Johnny Vagabond Goes To Antigua

I love reading travel blogs.
They prepare me for the next adventure, or give me ideas for a new one.
I knew that a blog named Johnny Vagabond just had to be fascinating.
And it is.
I’m hooked.

Check out what he got up to in Antigua:

Photos: Antigua’s Alfombras, the Beautiful Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

April 20, 2012 · 14 comments

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

No one celebrates Easter quite like they do in Antigua. For
the month of Lent, processions march through the streets each Sunday,
carrying massive platform with statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
But the real fun begins the Sunday before Easter, when local families
and business begin creating alfombras, intricate carpets made out of dyed sawdust, grass, flowers and vegetables. It’s an incredible (and fleeting) sight.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa
For days and days, people are busy dyeing sawdust — first it’s run
through a screen to weed out the rough bits. Then small bags of dye are
added and it’s stirred by hand. The color is adjusted as needed and this
takes some skill — a seemingly green dye was added to a fresh batch and
the mixer explained that the final product would be purple. I was
doubtful but he proved right in the end.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

The majority of alfombras are created with the use of
intricately-carved plywood stencils. I asked the manager of my hotel,
Yellow House, whether these were traditional patterns passed down
through the family or if each alfombra was different. She explained that
they save the stencils each year but that each carpet is unique, mixing
and matching designs from the past or being created entirely from
scratch.

I do have to give a hearty recommendation for Yellow House in Antigua
— I stayed there two weeks over two visits and found it to be the
friendliest, cleanest place I stayed in all of Guatemala. The free
breakfast was great, showers hot (without being deadly)
and the patio had a view of all the volcanos. [Full disclosure — they
did trade me three nights stay for a mention, but I wouldn’t have stayed
there 2 weeks if I didn’t think it was a good value.] I can’t wait to
go back.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

The amount of detail that people managed to coax from sawdust and
sand was stunning. I especially like the one with tiny penitents
carrying an anda (wooden platform) and about to walk across an alfrombra of their own.

And that’s their fate — these beautiful, amazingly-detailed carpets
have life spans of just a few hours. After being finished, cared for and
admired by the crowds, they will soon be trod upon by a procession of
thousands of worshipers.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Sawdust wasn’t the only material of choice, however. Many alfrombas
were created from large blankets of grass, covered in flowers, fruits
and other natural goodies. Some of the most popular carpets, judging
from the huge crowds that hovered nearby, where made entirely of fruits
and vegetables. The one you see here was at least 50 feet long and 10
feet wide — 500 square feet of fresh produce, stacked high and awaiting
destruction.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

This goes on for days and most groups will build several alfrombas
over the course of the week. But the big night is the Thursday before
Good Friday, when everyone stays up most of the night to assemble the
most intricate, flamboyant carpets you can imagine. They race through
the night to finish their creations before the procession rolls through
in the early morning and destroys it all. Thankfully, the hotel provided
snacks, coffee and rum to keep us going through the night.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

And when the procession rolls through, you’d best step away.
Thousands of hooded penitents roam the street with 80 of them carrying a
5,000 pound anda, moving lock-step through the cobblestone
streets. A band follows close behind and more thousands of pilgrims,
penitents, families and tourists follow in their wake. It’s a wave of
humanity.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

And after they’ve all passed by, a small crew of men scrape up the
remains and shovel them into a small bulldozer that follows the
procession. Within moments, the street is clean with only a few splashes
of colorful dye showing that anything happened here at all.

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