Dia de los Muertos is a major holiday in most of Latin America and one of the reasons we chose to visit Guatemala this year.
The day prior to la dia grande, we visited San Lazaro cemetery where people were sprucing up the family monuments, white-washing walls and generally cleaning up for company that would arrive the following day. We were the only tourists â€“ Guatemalan or gringo. It was a very clean, quiet, well-respected and well-maintained place.
Guatemalans fly kites to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and carry messages to their dearly departed. However, in Santiago Sacatepequez , the practice has (d)evolved into a massive fiesta and competition. And in contrast to the calm, orderly San Lazaro, the cemetery is far from hallowed ground. Literally thousands of people tromp across dirt mounds (yes, the graves), scattering pine needles, juniper boughs and flower petals, to fly kites and view the launch of los barrilates gigantes. There are guys pushing their ice cream carts everywhere and the marketing geniuses at Knorr sent a few men to schlep big canisters of soup on their backs and give out free samples. (Hmmmâ€¦ 85 degrees, letâ€™s give â€˜em some salty hot soupâ€¦)
By â€œgiganteâ€ we mean GIGANTE. Upon entering the initial staging area, we saw 12â€™ octagonal kites with kaleidoscopic designs. Then we watched as they were launched from atop a huge wall of funereal niches. Some kites flew for a minute; others flew for a only few seconds and then came crashing down into the crowd. With each launch and landing, the crowd cheered and groaned in unison.
Then we discovered the 20â€™ kites. Their teams numbered anywhere from six to 12 men and boys and each group seemed to have their own system for calculating the best time and method to send their creations skyward. There were, evidently, judges roaming around, but the crowd cheered enthusiastically and shared in the disappointment of all the teams equally.
My Derecho or Your Derecho?
Amidst the colorful chaos were several of the truly gigantic kites â€“ weâ€™re talking 50 to 60 feet â€“ that had not yet been raised. These kites were created by cities or organizations and were not meant to fly (unless NASA were to take over the engineering). Similar to their â€œsmallerâ€ cousins, these kites were constructed of regular TISSUE PAPER, layered on top of more plain old tissue paper, wrapped around bamboo frames. The tails were as long as tennis courts and made of old, colorful rags.
We watched as the one and only team made up entirely of women, worked to attach their frame and face. This was a visibly organized group with a clear leader and cooperative members who had, no doubt, spent countless hours processing their issues around hierarchy and coming to a consensus about who would direct the assemblyâ€¦ (sorry, just having a little flashbackâ€¦)
It looked like one of those barn raisings you see in the old westerns or movies about the Amish or reports of Habitat for Humanity â€“ only mucho, mucho more colorful. As each multi-story kite was raised, the crown screamed and swooned. Each one was more elaborate and breathtaking than the last, and each one seemed to have been as thoughtfully designed and carefully executed as any painting we had ever seen.
Note: We were not very discriminating about which photos to put in the attached album and as a result, there are as many images as we saw colors and designs. Just be grateful weâ€™re not holding you hostage to a home slide show with several hundred picturesâ€¦
Next up: Doing the Chichi Cha Cha