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From what I could tell, every town has it's own patron saint and every patron saint comes with a yearly Feria, or festival. I went on a small day trip to San Andres Xecul on their Feria day my very first week in Guatemala. It was a short trip and my first time on a "Chicken Bus". We wandered up to the square, oohed and ahed at the bright colored church, paid our pittance and visited the shrine up the hill, watched the dancing to the band in the square for about two songs, then hustled back to the pickup truck that would take us down the hill. There would be more happening later, but the pickups didn't run after dark so we had to get back to Xela, us gringas with our cameras and unusually wide eyes.
Eight weeks later, after I'd spent three weeks in the tiny communities of Fatima and Nuevo San Jose, I got my chance again. The town of Columba, which was the market town of the area, was having it's feria for Cristo Negro. This time we knew folks with pickup businesses, and there was a futbol game in the afternoon. We would go and stay until after the fireworks and get a safe ride back to the school where we were staying.

Xelaju played the Cuatapeque Vibora on the town's futbol field, full size but with about the same number of benches as a junior high field. For five quetzal (40 cents) a piece, people from all over trickled in and filled the seats, then the hillside, then the tops of the walls, the roofs of the vendor stalls, ans much of the standing space at the edge of the fence. Xelaju was a reasonably reknown team, and based on the relative lackluster of their game that afternoon, one got the sense that this tiny town feria was not the site of their most robust efforts. Still, all the kids from their dirty shirts and bare feet to best ruffly dresses and pressed brand new jeans gaggled together; the men with the dry ice pots sold tiny cones of bright colored ice cream, and general excitement ruled. At the end of the anticlimactic game, after the autographs, people poured out into the street, and disappeared for a few hours. We wasted time, then watched the people in their finery head to the church and people-watched in the promenade where kids jumped on rides and vendors sold micheladas with your choice of cheap beer.

There was one big ride, the Rueda de Chicago, or Ferris Wheel. It seemed obvious to me the three of us would have to try it, as the people of the town had been talking about it for weeks. My companions were less sure, but i convinced them quickly, and they never forgave me for this. The ride helpers stuffed all three of us into one seat, intended for two guatemalen adults as far as i could tell. The gate wouldn't lock so the ride worker spent 3 minutes jumping up and down with his weight on it until it appeared to snap shut. To his credit, he double and triple checked that it was locked. It was scary enough going around normal and slow speeds because all i could think about is "who regulates these rides here?" but I let go and laughed. Back at the bottom, the other ride helper looked at us darkly and laughed, "tienes miedo?" he said to each of us ("are you scared?"). An ill considered "si" from my companions caused him to shake the basket vigorously and repeatedly. He said, in spaninsh, "you haven't seen anything yet", then the ride started abruptly and with lightning speed hurled us, backwards, into the sky at speeds i had maybe experienced on roller coasters, but never on a ferris wheel. The town folks in that promenade thought we were the funniest sight they'd ever seen, judging from their points and stares, the ridiculous gringas who rode the Rueda. The ride stopped, went in forward direction even faster, so fast that our basket spun almost 360. But eventually we landed, we would have kissed the ground if all the locals had not beaten the fear of giardia into us.

We wandered dizzily until spiffily dressed Nuevo San Josecos we knew pointed us to the fireworks and then the Marimba in the hall. The pyrotechnics were strapped on a metal contraption build on top of a facade facing the square. When fireworks were lit, sparkling messages appeared, flaming fuses spun wheels and made metal birds fly. I'd never seen fireworks like that, after all the millions of over the top fireworks holidays in Chicago, I'd never seen anything like the fireworks display for Cristo Negro in this small town in the highlands of Guatemala. We only got to see two marimba songs before our late chariot left.

Our spiffily dressed town friends told us the next day they had stayed until four in the morning and then woken up at 6 am (a bit later than usual) to do chores. And this is what was so amazing about the Feria -- one day a year you flock to THE event, and there you see all the people from all the tiny communities that all come out once a year. There were not other tourists, no ads for next weeks big event down the street, no big shiny buses (only pickups and a few chicken buses). Just everyone only doing this once a year. Oh, and the Marimba band had not one, but two marimbas. With one marimba requiring three players, that's half a dozen Marimba players in one band at the small town Feria. They did not mess around.

The next day we told all our friends at the school and back in the community about our adventure on the Rueda de Chicago. It turns out it wasn't the requisite experience i had taken it to be, with many folks very surprised that we had ventured on the thing. One woman who had lived in that area over five years told us a couple folks had died on the Rueda at a nearby feria a month or so earlier. Some of the locals explained they had ridden one once decades ago and never planned to do it again. My companions nixed the idea of a Central American Feria Rueda de Chicago tour. I don't guess I blame them, but I honestly don't regret our naive impulsivity and wouldn't trade that Rueda de Chicago trip for any other experience I could have had in Guatemala.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2014 12:00 am (UTC)
Loved reading this. What adventures! I love marimbas especially! *hug* I want to read more from your travels!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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