One of the joys of travelling is seeing things that are unique, unlike anything we’ve witnessed before. And it’s even better when we’re not just watching it, but immersed in a new and wonderful experience.
Sometimes those things happen spontaneously. But often they’re the result of hiring an intelligent, well-informed guide. A good guide can make the difference between taking the typical tourist path, and really getting to the core of a country.
That’s what happened when we visited Guatemala with Wildland Adventures this spring. Upon arriving in the country, we met our guide, Fidensio, and Rudy, our driver. Rudy was courteous, punctual, and had a great sense of humour. And Fidensio was knowledgeable and keen to share that knowledge with us.
Our first stop was in the colonial city of Antigua. During Lent, Antigua is known for its weekly parades from the outskirts of town into its Central Park, and we were eager to watch the spectacle.
That afternoon, Fidensio took us to the part of town where the parade began. Murals were being assembled in the middle of the street, and we watched as the locals created beautiful artwork from flowers, grasses and dyed sawdust. We walked along some of the path the parade would take, admiring the gorgeous designs and realizing they would be erased just an hour or two later as the procession traveled over it.
The purpose of the weekly parades is penance. Each procession hosts a float that depicts Jesus carrying a cross, and participants pay for the privilege of helping to carry it into town.
Later, Fidensio took us back to our hotel, which lay directly along the parade route, and showed us the best place to watch the procession that night.
A few hours later we made our way into the city square. It was already busy with Antiguans who had gathered to watch, but we managed to squeeze onto the steps beside the cathedral. It was a fun, festive atmosphere, and we saw many three-generation families talking, laughing, and taking photos as the sun began to set. The sense of excitement kept building until the musicians and banner carriers rounded the corner, announcing the imminent arrival of the procession. Suddenly the crowd fell silent.
Robed volunteers handed out candles to everyone in the audience. Someone nearby had a lighter and, after lighting his own candle, lit that belonging to his neighbour. The light continued from one person to the next, until the crowd was awash with tiny beacons of light.
And then, sitting in the perfect spot that Fidensio had recommended, we were among the first to see the float come around the corner and enter Central Park. It slowly swept into the square, swaying from side to side. Lit by its own lights and the candles from the crowd, it was both magical and profound.
Antigua was just the beginning of our trip to Guatemala. We appreciated the company and the assistance of Fidensio and Rudy as we explored their beautiful country. And if there’s any doubt as to how well we got along, here’s the photo evidence from our last day there:
I traveled with Wildland Adventures on their Highlands of Guatemala Tour
Check my blog Of Muses and Meringues for more stories from my travels.