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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 10: Fri Jun 14, 2002

I stand watch in a graveyard

I have returned, to torture innocent people with my exploits in the Central American countryside. I'm still in Antigua, and still have a lot to learn about this area as it seems I'm learning something new and interesting every day.

For instance: Yesterday, a group of us and our teachers from the language school headed off to the nearby village of San Antonio. We walked off to the central bus station, boarded the very crowded bus (I was one of the lucky ones with half a seat!), paid our 1 quetzal (about 12 cents), and we were on our way. I asked the lady sitting next to me if the bus was usually this crowded (it beat anything I experienced in Honduras), and she told me only on market days (of which Thursday is one), and it was even worse on Saturdays. Agh! Worse?! My half-seat was right next to someone standing where I could get a good wiff of that armpit. It gets worse than THAT?

These giants were found in San Antonio to celebrate some sort of festival whose purpose I never did figure out

Anyhow, we arrived in San Antonio on a beautiful, bright and sunny afternoon—actually rather hot to tell you the truth— disembarked, and proceeded to take a look around. There was some sort of ceremony going on at the church there—don't know why and nor did I ask about that—but it was interesting to watch. Except for the specially designed firecrackers for creating maximum noise disturbances, of course. Being right next to where they're launched, I can attest to the fact that you could FEEL the sonic booms hit you whenever they launched one of those infernal contraptions.

This vending cart sold snow cones in the main plaza

But the most interesting stop was the local cemetery. I've seen them before in my travels—amazing places littered with trash that make the streets look clean in comparison. Actually, I should admit I only saw that in Copan. I think they may have "dressed up" the cemetery for a holiday of some sort—much like you'll see US flags planted for Memorial Day or whatever the case may be in the United States—but then left the junk there to weather and wilt in the elements for who knows how many months. The lack of grass maintenance adds to this look of disrepute. This cemetery was much cleaner, but still pretty bizarre looking from what most people are used to. Some people are buried, but most appear to be interred in large, concrete structures, shaped to fit the size of a person. Typically, you'll see rebar sticking out of the tops of them where they can "bury" another person later by adding a second, third, or even more stories. (Might be a possible solution to the supposed filling of cemeteries in the United States.) Some of these structures have been built with an open hole in one end just waiting to be filled. I guess some people like to try out where they'll spend eternity before they actually do it.

My teacher also pointed out several structures had been broken into by thieves looking to rob whatever valuables where left with the deceased. This kind of surprised me, although after the fact it seemed pretty obvious. Even the great pharaohs of ancient Egypt had trouble thwarting thieves from robbing them after death, so why wouldn't people in a country as poor as Guatemala resort to the same tactics? I looked in a couple of the holes hoping to see dead bodies or something, but it was pretty dark and all I saw was trash stuffed inside.

These lumps seemed like something right out of a western and were some of the few people buried underground

My teacher also told me there's a custom among the indigenous people where family members of a deceased sometimes go out to have picnics at their burial site, but the food they bring is whatever happened to be the favorite of the deceased person. So if the person really liked chicken, they'd bring chicken for the picnic. If the person liked bread, they'd bring lots of bread. I didn't see any bread or chicken crumbs among the weeds, but I did spot a few beer cans. Make of that what you will. =)

Indigenous people picnic at the graves of their loved ones, eating the favorite foods of the deceased

Speaking of beer cans, the "national" beer (if there actually is such a thing) seems to be something called Gallo. This means rooster in Spanish, which is exactly what their logo is of—a rooster. Regardless of previous complaints I've made while in Copan about the roosters and their inability to understand they are ONLY supposed to crow AFTER sunrise—and stop promptly afterwards—you've got to wonder about a country that names its national beer after roosters. Why not something like Puma, Couger, or something with a little more umph to it? But then again, this is the same country that named their currency 'quetzal'—which is such a wimpy bird it's now nearly extinct. As a comparison, the "beer of choice" in Honduras is Port Royal. Doesn't that just sound like a beer for kings? Port: heavily defended areas with tons of firepower. Royal: Kings and queens, wealth, and power. And Port Royal. Now THAT'S a beer I would be proud to drink. At least I would if I actually liked it. =)

But I digress.....

Cemeteries in Central America are usually very colorful and bodies are 'buried' above ground in these concrete apartments

Last Sunday, I learned of yet another holiday in Central America: Corpus Criti. I tried asking my teacher about it, and she asked if I was Catholic (no), at which point she said it was probably too confusing for me to understand. Which is probably true since I still have trouble with their concept of parades in Honduras and the name of the beer they drink in Guatemala, but I'm digressing again.... While I'm not sure what the celebration is for, it seems every church celebrates Corpus Criti one Sunday per year, one right after the other.

Last Sunday the La Merced church celebrated it, which consisted of hanging up lots of decorations, firing off lots of firecrackers, closing off a couple of streets, and decorating the streets with elaborate 'rugs' made of pine needles, rose petals, and such. I walked past as they were doing this and thought, "That is SOOO cool! I MUST get a picture after they've finished!" A few hours later I passed by, and the 'rugs' were completely gone. It seems they held some sort of procession over them as soon as they were finished, ruined the thing in the process, and picked up all the pieces before I returned, and I don't have one friggin' picture to show for it. *rolling eyes*

This particular cemetery was unusually clean with the grass cut and no outlandish colors usually associated with all things Spanish. Rich people were buried here, my teacher told me.

Speaking of the church—it also contains what is said to be Central America's largest fountain at 27 meters in diameter. Which IS pretty big, but wasn't especially noteworthy for anything else if you want my opinion. =)

But I'm digressing again.... like I said, they'll do this event every Sunday until they run out of churches, and the next church on the slate for celebration is San Francisco. Unfortunately, I plan to have left Antigua by then. Nobody I've asked has actually been able to agree how many churches there are in Antigua participating in this event (somewhere between six to eight). That seems like an awfully low number when you consider they could build 52 churches and have an excuse to party every Sunday for the entire year. (And when it comes to an excuse to party, I wouldn't be surprised if someone had come up with that idea!)

Another thing I learned about these pesky firecrackers—I learned the purpose for why they go off every morning for no apparent reason other than porque hoy es hoy. They fire them off to celebrate somebody's birthday. It's just rotten luck that Antigua has a population of 30,000 people. You do the math.

I'd also like to go on record that Antigua really is growing on me. It was definitely a let-down from my initial expectations, but it really is a nice place to visit. While most of the exteriors of buildings are shockingly dull—typically one, solid color and a door and perhaps a window or two, and you need to stick your head into the place to find out what they actually sell there—you end up walking in and EVERY building has this beautiful courtyard with flowers, fountains, or other soothing stuff.

Even the McDonald's here has a beautiful courtyard you'd NEVER guess existed from its exterior. Yes, I admit it, I actually entered into the establishment, but I'm proud to say I didn't spend a single dime while I was there. After learning of its location last week, another student informed me that there's FREE Internet access at the place. That was a temptation I couldn't refuse. However, I will confess once again to the sin of buying strawberry shakes at Burger King. It's really been a tough habit to break. (I might add, Burger King also has a courtyard, but not nearly as elaborate or extensive as the one atMcDonald's.) That's about it for me this week. I'm not sure when I'll be on the Internet again since I intend to take a week off from school and travel around the countryside where Internet access may be nonexistent or prohibitively expensive, but hopefully I'll be well-connected again in another week or so.


— Ryan

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