Independence Day – 15 September

The celebrations for Independence Day in Guatemala spanned two days: any excuse for a party or a parade here is grabbed with alacrity it appears.

On the eve of the big day itself, we were travelling from Lake Atitlán to Antigua, a journey which should have taken about 3 to 3½ hours by shuttle bus. However about half way through the journey, we hit significant delays as essentially the Inter-Americana Highway (the country’s main expressway) was taken over by groups of runners on the road, some carrying torches (like Olympic torches) and almost all decked out in blue and white (the colours of the flag).

However, the road wasn’t closed to traffic which made it all rather chaotic resulting in a build-up of traffic (as most of the road is not dual carriage way meaning the traffic had to slow to the pace of the slowest runner). But despite this, everyone seemed to be in high spirits – there was lots of horns honking in encouragement of the runners (our driver’s horn included) and the runners were also cheered on by vast numbers of people who had assembled on the sides of the roads to watch the spectacle (even though for large portions of time, the only thing they would have seen were traffic jams, making it perhaps not the most exciting of spectacles).

Rather like Happy Holi in India, the locals took to throwing water (albeit not paint as they do in India) at each other and, in particular, the runners to celebrate the eve of Independence Day. Our minibus of tourists was also too tempting a target to resist for some of these water “attacks” but it was all done in very good humour and anyway, we needed a bit of cooling down, given the lack of breeze while we were in stationary traffic.

In addition to the lengthier journey (we eventually arrived after 5½ or 6 hours), another negative was that our onward journey to Honduras had to be postponed. When booking our bus tickets, we’d previously specifically checked that the border would be open on Independence Day (15th September) but when it came to the crunch, somebody important obviously changed their mind (perhaps they wanted to join in the celebrations). This put our schedule (such as there is any schedule) behind by a day. Still there are worst places in the world to be stuck than the beautiful colonial city of Antigua with which we were already familiar having studied here previously.

The next morning, the parade through Antigua started early around 8am and continued for 4 hours or so as groups of drummers, dancers, bands and other flag bearers (each arranged by school) paraded through the cobbled streets. It was clear some people had practiced harder than others and that some were more enthusiastic than their colleagues but generally speaking, it was a good show and there was a lot of support from the local spectators. After all, they do do a good parade in this part of the world.

And of course, this being Antigua, there were plenty of “bombas” or firecrackers being set off all over the place. These are routinely set off in Antigua especially when there is a special event but often no excuse is required. When we first arrived in Guatemala a few weeks ago, all the loud bangs were somewhat perturbing to say the least but it is amazing how accustomed you become to them (despite their similarity to the sound of gun shots), so much so that I am sure there were many more being set off on Independence Day than I actually registered.

It seemed perfectly acceptable to break parade formation to pose for the odd photo or two!

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