Maria (like the Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico). Elvis’ dad has led the convite for 40-some years, now. He told me that back in the day, before there was really a town, they would take the virgin statue from house to house around this time of the year for special blessings and things, but in order to accept her into your home, you had to be in costume. Back in those days, folks would make their own costumes, some of which were quite elaborate. Little by little things started to change and they started to do these dances in the streets like they do now – the convite. At first, it was just men. Then men and women as pairs, and now there are separate convites for men and women. Elvis’ dad also decided when he became leader that there couldn’t be any more handmade costumes, but that the people who dance should rent them from someplace. In Quiche, for example, there are many stores that rent them because similar traditions take place in the small towns around the country as well.
So that’s why, on the 8th, I woke up at 4:30am to help Elvis, his dad, his cousin, and a family friend get changed into their costumes. They started dancing around 6am in front of the church and danced for most of the day around town. Before dancing at a house, the conviteros are invited in for a drink and some food and once they are rested up, they head into the street to dance. The people who own the house are allowed to request certain songs from the marimba band (who’s loaded onto a truck and also follow the convite around all day – let me tell you, watching them hook the speakers/microphones/etc into the light posts at every house they went to was also an interesting experience) and the guys dance a song or two before heading on to the next house. At some point in time during the day, I went back to the house and took a much needed nap, but it was fun watching them dance!
The 9th was the Feria de Ganado or the livestock fair. Everyone who had pigs, cows, horses, goats, etc to sell came into town and tried to sell them. That was interesting watching people herd cattle through the town’s streets. We also watched a soccer game that day and spent the night dancing away in the zarabanda (sarabanda?) which is type of music that’s typically played in the mountains. What happened was back in the day, the people were more divided between Mayans and mestizos, and the place where the Mayans from the mountains went to dance during the festival was referred to by everyone else as the zarabanda. This year, at least, the band was really good, so people from all walks of life were there dancing until 3am every night.
The next day was the first day of bull riding competition. I enjoyed watching that, though most of the dangerous aspect was taken away because the bulls didn’t have any horns! The finals were on the 11th which was pretty cool because a guy from Costa Rica who rides without holding onto the rope rode twice which was fun to see!
The night of the 11th was the ensayo general for the women. It is crazy to watch these women dance around on 4 – 5″ heels – the primary reason that I could never be in the convite!
The 12th the women wore their costumes and danced around in the streets all day. We watched them for a bit, but also made a return trip to the pila with some of the cousins who had come to visit for the fair!
On the 13th there was a motocross competition in the town of Chimistan which is like 5 minutes away from Canilla. We went there to watch the beginning when the bikers had to cross over all sorts of obstacles which was interesting to watch. Then they headed up in the mountains to see who would come back first (they had a designated path they had to cross), but that part is pretty much impossible to watch, so we headed back to Canilla.
The next day we went up into the mountains with a neighbor who is a school teacher. The school where he teaches is WAY up on the mountain and is a little one-room schoolhouse. He has about 35 students that range from 1st grade to 6th grade. I’m not really sure how that works, but he says it’s fine. It normally only takes him 15 minutes to get to the school from his house on his motorcycle, but I’m sure some of his students walk much longer than that and it’s ALL uphill on the way there. We headed up there mostly to get a bird’s-eye view of Canilla and some great pictures, but it was also nice to breathe some PURE CLEAN air. He said that there are a few people who will go up there with a book and just enjoy the day up there – something I could definitely see myself doing if we were ever to live in Canilla for an extended period of time!
That day we also went to the cemetery to lay a wreath on Elvis’ grandmother’s grave and see where some other people in the family are buried.
The next day we left in the morning for Guatemala City – no easy task at all. His mother was the most upset, but I think that everyone was sad to see us go. The good news is that they will see each other again before another 6 years pass. Elvis already has it in his mind that he will save $25 or $50 per paycheck in order to have enough money saved up to go back next year!
In Guatemala City we went to stay with a family Elvis refers to as his aunt and uncle, but after doing some work on the family tree, I see that they’re actually first cousins once removed (Elvis’ dad and “Uncle” Lude are cousins). Either way, Elvis feels closer to them and their kids who are our age than to some of his other relatives, so whatever. 😛 Aunt Leti and Andrea took us into the handicraft market that afternoon and we were able to purchase the remaining gifts and souvenirs that we wanted. That evening we went to bed at a decent hour for the first time since arriving in Guatemala. And by “a decent hour” I probably mean before 1am.
The next day, Uncle Lude took us to Antigua, where the capital of Guatemala used to be, which is still all 1-story buildings with intricate architecture, cobblestone streets and beautiful churches. We did a little more shopping and headed back to the house. We headed BACK to the market that afternoon to get some sandals that Elvis really wanted and a Cremas jersey. The Rojas and the Cremas are the two best soccer teams in Guatemala (that doesn’t mean that they’re good, they’re just the best the country has to offer) and they happened to be playing against each other that evening. Since Uncle Lude is a Rojas fan, I thought I’d get a rivalry started, haha! Actually, Elvis has always been a Cremas fan, so I guess it’s fine. (By the way, they tied, but the Cremas won the rematch that Sunday.)
And before we knew what had happened, it was the 17th and time for us to go back home! The trip back home was uneventful. We passed through immigration without any problems (though the line was SUPER long when we arrived) and made it back to Maryland sin novedades (I guess you’d say “without anything new to report”.) All in all, it was a most excellent trip and we can’t wait to go back!