"Holy Week" in Antigua, Guatemala

"Holy Week" in Antigua, Guatemala

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Location: Antigua, Guatemala & Volcano Pacaya

Date: March 2010
Bailey with a local young Guatemalan woman
who is selling her goods
March 2010

I am often asked about the best place we have ever taken our children. I think much of our traveling has served many different purposes.  We’ve been on many relaxing, service, sight-seeing, educational, and fun trips.  Our kids are pretty well traveled, so if you ask them about our most adventurous trip they would tell you it was when we visited Guatemala in March 2010.

Our family visiting an old friend of Trent’s when he served
as a missionary in Guatemala City over twenty-years ago.
March 2010
At the time Trent’s parents and his older sister had been living in Guatemala teaching English at a school in the city of Chimaltenango, about a 25 mile drive from Guatemala City.  Our destination city was Antigua, which wasn’t too far from Chimaltenango, and was a great home base for us.  Antigua is also known for its religious rituals during Semana Santa (Holy Week).  Semana Santa is  the week leading up to Easter, and that was precisely the time we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa.
Trent as a missionary teaching a family in the
mountains of Guatemala.
March 2010

 We were  thrilled about visiting Guatemala to show the kids how people live in a third world country.  We were also excited because this is where, as a nineteen-year-old, Trent had served a two-year mission for our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Antigua, during Semana Santa, March 2010
Antigua is a beautiful old city with a large town square, and the cobble-stone one-way streets lead to  great restaurants, like some of my favorites Caffe Mediterrano and Cafe Condessa.  However, during Holy Week the entire city transforms.  There are so many traditions that are celebrated by the Guatemalans as they commemorate the crucifixion, and celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.  We had the privilege of witnessing the traditions of these very humble people.
The beginning construction on an elaborate sawdust
 carpet in the streets made by parishioners, and even
business owners of the city.
March 2010 
Some of our group, Clay, Lexi, Leah, Bella & Trent,
 posing in front of a carpet in Antigua
March 2010

During the week prior to Easter the locals create detailed carpets called “Alfombras de Acerrin” that adorn the processional route on the city streets. These carpets are made from sawdust, flowers, sand and other varieties of materials that are only temporary art creations.  All week long there are processions that roam up and down the city streets.  The processions are what my kids call “sad parades” in which hundreds of purple-robed men carry large floats called “andas” that bear statues of Christ with a cross.  Following behind are more “andas” with women dressed in black carrying the Virgin Mary.  During these processions they are stomping all over the beautiful carpets of sawdust.

This is a procession of the purple-robed men that are
carrying a large wooden casket (not easy to see in this pic)
with Christ holding a cross on top.
March 2010
The streets are packed and Leah was easily getting lost
between being in the parade and being a spectator.
March 2010

I am not exaggerating when I say that these processions can start as early as 5:00am and go until midnight.  There is also an ominous chanting that goes with them so it is a little eerie.  Our hotel, the Soliel, was a great little two bedroom suite that fit all eight of us quite nicely. We put our four girls in one room, Trent and I had the other, and our two boys were out on the couches in the living room.  I found this website, www.aroundantigua.com to be very helpful finding information on this little European type town in Central America.

A picture Trent took of Antigua in 1991 when he was a

While we were down in Guatemala we decided we wanted to hike a volcano.  The Pacaya volcano was only about a forty-five minute drive from our hotel.  My in-laws found a guide through a travel agent in Antigua, and began planning a day-trip and hike to the top of Pacaya.  This volcano is at the height of 8,420 feet.  Since it is an active volcano, complete with boiling lava, it was an exciting adventure for the kids.  We began our excursion by meeting our guide at the hotel.  Some of our group loaded into a van he had brought with a driver, and our guide jumped in our van so we could accommodate our family of eight, Trent’s parents, and his sister with four of her kids.

Clay on the horse trail ready to get to the top of Pacaya
March 2010

Our group arrived at the foot of Pacaya at about 10:00 am.  We had decided to ride horse back up the trail as far as we could before getting off to walk the rocky, shale path up to the top.  When we arrived at the foot of the volcano there were about ten different stable guides trying to get us to choose their horses.  Of course they all had their most beautiful horse on hand to show us what magnificent creatures we would all be riding.  It was a mad house because they really didn’t mind luring one of our kids onto the back of their horse to show us they were ready to get started on the trail.  Before we had even negotiated any pricing I was finding my kids getting on horse back ready to get started.  This was nothing like I have experienced with my children before, so I hadn’t had a chance to tell them not to get on the back of any of the horses until Dad had negotiated a deal.  Soon Trent and our guide had a reasonable price for ten horses (five of the kids would have to double up with adults or older kids) and we finally got everyone mounted on their horse and ready for the trail.

This was Clay riding his horse, Smokey, that was
being led by his 8-year-old handler Miguel.

Being a country girl, and having ridden horses all my life, I was ready to take the reigns and get started.  However, it was not going to be that kind of horse back ride.  Each of our horses, some not as fat and beautiful like we had seen when we arrived, were led by a handler.  We each had our own Guatemalan varying in age, from from what seemed like, eight to seventy-eight, leading us up the trail.  At first I was annoyed, but then I was grateful when I looked behind me to see my son Clay, who was eight at the time, trying to speak to his little eight-year-old horse handler, Miguel.  There was a combination of Clay’s limited Spanish, and the other boys limited English.  We rode in a long line of horses up a steep trail with hikers coming down, some on horseback, but most of them on foot.

Bella couldn’t be any happier having the great opportunity to be a cowgirl
Mt. Pacaya, Guatemala March 2010
Grandma & Grandpa Kimball both riding with one of the twins
 on the front side of their saddle
March 2010

It was a beautiful ride with lots of vegetation.  Soon we came to the the clearing of where the volcanic shale began, and our horse ride would end.  We all got ourselves unmounted and with fifteen in our group we got ready for the climb.  We had already seen stares from many Europeans who saw our group of kids and voiced their opinions that the climb would be too hard on them and that we should just turn our horses around and go back to the base.  I couldn’t help thinking that most of my kids can climb to the roof of our house without breathing hard so I knew they were misjudging this group of monkeys we had brought with us to Guatemala.  At the time my children were; Colton, 14, Bailey 11, Clay 8, Lexi & Leah 5, and Bella was 3.  Though it could be rough on Bella we knew her thirty-two pounds frame could easily be carried if the going got too tough.

All ten of our kid climbers
Kimball Cousins Unite
March 2010

When we began our physical climb to the top of Pacaya, it was a pretty clear trail but made up of a lot of shale rock that was a little slippery and sharp as glass.
*Tip#1 Always pack a pair of jeans for each family no matter the destination.  We thought it would be hot in Guat the whole time we were there, so I had only packed shorts or light capri pants for my kiddos.  Little did I know we would be hiking a volcano made of glass-like rock!

The only boys on the climb, Colton & Clay
Mt. Pacaya March 2010

Our guide was the sweetest and dearest little Guatemalan.  He brought along another guide, who spoke almost no English, to follow our group to make sure we all stayed together.  On this particular day we only came across about ten other hikers so sharing the trail was easy.  The kids loved the hike, and like I had guessed, they didn’t find it nearly as difficult as I did.

The top of Mt. Pacaya and the bubbling lava that streamed down
the backside was amazing to see so close
March 2010

When we arrived at the top of the volcano we could see about a 10-foot hole at the top where lava was rolling down the backside of the mountain.  Standing about twenty-five feet away we could feel the penetrating heat of the molten lava.  It was amazing to see this thick lava rolling over the rim and the bubbles just barely popping at the top.  Colton and Clay couldn’t stop throwing rocks into the mouth only to watch them land on top as if they were going to float and then slowly be consumed by the lava.  It wasn’t anything they could have ever learned in a classroom.

Lexi, 5,  is so proud of herself at the top of a volcano
March 2010
Bailey at the top of the mountain holding her
marshmallow roasting stick that was sold
by local children at the base
Mach 2010

Our guide was so sweet he pulled out marshmallows and long whittled sticks that he’d purchased from the children at the horse stable, so we could have a very unconventional marshmallow roast.  The only problem was to get closer to the rim we each had to, one-by-one, hug the side of the volcano and pass  about a ten-foot ledge.  All of us were reluctant to get any closer.  We could already feel the heat and didn’t want to take any fool hearted chances.  But the guide in the back was like a little sherpa that was about four feet tall and equally four feet wide.  He was all muscle and felt very comfortable on this precipice.  He led us one by one over to the rim to roast a marshmallow, and feel the true heat of this magnificent volcano.  We didn’t let all of the small children go over but most of the adults did and the sherpa put Clay on his back and he went over too.  It was an amazing experience.

Leah, so proud of her scrapes
March 2010

Our way down was faster but scarier due to the shale rock that was always giving way under foot.  Both of our guides at this time had two of the children on their backs, while Trent and his father took turns with some of the other kids.  We only had one fall from Leah who scraped her knee and an elbow.  She came up smiling from the fall and was rather proud of her scrapes for the rest of the trip.  Of course this could have been avoided if I had dressed my kids properly for this adventure.

Trent coming down the bottom part of the trail
with Bella, 3, on his shoulders
March 2010

At the end of the shale our horses and their handlers were there to greet us and they had a simple lunch of pre-made sandwiches, chips and bottled waters for us to enjoy.  When our lunch was finished we each mounted our steed, and rode that uncomfortable ride back down the rest of the volcano Pacaya.  At the bottom we could see other tourists getting bombarded by stable masters as they started their ascent.  Our kids looked out of place with all of their bright colored clothing, and fresh clean faces.  After this adventure they had new found friendships with their guides, a hike to an active volcano,  and they were starting to get a  real feel of the life of these Guatemalans.

Some of the children that were selling the marshmallows at the base
March 2010
A picture of Mount Pacaya during its eruption
 May 27, 2010

*Tip #2 Always check these attractions on-line, www.volcanoexperience.com, before trying to attempt a hike like this.  On May 27, 2010 Mt. Pacaya erupted and a lot ash rained down on Guatemala City and Antigua. That was less than sixty days after this excursion. The Guatemala City airport was closed for two-weeks following the eruption.
*Tip #3 Also, I should warn that sometimes there are burglaries on hikes like this one.  Most of the time if you have a guide and a larger group you will be left alone.  However, do not travel with lots of cash or credit cards during day trips.  Leave that stuff back at the hotel in a safe.  Most of the time these are just desperate people trying to feed their families and so cash is all that they desire.  Be safe and travel in numbers or with locals to avoid situations such as these.