A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Finishing Lent and entering Holy Week

How can five weeks go by so fast?

sunny 79 °F

Lent has continued to be amazing at Antigua. Five weeks of lent have come and gone so quickly I can hardly believe my time here is coming to an end. I came to Holy Week once years ago—and then only for a weekend. The experience has been profound and humbling. Week after week processions come out of churches with men called “cucuruchos” carrying a wooden platform called the “anda” with Jesus on one platform and women dressed in black carrying the Virgin Mary on another anda. If that were not impressive enough, there are children’s processions also during the week and they carry a miniature version of the Jesus float and the Virgin Mary. (Note this posting has lots of photos. Click on the photo and you'll get an explanation of what you are seeing.)

There’s a website where we could see the maps of each procession called www.i-n-r-i.org (I don’t know if it will be up after Holy Week), but it was useful to check were processions were passing. Below is the Palm Sunday Procession of La Merced Church. It started at 11:00 am.

I walked almost the entire route talking photos of the elaborate carpets that people were making in front of their homes and businesses. In some cases entire city blocks were involved. Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.

Antigua on this day has an almost carnival feel to the city. Vendors work their way through the crowds selling their wares which include cold drinks, popcorn (freshly popped with a generator on the small cart), fruits, empanadas, and lots and lots of toys to keep the children entertained. That part of it seems surreal almost sacrilegious and strikes me as a kind of moneylender moment in the temple—but, people need to make a living and people need to eat.

cucuruchos_toys.jpg DSCF1611.jpg DSCF1606.jpg Selling-food-2.jpg

A polite, “No gracias” keeps the vendors moving. While there would be no alfombras without processions, I think the alfombras are one of the main reasons people have come Antigua during Lent. Alfombras, as I mentioned in an earlier post are made by churches and lay people. I hope you enjoy my selection of alfombras from my wanderings on Palm Sunday.

Carpet1.jpg Carpet2.jpg Carpet3.jpg Carpet4.jpg Carpet6.jpg Jesus-Carpet.jpg
Carpet5.jpg City-block-long-carpet.jpg
The La Merced procession on Palm Sunday is large, but it was not the largest attended. The previous Sunday procession of the little church of San Bartolomeo a neighborhood just outside of Antigua, brought 100,000 of thousands into Antigua. That procession started at 06:45 am and didn’t end until 11:00 pm! I took a shining to a particular alfombra that week that I documented below beginning with a video:

1a-materials.jpg 1-Blue_Sea_Base.jpg 2-Boat_Details.jpg 5-Faith.jpg 3-Close_up_of_MI.jpg 7a-Jesus_Face_Installed.jpg 7c-Hands_and_faces_done.jpg7d-close_up_of_waves.jpg 8a-panoramic_view.jpg 8b-all_don.._procession.jpg 9a-Ground_level.jpg 9b-Roman_c..s_lining_up.jpg 9c-blessing_with_incense.jpg9d-procession_starting.jpg 9e-Roman_Guard_making_way.jpg 10a-Anda_c..er_alfombra.jpg 10b-Anda_c.._over_Jesus.jpg 10b-Musici..ehind_Jesus.jpg 11b-Virgin..er_alfombra.jpg 11-_After_the_procession.jpg

Posted by Aeren 09:48 Archived in Guatemala Tagged children religion jesus antigua saints processions catholicism cucuruchos Comments (0)

Making the World Better Through Music

How meeting the Juniata College Choir lifted my spirits

sunny 69 °F


I made a phone call last week to an old friend, Jorge Chojolán, director of the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Xela. We’ve only met in Washington, DC a few times, but he is an old soul and you can’t but help to say “old friend” when talking about him. I wanted to visit the school, so I asked “could I come this week?” He quickly replied that he had a wonderful idea! “Stone Church arrives today in Antigua, perhaps you can get a ride with them because they come tomorrow.” I met up with “Stone Church” at the hotel, but it really wasn’t Stone Church group it was one member of the Church, Henry, and the Choir of Juniata College. He helped to organize their visit to Guatemala. That Saturday night I attended a performance in Central Park and I was blown away. OK, I’m not any kind of an expert on choir music, but what I heard was great. I had been feeling a little blue, but these young people perked me back up. I just didn't realize how much more than a choir they were.

I recorded them singing Laudate Dominum and I heard a little girl in my row ask her dad “¿Papi, asi as que cantan los ángeles?” (Daddy, is that the way angels sing?) Kind of sums it up.

Sunday morning I went to the 9:00 children’s mass at La Merced and listened to the Choir sing two songs. It’s not normal for clapping at this church, but people did clap and clap loudly. What the choir didn’t know was that the cameras facing them with the technicians was actually broadcasting the mass live in Antigua’s local television station! So they are now celebrities without knowing it.

Around noon, I hitched a ride with the choir and we arrived in Xela about 4:30 pm. The choir went on to practice for a couple of hours and I met up with Jorge, Veronica (his wife), Laura (one of his four daughters) and Sara (a staff member from Juniata). We got caught up with what’s been happening at the Academy and I was thrilled to learn that they are now offering a full high school program and a diploma that allows the students to continue to study at University.


We left COFA (a Catholic Hospitality Center) in time to make it to the Academy by 7:00 pm. We were welcomed by Jorge and a large group of faculty, parents and students. They invited us to a feast prepared by the parents. What had been originally planned as a simple gathering for the college students after a long ride from Antigua, Guatemala turned into a full-fledged celebration replete with every kind of possible Guatemalan delicacy including Chicken in Green Pipian Sauce (which is long considered Guatemala's national dish. If pepian wasn’t enough the cooks had prepared a second chicken in red sauce dish, tamales made from black corn masa, rice with veggies, black beans, fresh fruits, and sweet tamales for desert! No one complained of hunger.


The evening was one of few speeches, but much fun. A particularly festive activity was realized when one of the students, Neil Donovan, pulled out a bag of balloons and began to make balloon figures. He was the most popular person in the building among the young and old.


The forty seven college students disbursed after dinner to play soccer, talk to children, family and staff. Lack of language skills did not detour the Juniata students from trying to get to know the people around them and everyone associated with the academy felt them to be genuine. Here are Aley and Lauren taking a photo with two of the mothers.


At the end of the evening, Jorge met with a group of the Juniata students who had prepared lessons for the next day. The classes included teaching: basic music theory (to help the academy’s choir), children’s songs, the physics of sound, sports, health and nutrition, psychology, and mime. The next morning the groups rotated through the classrooms teaching the lessons they prepared. The Juniata students were impressed with how polite and well behaved the children were but we were more impressed with how these college students had thought carefully about what to present and moreover making it age appropriate for each classroom. The children’s songs class had a particularly interesting time since they taught every class except one. Kindergarten students were taught a song about “Head, shoulders, toes” and some rhythm using clapping while fifth and sixth graders were taught “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds and vocal exercises that morphed into a beat box with harmony. All the teachers commented that it was the most interesting classes they’d ever had with volunteers.

After a full day of working with children the choir made their way to sing a concert at Casa No’j Cultural Center in downtown Xela. The Miguel Angel Asturias Children’s Choir played two songs before the Juniata Choir took the stage which was actually the second floor balcony of the center. The video shows the two working together at the school earlier in the day. Here are choir members "helping" the children's choir with one of their songs.

The Juniata Choir played a one hour concert with five sections. The songs were a thoughtful considered mix of baroque, religious, spiritual, and a bit of fancy. We were all impressed and thrilled to listen to the beauty and quality of the music. The final song of the evening was a beautifully arranged piece by Dr. Russ Shelley, Juniata’s Choir Director, titled “Set Me as a Seal” based on the Song of Solomon. It was particularly meaningful in this time of lent. The audience seated in the courtyard below rose to a standing ovation in appreciation for the wonderful music. Best of all the concert was broadcast live over Radio Quetzaltenango!


Tuesday morning the Choir boarded buses and headed out to meet one of the academy student's family: Alfonso and his wife, Enedina. The drive was about 35 minutes away in the village of Pachaxk Cantel in Canton. Their son, Melvin, attends InterCap and the Academy every day. The family, like many of our families, live a simple existence. Alfonso said he and his wife never attended school but they wanted to ensure their children were educated. Their first son attended the Academy and graduated with an electrical degree and now works for fixing electrical equipment. Alfonso showed the choir his vegetable garden and Enedina joyfully gave a tour of her kitchen. Below is a musical thank you from the seniors in the choir to Alfonso and Enedina.

The choir then made a trek further up the mountain to get a view of the city. Below is a group photo from the overlook.



Over the next few days the choir sang at the Metropolitan Theater in Xela, an outdoor Amphitheater in San Marcos de la Laguna, a gymnasium in Panajachel, back to Antigua, another concert in Guatemala City and then head home.

The Juniata Choir gives me great hope for the future. These young men and women are not trying to become the next American Idol, they sing because it brings joy to them and to the audience. They are studying to be doctors, scientists, liberal arts majors, with dozens of other wonderful fields in between...and in the mean time they will travel the world, do good and spread joy through their music. And if their selflessness of spreading joy was not enough, they announced in Xela that they had decided to sponsor a scholarship at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy for next year. Hallelujah!

Posted by Aeren 12:09 Archived in Guatemala Tagged children education students xela singing choir quetzaltenango Comments (0)

Visiting Petén

The ruins of Tekal and Yaxha Nakum Naranjo


This past weekend I attended the annual PAVA Foundation board meeting in Antigua, Guatemala. One of our board members announced that one of the people visiting her had fallen ill and was returning with his wife to the states. They'd planned a trip to the Tekal National Park in Petén, but now wouldn't be attended and couldn't get a refund. Unlike the United States, they could transfer the entire package to someone else for a small fee. I waited to see if anyone else wanted to go and by the evening no one else came up so I said yes. I had to get up at 3:30 am for a 4:00 am departure to Guatemala City.

1a-view-from-airport.jpg 1-Tikal_Entrance_Sign.jpg

Without much incident we made our flight and arrived in Petén at about 8:30 am. Another hour of driving and we made it to the Jungle Lodge located in the Tikal National Park and a short 20 minutes later Arlene, Suzi, and I were out hiking the ruins of Tekal with our guide Carlos. Barbara on the other hand, chose to rest and went out after her much needed sleep. She's been there so often she could give tours!

2a-Tikal_map.jpg 3-Smal_pyr..ar_entrance.jpg 3a-Arlene-..coming-down.jpg

We walked through parts of the ruins of Tikal which was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Some of the monumental architecture dates back as far as the 4th century BC. Our guide told us stories of the discovery of Tikal and the archaeological investigations and I was grateful for the reminder of the history lesson.


As we approached the Great Plaza I was overwhelmed by the size of the structures and the grandness of it all. It was my second trip here and it was still just as awe-filled as the first time I came.


4g_Arlene_Suzi_Aeren.jpg 4i_Toltec-..ence-temple.jpg 4j_Toltec-..ce-close-up.jpg

I wandered around the park exploring different areas of the complex with my new friends.

6a-Yaxha-diarama.jpg 6b-Yaxha-R..y-Residence.jpg 6d2-Yaxha-..d-216-climb.jpg

We heard about another park called Yaxhá Nakum Naranjo that was about 74 km away (about 45 miles). We became interested since the it had been the site of the show "Survival Guatemala." Apparently, the show had donated considerable funds for improvement in the park in order to film in the park. I was quite impressed with the park and I'd like to go back.

Posted by Aeren 15:48 Archived in Guatemala Tagged tikal peten maya_ruins Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]