On our way out of Guatemala City there a few stops to make, the first in the area of some government building.
On the outskirts of the city where the city dump is located we visit Safe Passage, an educational program for Los Minos de Basuro “children of the dump”. It was started by an inspiring young woman Hanley Denning who came to Gutemala learn Spanish, saw a need and stayed to start this amazing program for families who live next to the dump and try to eke out a living by picking through endless piles of trash, looking for anything of value they can resell.
We were outside talking to a teacher when we heard some familiar sounds . . . Elvis . . . inside the kids were practicing their dance moves, very cute.
Along with regular school classes the children are taught basic hygiene; there are showers and bathrooms in each classroom as their homes do not have running water. They receive two healthy high protein meals a day, vitamins and two snacks. We were impressed with the beautiful classrooms, bright and cheerful and well equipped. This is a cheerful, safe place for them and a chance to escape their surroundings for a few hours a day and just be children.
Leaving the city our next stop is outside the town of Sumpango on a hill overlooking their colorful cemetery. The town is well known for its Kite Festival, one of only three cities in Guatemala to celebrate Dios de los Muertos with a kite festival, but more on that later. After photo ops we continued on into the town to stroll through Sumpango’s town square and then the market.
I never tire of visiting markets, the colors, the flowers, the exotic fruits and vegetable, interesting food stalls and seeing people filling their bags with so much goodness. Even at home I much prefer the farmer’s markets to the brightly lit stores with all of the over packaged merchandise alas they are gone until May.
From the market we followed Hector down a side street, not really knowing what he had in mind but certain it would be interesting and indeed it was. We entered the local cemetery that we had seen earlier from the highway. The above ground graves were brightly painted, many with fresh flowers. It was a surprisingly busy place today, people coming and going, bringing flowers to graves sites and repainting for the upcoming Dios de los Muertos.
It may sound strange but as we walked through the cemetery it was not a somber place at all, it was full of life with people painting, cleaning around their loved ones graves or placing fresh flowers. The town and cemetery are in the hills and as we reached a section of the cemetery we caught our first glimpse of the beautiful Lake Atitlan in the distance.
Resuming our travels through the mountains as we near Panajachel we pull off the road; a couple of men are standing next to their truck on the highway, talking and we can hear a band somewhere inside a cluster of buildings. Hector has us wait while he goes to talk to them, about what – we don’t know.
After a few minutes Hector jumps back in the van and says, “let’s go”. He had spoken with the shaman, who invited us to join their ceremony, what ceremony – we don’t know but we did as we were told and ran across the busy highway – didn’t lose anyone – and entered a courtyard surrounded by buildings opening to the center courtyard. At one end a stage has been erected and a band was warming up. We entered a small candlelit room with an altar at one end and sat along the wall. Offerings had been placed in front of the altar along with numerous candles that flickered lighting the room. In front of the altar where statues who reminded me of the Blues Brothers. It was a little eerie, but we did learn that the Brotherhood is led by a shaman and members still practice traditional healing ceremonies and other rituals.
We are here early, they are still preparing for the celebration; apparently things really get going later in the evening with food, drink, music, drink, dancing and more drinking. When we return to the courtyard the band is in high gear. Some of the women and children have come out and are sitting around the courtyard waiting for something, I guess for us to dance . . . Hector takes the lead and that brings smiles and giggles, apparently we were the afternoon entertainment. After a few turns around the dance floor we thank them for the time and head back to the van, once again trying to cross the highway without getting hit – success!
At last we arrive in Panajachel; it is late afternoon. Before settling into our cabins we agreed to meet back at the terrace for happy hour and then wandered out the gate onto the bustling main street of Panajachel.
Back at the lodge we meet our friends on the garden terrace, enjoy a glass of wine or two until time to walk to dinner. I do love sitting outside in the warm evening air and the gardens are beautiful although I don’t know the names of most of the flowers.
Wow, what an interesting day, I can’t believe how lucky we are to be here at this time, there is so much going on in preparation for the celebrations around Dios de los Muertos, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days.