What a planning exercise! Our family and my sister’s family were set on going to Mexico and Guatemala over the Christmas Holidays, but we all had many commitments and were scattered over the globe. My husband, Burt, and son, Alan, would drive a 12-passenger van down to Mexico City, stopping on the way at my aunt’s house in Harlingen, TX, to pick up daughter, Cookie. She would come from CA on her motorcycle, which she would leave at my aunt’s house. Daughter Claire would fly directly to Mexico City from Berlin, where she had been staying with our friends, the Fischers, for six months. The rest of us, Sister Jeanne and Brother-in-law Bob plus their three grown children Laura, Mark and Peter, with his wife, Cindy and I would fly to Mexico City.
As we got off the plane in Mexico City and got a taxi to go to a hotel where we had stayed many times, we got into a gridlocked traffic situation and there we sat! Finally we grabbed out suitcases, left the cab and walked the rest of the way, about half a mile.
We still had time that day so we did a little sightseeing at the Zocalo, reacquainting ourselves with the Cathedral of Mexico City, which we had seen many times before. Soon all had gathered at the hotel and the next morning we left for the Hacienda Cocoyoc, just south of Mexico City. This is a 16th century hacienda made into a modern hotel, but with many remnants of its days as a working hacienda. It made a nice day to relax a bit and become reacquainted with each other!
Pushing on toward Guatemala, we stopped at a 16th century convent near the town of Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca, Mexico. It reminded us of the convent of Acolman where we had stopped before on our trips to Mexico. What a huge church with its attached convent. The kids took the opportunity to soak up a few rays on the church steps.
Our schedule called for arriving at the town of Santo Tomas Chichicastenango in Guatemala by December 21st, as this was the culminating day of a week-long festival that we wanted to see. After clearing the border and hurrying along through the mountains, we came upon that most spectacular sight of a live volcano. There were volcano mountains all around us, but to see one live was thrilling!
The terrain was rugged, the load in our van was heavy, and problems with the van developed. Burt felt that we needed to let the van cool off, as it was overheating, but I was prodding him on since I was afraid of missing the fiesta! This caused some harsh words between us in the nervousness of our concerns, but finally we came to the small town of Santo Tomas Chichicastenango and the fiesta!
What chaos, what noise (cherry bombs going off every few minutes), what a crush of people. Laura held on to six-foot-tall Alan as he cleared a way through the crowds. All that color and beauty! The clothing that they wore was spectacular. Still the local color was difficult to take in since we were being caught up in the stream of people, all trying to see the procession, as were we! The cherry bombs were quite scary as they constantly seemed to go off right at our feet. There was a procession of the saints from the church, although this fiesta had a rather thin overlay of Roman Catholicism over the native practices of the Guatemalans. There was incense and copal resin burning on the church steps, which incidentally seemed reminiscent of Mexican native pre-conquest pyramids.
A few hours of this cacophony left us exhausted but satisfied. We repaired to an upscale hotel restaurant on the edge of town for some revivingly good food and quiet. Wonderful marimba players treated us to soothing music while we ate our very good dinner. We drove on to Panajachel for a quiet overnight.
I was so happy to participate in the Fiesta of Santo Tomas. It was worth the struggle to get there in time, and to brave the crowds crushing the town. We will be moving on to Lake Atitlan.