La Iguana Perdida field trip to Sumpango
October 13, 2014
All Saint’s day which falls on 1st November is a national holiday for Guatemala and a day for celebrating the dead and for families to come together. Many will make the day trip to Sacatepequez where there is an annual kite festival to honor the day of the dead and is particularly special to those families who have ancestors passed buried in cemeteries nearby. The flying of kites simbolises communicating with their ancestors from the sky and releasing the souls of the dead.
The Iguana Perdida staff, along with a few local faces from Santa Cruz La Laguna, took a field trip on 1st November for All Saints Day to go and check out the famous kite festival and none of us were disappointed. We set off at 8:30am and congregated in Panajachel before piling into a shared van for the two hour journey to Sumpango which lies just outside Chimaltenango. Once we got there the driver let us out at a petrol station and we all began the walk up the hill to get to the cemetery and the football field where all the kites were displayed. The walk itself was very interesting with vendors lining the street selling all sorts from pet rabbits to glow in the dark bracelets as well as various local foods including the traditional tortillas and tamales. We saw people selling kites made from nothing more than bamboo and tissue paper, but they were tiny in comparison to what we had in store for us further up the hill! The senses where stirred by all the colours and the smells as we passed whole pigs roasting on a spit and the noise of the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists. It reminded us a lot of music festivals in the UK just seeing the excitement in people’s faces and their slight urgency in trying to get to the final destination. The street first took us straight into the cemetery where we could see kites flying from a far dotting the blue sky above us. The beauty and the colours that unfolded as we ventured further and further into the cemetery where both unexpected and awe inspiring.
Some of the tombstones we passed were the size of small houses and were surrounded by families decorated them with flowers and candles. The most beautiful part, for me, was the small field full of mounds where, presumably, people had been buried, each covered with pine needles (a symbol of welcoming), flowers, offerings and candles, it really was a vision, and coupled with the children dotted around the place flying kites with abandon, it really did make you think about the stark contrast between the way the different cultures look at death. It felt to me such a wonderful way of celebrating life and death and so after absorbing as much as we could take in from the cemetery we headed to the field where the big kite show was happening.
We could see the tops of some of the larger ones from afar, but nothing had prepared us for just how huge and colourful they really were as we turned the corner and came into full sight of the field. They were all arranged in order of size, the smallest at the front and the biggest at the back and the place was heaving with people. We had to give ourselves a second to get over what we were seeing, before we descended into the field, feeling quite overwhelmed.
Up close the kites where just as beautiful and intricate, but a few of them had, ironically, collapsed due to high winds and The Iguana Dive Instructor helped with about 70 other men to re-erect one of the biggest kites there, using pulley’s and ropes, all with the soundtrack of fireworks and whistling from the growing crowd, it really was an amazing thing to witness. The area was completely surrounded by food vendors billowing smoke from barbequing meats and yet another pig on a spit! The most popular item for sale was of course the taco with various fillings and for pennies you could get a feast and try several different variations. We stopped and ordered a few torta’s (gigantic sandwiches brimming with meat and sauce) to fill our bellies and with tired feet we made our way back slowly through the winding, narrow streets where families where getting ready to make their journey home and street stalls were being taken down. Nervous that we wouldn’t get a chance to buy one of the many kites we had seen for sale we quickly popped into a hole in the wall where we could see a few and ten minutes and Q25 later, mulling over which were the prettiest and we jumped back into the van with our purchases and swapped stories with the rest of our group.
The main thing I took away with me from the day was the way that Guatemalans see life and death as things to be celebrated. There was nothing mournful or dark about the day and seeing families coming together in order to honor their ancestors and communicate with members of their family who have passed was a very humbling experience. The time and dedication that must have gone into making all of the kites and the fun atmosphere of the whole event is something to be cherished and certainly something that has to be on anyone’s to do list when in Guatemala in November!