A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY – AND THE CITY : Fêting San Antonio in Latin America

San Antonio. La Recoleta Church (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

On this rainy night, the eve of the feast day of San Antonio de Padúa, hundreds of kilometers from Los Crepúsculos, I imagine I hear the strains of his serenade.

¡Ay, mi padre San Antonio

Donde está que no lo veo

Que vine a cantar con él

Y me voy con los deseos!

 

Qué queréis con San Antonio

Que lo ‘tas  llamando tanto

San Antonio  está en el cielo

Junto con los otros santos

 

Señores los bailadores

No se vayan a pegar

Los remedios ‘tan  muy lejos

No hay quien los vaya a buscar

 

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

 

Ay, my father San Antonio

Where are you, I don’t see you

I’ve come to sing with him

And I’ll be leaving with my dreams!

 

What is it you want with San Antonio

That you’re calling upon him so much?

San Antonio is in heaven,

Along with the other Saints.

 

It is the eve of the feast day of San Antonio – Saint Anthony of Padua. In the middle of the street of a neighborhood of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, musicians are seated in front of a statue of San Antonio. As they sing their honoring song honoring to this saint, bottles of cocuy (homebrew liquor) are being passed.

This serenade will continue until the wee hours of the morn, when then the all-day procession commences with a mass, and ends with an evening of seven dances…

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guápulo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Even many years after that night in Los Crepúsculos, the serenade sounds through my mind. Every time I encounter a statue of San Antonio – no matter the season – I mouth the words and sway, dancing to this great saint.

 

Iglesia de Sn Antonio (M’burucuyá, Argentina). photo © Lorraine Caputo

The feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua is celebrated on 13 June. San Antonio was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. He was contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís), founder of the Franciscan order. Saint Anthony became a monk of this order, and was famous for his knowledge of scripture, being able to teach them through simple words and deeds. Thus he holds the title of Doctor of the Church. He died 13 June 1231.

San Antonio is represented by the infant Jesus cradled in one arm. Sometimes he also holds a book or a lily blossom. He is the patron saint of lost causes, lost (or stolen) items, lost people and of the poor. In France, Italy, Spain and his native Portugal, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. In other countries, he is the patron of travelers. On his saint’s day, small loaves of bread are passed out after the mass. This symbolizes San Antonio’s devotion to the marginalized peoples of these lands.

San Antonio is fêted throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Today, we shall witness the traditions in two distinct parts of this region: in the deep countryside of Nicaragua, and in the barrios of the city of Barquisimeto, in Venezuela.

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

Many moons ago, when I stayed a mighty spell in Estelí, I was invited to accompany Padre Juan and some of the Rugama family to Terrero, a small settlement in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY

 

Campesinos climb the rocky road

up to the brick chapel

With four guitars & two basses

their song fills the  valley

of these greened hills

Rockets fire into the air

 

In his glass case carried

in two men’s work-worn hands

San Antonio sways

Mothers & children enter the church

Fathers gather outside

smoking cigarettes

talking about crops & cattle

The Saint rests to one side of the altar

in front of the moss-covered apse

studded with plastic-petalled carnations

made by women of this parish

A large cloth-covered basket

of fresh-baked bread

is placed atop him

 

On horseback       on foot

the late arrive

One tethers his mare

to a guanacaste tree

Tattered curtains of Spanish moss

floating the blue-white sun breeze

In the distance two women

comedown the camino

They hold the hands of their children´

a baby in arms

 

Outside Padre Juan confers

with the mass assistants

&the musicians

 

More & more ascend the slope

to the sanctuary

Another rocket rises into the sky

where light clouds move & form swiftly

The white line of its smoke

the pop of its explosion

 

The priest & the choir enter the chapel

Men put their discussions aside

&pack into the back

 

Faces of those unable to fit inside

peer into the open doors & windows

 

Some compadres remain perched

on the scattered lava boulders

cowboy hats, baseball caps on knees

One holds his daughter on his thigh

The bow of her yellow voile dress

flutters in the soft wind

 

As the mass unfolds

with the reading of the scripture

the music

with the sermon

& the testimonies of the community

with the celebration of the Eucharist

More families near the temple

children in hand tottering along

children in arms

Men hastily remove their hats

 

The wafers are placed on tongues

Outside a man lights the fuse

of the rockets with his cigarette

The swooshes       the cracks

of each fill the late morning

 

The last song is being sung

Two women carry the basket of bread

All within & outside this crowded

church are fed

 

Amid cries bounding from one another

¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

                                                ¡Viva!

The Saint is carried away

in his glass case

the handles held by those

two sets of work-worn hands

Down the hill

down the winding road

up the next rise

into the distance

Rocket blasts reverberate

throughout the valley

 

published in: Baobab (2000)

 

Iglesia San Francisco (Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos). photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

In further south climes, this popular Saint is also being fêted. One of his largest strong hold is in Venezuela’s state of Lara, where he is the patron saint. The tamunangue music and dances of these celebrations have their roots deep in Africa. It is said to have originated with San Antonio himself, during his missionary work in northern Africa.

My first visit to Venezuela coincided with the fiestas of San Antonio. Friends around the country urged me to get to Barquisimeto, capital of Lara. Yakarí offered to be my guide through the two days of celebrations in the Los Crepúsculos neighborhood. This is home of one of the most traditional troupes, Grupo de Tamunangue Uyama.

The evening of June 12 is the velorio (vigil) to San Antonio, a serenade on the eve of his saint’s day. The next day, mass is said at the parish church in La Unión. The procession then wends through the streets, with dancing and drumming until dusk. At night, the round of dances is performed.

 

A FEAST DAY IN THE CITY

 

  1. El Velorio / Los Crepúsculos

 

The warning rockets are fired

one two three & four

with the butt of a cigarette

 

San Antonio stands in his case

near the door of a house

His wooden capilla

is backdropped by fan-

shaped palm leaves

Two vases of flowers

perch at the front corners

Their carnations scent the evening

a single candle flickers

 

People gather in the cul-de-sac

awaiting this velorio to begin

Many come & touch his head

his back       & then cross themselves

 

The strumming of cuatros

& guitarra marruna

                  begins before this saint

Of a septet standing before him

the strains of Ave María Purísima

A rocket fired

&a second

rocket tras rocket

 

After the song

one troubadour

prays aloud

The standing people repeat

¡Viva San Antonio!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!

 

Everyone sits in silver

wrought-iron seats set

in a semi-circle before the Saint

Two troubadours in the front row

sing to San Antonio

 

Playing kids roam

young teen women gossip—

their mothers & grandmothers, too

 

Two floodlights brighten

the street, the scenario

 

A brindis of cocuy

is left for San Antonio

& after a coffee break

the serenade continues

More men join with

cuatros, voice and cincos

Between songs more

cocuy is poured

 

A grey-rooted, red haired woman

in a bright green shirt

claps with the music

swaying in rhythm

Her palms redden

song after song

 

These men, their eyes reddening

sing leaning into a compañero

or closes his eyes

They praise San Antonio

la-la-ing with heart & smile

or eyes wide, brows twisted with feeling

 

As the evening grows older

people move the chairs

into tight circles around the music

 

And when the velorio

ends at midnight

The musicians suit their instruments

until the next morn,

San Antonio’s feast

 

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

On San Antonio’s feast day, the biggest celebration is in Barrio La Unión. After the morning mass at the parish church, tamunangueros dance through the streets, carrying the beloved saint from house to house. This procession with its accompanying drumming (and copious amounts of cocuy) continues until dusk. After the sun sets, the seven sones (rhythms) of tamunangue are danced by couples armed with garrotes (sticks).

Yakarí and I spent the day being one with the procession. That night, we returned to Los Crepúsculos. For hours we sat on the blacktop street while he explained the intricacies of each dance.

The tamunangue not only honors San Antonio on his feast day, but it is also performed to fulfill a promise (promesa) to him for granting a good harvest, a family request (for wishes of healing, a new home, studies, etc.) or for love conquered.

The tamunangue consists of the Dedicatorio or Serenade to San Antonio, which includes the Batalla (Battle), performed by two men. This is to ask the Saint for permission to present the dances promised to him.

This is then followed by a round of seven dances performed by couples:

  • El Yiyevamos – The opening dance, with the singer directing the dancers with his calls
  • La Bella – An honoring of women
  • La Juruminga – Based rhythms and forgotten African words
  • La Perrendenga – A dance between woman and man, with garrotes
  • El Poco a PocoThree humorous passes compose this dance
  • El Galerón – The couples dance holding hands
  • El Seis Figurado (Seis Corrido) – Three men and three women dance a total of 32 movements, acting out the picaresque calls of the singer

 

These are just two of the ways San Antonio is fêted in Latin America, in the countryside and in the city, by campesinos and by African descendants. The pueblos of this region wear many other faces, including indigenous. Many roads, there are, yet to wend to continue honoring this saint.

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It is time for our bimonthly roundup of my poetry and travel writing continuing to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Today, we travel to various corners of Latin America, including Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below …. and stay tuned for more poetic and narrative journeys coming up later this month!

Until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

The latest edition of DoveTales – focused on Refugees and the Displaced – includes three of my poems.

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Quake,” “Salto Bosetti” and “Two Petals” in River Poets Journal (April 2017)

“A Thousand Miles,” “Dance for a New Year” and “In Exile” in DoveTales (2017), theme: Refugees and the Displaced

 

Sunset. Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, Galápagos photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

Andes Transit

Tips for Safe and Comfortable Bus Journeys

 

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

3 Tips for Multi-Generational Galapagos Islands Vacations

Going Solo in the Galapagos Islands

The Best Time to Take a Galapagos Vacation

5 Reasons to Visit Galapagos in 2017

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in April

Welcome Home, Lonesome George!

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It’s time for the bimonthly round-up of recent publications of my poetry and travel writing, which are continuing to appear regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

And I have (finally) hit the Big Leagues in the literary world! Check out my story that appeared in Prairie Schooner – as well as travel advice for exclusively for women (though you men might pick up a few useful tips, too!) and a review by a travelling family I met.

Safe Journeys!

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“We Ain’t Supposed to Play,” in 3:33 Sports Short, Prairie Schooner (22 September 2016)

Playing ball in the streets of Cartagena. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Playing ball in the streets of Cartagena. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

AndesTransit

10 Things to Know When Traveling Sola

Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner (including ghostwritten articles)

Galapagos Islands: what happens in September

Floreana Island: Off the Beaten Galapagos Track

Santiago Island: A Hidden History of Colonization in the Galapagos Islands

 

AND FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT …

Jessica and Will homeschool their two pre-teen children – with an international twist. Each  year, they choose a different country in which to live, so that Avalon and Largo also learn other cultures and languages, They have lived in Costa Rica, Ecuador – and have just begun their latest adventure in the south of France.

Follow them at Goodie Goodie Gumdrop. They are truly inspiring!

History In Quito + Weekly Round Up

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

My poetry and travel writing appears regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

This week I present to you my latest publications.

Safe Journeys!

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Juana” in Canopic Jar – Suite: On the Train

“para Dora” & “Freedom Is …” in The Beatest State In The Union: An Anthology of Texas Beat (Beaumont, Texas: Lamar University Press, 2016)

“Peace Flag” and “A Thousand and One Nights” in ANU presents : Voices for Peace Anthology (December 2015)

 

Tumaco and its Playa El Morro is just one of my recommended destinations in Southern Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Tumaco and its Playa El Morro is just one of my recommended destinations in Southern Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

AndesTransit

12 Fun and FREE Things to do in Quito!

11 Sensational (and Sensible!) Destinations of Southern Colombia

 

Insider’s Galapagos (ghostwritten articles)

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos Islands in 2016

What does El Niño 2015-2016 mean for the Galapagos Islands?

Solving Darwin’s Evolutionary Puzzle

SEMANA SANTA IN LATIN AMERICA : A Poetic – Photographic Journey

One of the most spectacular Semana Santa processions in Quito is that of Good Friday, dedicated to the Señor de Gran Poder. Unlike most penitents who carry heavy crosses, shackles, stinging nettle or some instruments of flagellation, this cucurucho chose to carry a flower. photo © Lorraine Caputo

One of the most spectacular Semana Santa processions in Quito is that of Good Friday, dedicated to the Jesús de Gran Poder. Unlike most penitents who carry heavy crosses, shackles, stinging nettle or some instruments of flagellation, this cucurucho chose to carry a flower. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Semana Santa – Holy Week – is one of the most important holidays in Latin America, both religiously and secularly. Wherever you may be wending in the region, you will experience the festivities.

From Palm Sunday (marking the end of the 40 days of fasting during Lent) through Easter Sunday, the days will be filled with masses, processions and other special ceremonies. Some towns, like Antigua (Guatemala), San Salvador (El Salvador) and Ayacucho (Peru) adorn their streets with intricate carpets made of flowers or sawdust. Other places – Querétaro (Mexico) and Quito (Ecuador), among others – have fervent Good Friday processions. But even in the smallest of villages, the faithful wend the lanes, carrying statues of Jesus and Mary.

Semana Santa isn’t only a high holy season. It is also vacation time for many Latin Americans. The beaches will be super-crowded, and prices for transport, lodging and food will skyrocket.

This season is also celebrated with traditional foods, especially fish, bacalao (salt cod) and seafood. Mexico serves up romeritos, a type of seaweed (Suaeda torreyana), often prepared with mole. In Argentina and Uruguay, folks will be enjoying tarta pascualina (Swiss chard or spinach and ricotta quiche). In Ecuador, the entire extended family gathers for fanesca, a heavy soup made with 12 grains and bacalao.

Fanesca is a dish served in the highlands of Ecuador during Semana Santa. Dating from pre-Conquest times, this heavy “soup” contains 12 grains and beans, which in the Catholic iconography represents the 12 apostles, and dried cod (bacalao), representing Jesus. © Lorraine Caputo

Fanesca is a dish served in the highlands of Ecuador during Semana Santa. Dating from pre-Conquest times, this heavy “soup” contains 12 grains and beans, which in the Catholic iconography represents the 12 apostles, and dried cod (bacalao), representing Jesus. © Lorraine Caputo

 

Let us, then, embark on a photographic-poetic excursion of Latin America to celebrate Semana Santa.

For our photographic part of the journey, we shall see scenes from Quito. This capital of Ecuador has two weeks full of very traditional Easter processions and traditions, as well as a Festival of Sacred Music.

For our poetic sojourn, we shall witness the religious life in the cities and villages of Central and South America.

Safe Journeys!

Woman selling palm ornaments. Quito, Ecuador. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Woman selling palm ornaments. Quito, Ecuador. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

PALM SUNDAY

(Quito, Ecuador – 2004)

 

Barefoot, skin the color of cloves

a man walks down the center

of Calle Cuenca

Gunny sack slung over

his left shoulder

He leads five mongrels

on a fraying blue rope

 

Up on the open-air atrium

of the Franciscan church

the traditional market has returned

Woven bouquets of palm fronds, flowers

bucklets of choclo con habas, of salchipapas

This day the police

don’t push the vendors off

 

At the toll of seven-morn mass

an officer shoves a drunk

down this street

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

The Jueves Santo procession in Quito. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The Jueves Santo procession in Quito. photo © Lorraine Caputo

A POEM FOR JUEVES SANTO

(El Estor, Guatemala – 1994)

 

Under the full moon

a procession wends

through the village

At 14 altars

the 14 stations of the cross

decorated with flowers & candles

they stop

A woman

waves copal incense in front

A man

says a prayer in Quek’chi

 

The altar boys

in white & red

carry the crucifix & candles

Next come the elders

Then Christ

in red

carrying his cross

upon men’s shoulders

After them walk

the congregation

the priests

& on-lookers

Their voices rise in song

in Spanish, in Quek’chi

 

© Lorraine Caputo

The cucuruchos wear hooded robes. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The cucuruchos wear hooded robes. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Some participants in the Good Friday processions dress as Jesus and are accompanied by friends who act as centurions and may flagellate the penitent. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Some participants in the Good Friday processions dress as Jesus and are accompanied by friends who act as centurions and may flagellate the penitent. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Some cucuruchos wear shackles and chains. © Lorraine Caputo

Some cucuruchos wear shackles and chains. © Lorraine Caputo

A penitent wrapped with barbed wire and carrying a crossbeam covered with ortiga (stinging nettle). photo © Lorraine Caputo

A penitent wrapped with barbed wire and carrying a crossbeam covered with ortiga (stinging nettle). photo © Lorraine Caputo

Some penitents strap cactus to their backs. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Some penitents strap cactus to their backs. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viernes Santo (Good Friday) is the day of the crucifixion. Quiteños have a very traditional and spiritually powerful procession on this day.

The cucuruchos – the hooded ones – are fulfilling penitence. In Quito, they walk through the historic center of town, from San Francisco church, uphill to the Basilica, and back – a total of about three kilometers (1.8 miles). Often they do this barefoot, at times with shackles and chains. Some wear a barbed-wire crown of thorns, or wrap barbed wire, stinging nettles (ortiga) or cactus around their torsos. Friends accompany a penitent, to help him hoist the cross upon his shoulders, or to relieve the weight for a block or two. Other friends may dress as Roman centurions to “guard” him on the way of the cross – or even to whip him.

Behind them are the Verónicas, veiled women dressed in purple, representing the woman who wiped the sweat from Jesus’ brow after he fell. After this come the Virgen Dolorosa (Virgen of Sorrows) and Jesús de Gran Poder (Jesus of Great Power), to whom the procession is dedicated. Both are richly adorned with silver.

It draws over 100,000 faithful – and notoriously several dozen pickpockets. The event begins at noon and lasts until about 3 p.m.

The Verónicas. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The Verónicas. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Quito’s Good Friday procession is dedicated to the Señor de Gran Poder (Lord of Great Power). He is the patron saint of Ecuador’s police forces. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Quito’s Good Friday procession is dedicated to the Señor de Gran Poder (Lord of Great Power). He is the patron saint of Ecuador’s police forces. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The Virgen Dolorosa’s black dress is embroidered with gold thread. Her halo is made of fine silver filigree. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The Virgen Dolorosa’s black dress is embroidered with gold thread. Her halo is made of fine silver filigree. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

The procession attracts over 100,000 people. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The procession attracts over 100,000 people. photo © Lorraine Caputo

VIERNES SANTO

(Puno, Peru – 2006)

 

During the night

beneath the fulling moon

rising above the sacred lake

beneath the rain

Pilgrims climbed

to the cross atop

Azotoguini hill

 

& come blinding-sun morn

they still zig-zag up

that cerro white

with fallen hail

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

It is now Sábado de Pascuas, the Saturday between Viernes Santo – when Christ was crucified – and Pascua – Easter Sunday, when he was resurrected. On this day, the Virgen Dolorosa (Virgin of Sorrows) is silently carried through the streets, everyone joining in the mourning of her first-born son. In Guatemalan villages, it is the women who carry the Virgin in any procession. photo © Lorraine Caputo

It is now Sábado de Pascuas, the Saturday between Viernes Santo – when Christ was crucified – and Pascua – Easter Sunday, when he was resurrected. On this day, the Virgen Dolorosa (Virgin of Sorrows) is silently carried through the streets, everyone joining in the mourning of her first-born son. In Guatemalan villages, it is the women who carry the Virgin in any procession. photo © Lorraine Caputo

SORROWS

(Arequipa, Peru – 2012)

 

On this Santo Saturday

the Virgin of Sorrows wends

through the narrow streets

of this white-stone city

 

In this cool night

her podium sways

atop the shoulders

of two dozen men

 

At her feet, a carpet of

thick tapers flutters—

the scent of beeswax & sweet white flowers,

of pungent palo santo incense

 

In that light gleam

the embroidered gold threads

the encrusted gems

of her black-velvet cape & canopy

 

Her crown & gold halo

of fine rays, fine jewels

sway in rhythm to

the brass & drum band

 

Surrounded by hundreds

of faithful grasping candles,

flickering flames illuminating

their lips silently praying

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

Easter (Resurrection) Sunday is not as important as it is in the Protestant religions. For Catholics, especially in Latin America, Good Friday is much more significant. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Easter (Resurrection) Sunday is not as important as it is in the Protestant religions. For Catholics, especially in Latin America, Good Friday is much more significant. photo © Lorraine Caputo

RESURRECTION DAWN

(San Salvador, El Salvador – 1998)

 

Four-thirty

I crawl out of the hazes of my sleep

Explosions echo through the streets & alleys

 

Where am I?

San Salvador.

The Revolution.

The city is under attack?

 

 

I walk out to the back patio

where the resounding is clearer

The volcano is lost in the dusty haze

of the nearing end of this dry season

Only the brightest of stars are visible

 

Blast follows rocket blast

The early morning traffic hums

Singing fills the darkness

 

It is Easter Sunday

 

 

& I wonder during those 10, 12 years of war

when a curfew blanketed the night

How could these people celebrate the Resurrection?

Could they have those fireworks

those songs?

Could their procession wind

down these full-moon streets?

 

& I wonder of those deep in their sleep

What do they feel       they fear

with each rocket exploding?

Do their dreams

turn to nightmares?

 

 

The pre-dawn sky lightens

with the tolling of church bells

The gunshots of firecrackers pop-pop

through the alleys & streets

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

IMG_0044

Crosses awaiting the cucuruchos of the Good Friday procession. photo © Lorraine Caputo

BEST PLACES TO EXPERIENCE SEMANA SANTA (in Latin America)

No matter in which country you are at this moment, you’ll find processions from Holy Wednesday through Resurrection (Easter) Sunday. The most sincere ones are in smaller towns or villages. These are some of the places with the biggest, most spectacular Holy Week celebrations in the region:

Mexico – Taxco, San Luis Potosí and Querétaro (traditional ceremonies and on Good Friday, the penitents’ procession); Iztapalapa

Guatemala – Antigua (with floral carpets)

El Salvador – San Salvador (with sawdust carpets)

Honduras – Comayagua (with sawdust carpets)

Nicaragua – Matagalpa, Granada, León

Costa Rica – Heredia, San Rafael de Oreamuno

Venezuela – Tacarigua de Mamporal, Guatire, Villa de Cura

Colombia – Mompox, Popayán, Pamplona

Ecuador – Quito (with very traditional masses – including the arrastre de caudas, and processions, especially of penitents on Good Friday)

Perú – Ayacucho (with floral carpets)

 

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS

  • Because many families head to the beach or other popular national destinations during the holiday, hotel and food prices in those places triple or even quadruple.  If you are on a tight budget or looking for peace, for tranquility – avoid these destinations!
  • As well, because many travel during this time, bus and other transportation prices also dramatically increase across the board – especially in countries like Peru.
  • Hotel rooms will be exceptionally scarce in popular vacation destinations and in the towns with the most famous celebrations, like Antigua, Mompox, Popayán and Ayacucho.
  • Check on availability of transportation – and whether markets, restaurants and other businesses will be open, especially from Wednesday to Saturday.
  • The processions draw a lot of observers – and many pickpockets. Watch your belongings in large crowds.
  • These are religious observances. Please dress and behave respectfully.
  • Practice respectful photography ethics.
  • Be prepared for long hours in the sun: use protection (sun screen, hat) and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Evenings can be cool; be sure to take along a shawl, sweater or other wrap.

 

CIPHERING SEMANA SANTA

When you’re off travelling, how can you know when Semana Santa – and even Carnaval will be?

It isn’t too difficult. This is how Western Christianity sets the dates for these religious observances:

  • Easter (Resurrection) Sunday (Domingo de Resurreción) is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox (which can occur 20-22 March).
  • Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) is the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday.
  • The forty days before Palm Sunday is Lent (Cuaresma), which begins on Ash Wednesday (Miércoles de Cenizas).
  • Carnaval is fêted in the weeks before Lent begins.

 

 

photos and article © Lorraine Caputo

CARNIVAL SEASON IN SOUTH AMERICA

Carnaval in Santa Marta (Caribbean Coast, Colombia) is a much more down-home affair than in Barranquilla. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Carnaval in Santa Marta (Caribbean Coast, Colombia) is a much more down-home affair than in Barranquilla. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

It’s been several weeks without dry clothes in this high-altitude city during the rainy season. It hasn’t been because of the daily storms – oh, no.

It is Carnaval.

Every morning, we leave the hostel in Quito’s Centro Histórico and walk to a restaurant on Plaza Santo Domingo for breakfast. On García Moreno, near the Arco de la Reina, a woman sits aside a low, makeshift stand setup. Her wares are water-filled balloons, old IV bottles filled with water, buckets of water. A man hands her some sucres and launches a balloon at a friend awaiting a bus.

As obvious foreigners, we also get doused – both coming and going from breakfast.

We change into dry clothes before heading out to see the sites, like the equator at Mitad del Mundo, and to sing selections from the Sound Of Music in front of the Basilica (and unknowingly disrupting a mass). And of course, during the course of the day, we were inevitably soaked again.

But in this season of afternoon rains, our clothes never seem to dry. And being mochileros (backpackers), we only have three changes of clothes. We are eternally, infernally damp until this party ends with Ash Wednesday, 4 March.

Oh, but we join in the festivities. (Or would it be fairer to say that we sought our revenge?)

One day, Dewy – who had a room with a private bath overlooking the street – bought 200 balloons. A water fight ensued with the neighboring families to the left of the hostel and across the lane. One kid to the left bombed two nuns walking below and perfectly pitched a globo (balloon) through the open door of a bus, hitting the driver. The final outcome: four broken windows for our team and seven for the neighbors.

Another day, a joyous fight broke out between the hostel staff and the guests. Everyone was running from level to level around the interior patio, dumping buckets and lobbing balloons to victims below (or above). Then the owner walked in – and everyone disappeared, leaving behind several centimeters of water pooling in the patio.

Indeed – we had arrived in Ecuador’s capital city right during Carnaval.

We’d come to Quito for the Quest Gang meeting: 29 February at high noon at the main bus station in Quito, Ecuador. So focused on our goal were we that we didn’t even take note of the calendar. Anyways, Carnaval is one of those holidays that no-one really pays attention to, unless you’re from New Orleans or Italy or some other place that host riotous street dancing and music.

But what in the devil was this with all the water?

I bought a bunch of post cards from the kiosks at the backside of the Presidential Palace, and sat down to write thank you notes to friends I stayed with on the trip down through Mexico and Central America:

Dear ____,

I have arrived safely in Quito and in time for the 29 February meeting. Nine of us showed up from five different continents. And – also just in time for Carnaval. Boy, do they have a strange way of celebrating here: with water! It’s like a huge water fight, with people throwing balloons at each other, or dumping buckets of water as you pass by on the street. Insane!

Again, thanks for hosting me when I passed through. Hope to see you as I travel north again in a month or so!

And when I visited those friends on my north-bound swing, I learned much more about how Latin America celebrates Carnaval. Elio in Panama said, “What’s so strange about that? That’s how we celebrate here!” Nicaraguan Noel, like me, also found Ecuador’s customs bizarre. (But then, in his country, they are in the midst of the seven-month-long dry season when Carnaval arrives. To have a nation-wide water fight would be a sinful waste of a precious resource.)

Carnaval in Santa Marta, Colombia. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Carnaval in Santa Marta, Colombia. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

From the southern United States to Tierra del Fuego, we are in the throes of Carnival – or Mardi Gras, as it is known in Louisiana (USA).

This celebration occurs in the weeks before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Catholic Lent. The pre-Carnaval season begins 6 January, the feast of Epiphany (Day of the Three Kings).

Carnaval is a huge street party, to let loose one last time before Lent is observed. Carnival began in 14th-century Italy. It blended pagan fertility rites with Catholic ideology: The coming of Spring with the impending 40 days of Lent (when traditionally an observant gives up meat and other foods, or even habits like drinking and smoking) and Easter observances (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).

The Saturday preceding Ash Wednesday is an official holiday in Brazil and Panama. In these countries, as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela the Monday and Tuesday proceeding the solemn day are also holidays.

Drums and clarinet characterize Colombian Carnaval music. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Drums and clarinet characterize Colombian Carnaval music. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Bon Temps Roulez!

In Latin America (including French New Orleans, Louisiana), Carnaval is a huge parade with lots of drumming, music, dancing and fanciful costumes. Whatever the local brew is – whiskey, rum or chicha – will keep the revelers fueled.

The pre-Carnaval season kicks off big time in Pasto and other southern Colombian towns, with the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (28 December – 7 January). This festivity is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It has its roots, in reality, in the indigenous Quillacinga harvest festivities, celebrated after the December solstice. These days, this Carnaval begins with a water fight on Fools’ Day (28 December). The calendar year ends with the parade of the Old Men, a Latin American-wide fixture of New Year’s Eve. 5 January is the Blacks Day. This was originally a day of rest for the African slaves. In modern times, pastusos (natives of Pasto) don black face. 6 January is Whites Day, and faces whitened with talcum powder. Floats and murgas (dance and drum troupes) are featured on this day. In some communities, 7 January is Reds Day, honoring the indigenous population. Throughout this Carnaval, expect lots of talcum powder to fly.

The Carnaval Andino in Arica (Northern Chile) brings together this city’s diverse population: mestizo, African and Aymara. Here is an Aymara dance troupe. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The Carnaval Andino in Arica (Northern Chile) brings together this city’s diverse population: mestizo, African and Aymara. Here is an Aymara dance troupe. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Another note-worthy pre-Carnaval celebration rolls in Arica, in the extreme north of Chile, with the Carnaval Andino con la Fuerza del Sol (Inti Ch’amampi). Here, not only are the streets alive with the dancing of the Aymara people, but also Arica’s significant African-descendent population. It is Chile’s largest carnival celebration, and is held for three days in January or February.

In other parts of South America, communities are also dancing the pre-Carnaval season away, as if preparing for the big events in the week or so before Ash Wednesday.

A typical creature that appears on Colombia’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

A typical creature that appears on Colombia’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The biggest parties are in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Barranquilla (Colombia), which is another UNESCO intangible Cultural Heritage. Lodging is booked months in advance, and tickets for Rio’s Sambodromo competitions sold out.

However, you can find festivities in many other parts of the continent. Outside of Barranquilla, the cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coast have more down-to-earth, community-focused dancing in the streets. A typical creature that appears on this region’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda, which is named for the black mico monkey that lives in the Caribbean coast forests. The long nose of the humans’ costumes refers to the long tail and long tongue of the other primate – though some equate it to another body part. Both creatures exhibit risqué behavior.

Big celebrations are also held in Salvador (Brazil); Tilcara, which has an Andean-style celebration, and Gualeguaychú, which is Brazilian-influenced (Argentina); Oruro, also a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Hertiage (Bolivia); and Ambato (Ecuador) where Carnaval coincides with the city’s Fiesta de las Frutas y de las Flores (Fruit and Flower Festival). Montevideo (Uruguay) has the world’s longest Carnaval, lasting 40 days. El Callao, in the Río Orinoco delta of eastern Venezuela, has a distinctly Caribbean feel, due to the large Trinidadian population of the town.

Snow in tropical climes? Nay – it’s cornstarch a-flurrying in Santa Marta (Colombia)! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Snow in tropical climes? Nay – it’s cornstarch a-flurrying in Santa Marta (Colombia)! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Not only is there music, dancing and drink, but also all sorts of things may be thrown: water, eggs, paint and cornstarch. A common feature of Carnaval in the Andes is the public water fights in which all passers-by are victims.

It is a sunny, early February day in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the southeast shore of Lago Titicaca. I have come here for a month to finish writing a book on the banana companies in Central America. If I finish, then I shall splurge with a trip to Machu Picchu.

The village celebrated its patron saint – the Virgin of Candelaria – on 2 February. But still throughout the day and night, I hear the troupes wending through this town, and through the countryside settlements. The men and women dance, sing and play without ceasing, continuously chugging chicha and chewing coca leaves. Of the myriad traditional dances, I find the morenada with its clacking toys to be the most fascinating.

Indeed, the Virgin’s feast day has seamlessly blended into the Carnaval season, which will end on Ash Wednesday (on 17 February this year).

As I cross the plaza in front of the beautiful basilica, I feel a stream of water hit my side. I turn around to see a boy – about ten or eleven years old – hiding behind a tree. He has a massive water gun in his chubby hands.

Memories of Carnaval in Quito pass through my mind. There is no way I am going to spend weeks at this altitude (much higher than the Ecuadorian capital) being eternally wet, and running the risk of coming down seriously ill.

With a glare, I walk straight up to the kid and lay my hand on his long, plastic weapon, pushing it to one side. “Do not ever do that to me again, please. Do you understand?”

He looks at me dumbfoundedly and nods yes.

“Good. Thank you.” And I walk away to continue my tasks.

Until that Wednesday when this soaking nightmare ends, I cautiously cross that plaza where the young boys lay in wait. But when they see me come, they point their guns’ nozzles down and timidly greet me. Thank goodness!

Since approximately the beginning of the millennium, customs have changed in Quito. The huge water fights have been outlawed. Slowly travelers have learned this – especially after a visit from the police explaining the newcomers cannot toss balloons from a terrace four stories up.

Nowadays, the capital’s residents celebrate with tossing raw eggs and colored flour. Water continues to play a roll, being shot out of fancy mega-water pistols. The most popular weapon, however, is carioca, or spritz foam.

In Quito, Ecuador, the preferred “weapon” is spritz foam. ©Lorraine Caputo

In Quito, Ecuador, the preferred “weapon” is spritz foam. ©Lorraine Caputo

Ever wonder how Easter is calculated on the Western Calendar?

So wherever you happen to be, join in the Carnaval festivities. Let loose of the winter doldrums and have a wild time during this pre-Lenten time! If you are traveling and want to plan ahead, here’s how you can calculate when the Carnaval season will be:

Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday) is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the (northern) Vernal Equinox.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday; the week between the two Sundays is known as Holy Week or Semana Santa. Forty days before Palm Sunday is Ash Wednesday; this period is known as Lent. Before that is Carnaval!

Carnaval falls in either February or March, and Easter Week in March or April.

NEW YEARS EVE IN LATIN AMERICA : A Photographic – Poetic Journey

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you. ©Lorraine Caputo

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you.
©Lorraine Caputo

Tonight, as this old year ends, people will be celebrating throughout Latin America. Fireworks burst across the midnight sky, and twelve grapes are eaten with each stroke of that hour, to bring twelve wishes to fruition. Viejos (Old Man Year) are set afire, finally exploding into a million sparks shooting into the new year. Food and liquor flow into the wee hours.

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The most explosive of the customs is the Años Viejos (Old Man Years). These effigies represent politicians, sports figures, entertainment celebrities or other famous persons. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they are dragged to the middle of the street and lit ablaze. Once the flames reach the center of the effigy, the fireworks stuffing explodes.

Some Latin American neighborhoods have contests for the best one, in which civilians and public services, like the bomberos (fire department) will participate. In Ecuador, the end-of-year custom also includes displays summarizing the year’s events in political, sporting and other arenas. Often Años Viejos are accompanied with a testamento, a word of advice or with a list of the things to be burned before the New Year begins.

Colombians believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©Lorraine Caputo

Colombians believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©Lorraine Caputo

Colombia has a bevy of traditions (agüeros) not practiced in other parts of Latin America. They believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. At the stroke of midnight, Colombians will walk the block with a suitcase (to bring lots of travel in the next year), count money over and again (to make it multiply), or take a champagne bath (to ensure good fortune and prosperity). They also have a number of other ways to draw wealth, good luck — and even divine the future year.

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. ©Lorraine Caputo

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. ©Lorraine Caputo

One custom that Colombia shares with its southern neighbor, Ecuador, is wearing yellow underwear to draw good vibes. Red will fulfill passionate desires.

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. ©Lorraine Caputo

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. ©Lorraine Caputo

But besides the fireworks and the Viejos, that equatorial country seems to have something all its own: the Viudas Alegres, or the Merry Widows. Ecuadorian men dress up as women and joyfully greet all on the streets. Why do the men do this? Some state that these are the Merry Widows of Old Man Year, so happy to see him finally gone and done with. Others say, to disguise themselves from the problems of the old year, so those troubles don’t follow them into the New Year. But you’ll see everyone, man and woman, child and adult, dressing up. Quito’s Centro Histórico streets are crowded with vendors selling everything from cheap, florescent wigs to pointy witches’ hats.

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. ©Lorraine Caputo

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. ©Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Ecuadorian custom is to have a baño – or spiritual bath, to cleanse oneself of negative energies. Business owners also sweep their stores clean, from back rooms to the front door, with brooms made of eucalyptus, rue, chamomile and other herbs, then lock the shop up tight until the New Year.

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

Since 1988, I have spent most northern winters travelling in Latin America. I have rung in the New Year in large cities and small towns in Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

One scene that stays with me – that I have never witnessed before or since – are the fireworks in Santiago de Chile: The burst formed one giant blue heart, from which emerged another blue heart and yet another and yet another … Such a beautiful way to end a night of feasting, drinking and bottle dancing in the middle of a street at a block party.

In Trujillo (Honduras), like everyone else, I dodged the Bárbaro. This Garífuna custom involves a bare-chested man dressed in a grass mini-skirt, covered in rouge or grease, demanding spare change from all on the street. (The money is used for community parties and projects.) If you don’t give him even a mere centavito, he will give you a big bear hug – thus covering you with grease (or rouge).

In Havana, I spent the night with Cubans, eating and dancing to the world’s best music. At the midnight hour, the national anthem played, everyone singing along, to mark another year of the Revolution. (Yes, that scene from the Godfather II is true: At the stroke of midnight, dictator Fulgencio Batista announced he was throwing in the towel and, loaded down with millions of dollars in cash, art and jewels, boarded a plane into exile, thus handing victory over to the guerrilleros after their decisive victory in Santa Clara, under the command of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.)

In Bucaramanga (Colombia), at the invitation of the hostels’ family, I lit a candle for my next year. In Puerto Ayora, Galápagos (Ecuador), I saw the beauty pageant, in which those lovely Viudas Alegres showed off their talents, modeling and answering “probing” questions.

In Mexico, I pondered what the New Year would bring to a world on the brink of war. In Ecuador, I watched a Syrian refugee immerse himself in the local customs.

Today, let us poetically journey to these celebrations and ponderings.

May the New Year be full of Light, and wishes come true.

Safe Journeys!

 

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

WELCOMING THE NEW YEAR

(Colombia)

Midnight approaches

without a

bell toll

 

Already rockets burst

in green & white

in a red heart

against a sooty sky

The old men are dragged

to the streets

 

& at that hour

they are burnt

firework stuffing

exploding

 

& we eat grapes, one

by one

Gabriel counts his money

over & again

Rice is thrown, scattering

in the still air

Someone walks around a block

suitcase in hand

 

To welcome in a

better year

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW YEAR’S TRIPTYCH

(Mexico)

I.

Outside the empty

streets echo

with blasts of fireworks

To scare away the demons

that lurk in the shadows

of time a’changing

 

& within this silent house

my mind echoes

Scare away those demons

of war, hunger, disease

Scare away those demons

of misery & poverty

Scare away those demons

of corporate greed

that is destroying this planet

 

II.

At midnight

the streets fall silent

I eat a grape

at each stroke of the hour

& wish

May there be no war

& wish

May there be peace on earth

 

& then

more cracks to scare

the last demons away

 

III.

Come dawn

the smell of a fire

creeps along the

abandoned streets

A police car’s red-blue-red-blue-

yellow lights silently

reflect off windows

 

Standing in the

ochre fog that slithers

past sleeping homes

& closed shops

I look for an answer

of what this new year

may hold

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

DANCE FOR A NEW YEAR

(Ecuador)

The near-midnight streets

are littered with

the frenzied sales of this day

Someone sweeps them

into large piles

& sets them ablaze

On one corner a family sits

drinking to music

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On corners

& midways down blocks

the Merry Widows of this dying year

stop cars for coins

dancing, lying atop hoods

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On stages decked with eucalyptus

Old Man Years slump in plastic chairs

a DJ spins, a young woman sings

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with abandon

 

The midnight hour

the Old Men are dragged to

the center of those cobblestone streets

gasoline poured & set afire

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with frenzy

 

As far as the streets climb

steeply up, the fires blaze, fireworks

explode

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

frantically dances

to forget he cannot go home

to his war-rent country

his family cannot get out

his uncle dies of poisoned water

a wife to be found, a family to be formed

 

Heavy smoke filled the narrow streets

stinging eyes, burning lungs

creeping past shuttered shops

creeping past the migrant indigenous

families come to the city for work

round dancing to Andean cumbia

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances, dances

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

MIDNIGHT TOLL

(Ecuador)

Even before those

midnight bells ring

 

This valley resounds with the explosion, the sizzle of fireworks spiraling green, white, red sparks against the yellow-light speckled hills.

The Old Men are dragged to the streets & set afire. Eager to see this year ended, people leap over the flames, beckoning luck to come.

 

Yet I await that

new year hour to toll

 

Awaiting to embrace my future dreams

bursting, sizzling before

 

The fireworks die … fading. Silence fills the streets. Music of distant parties throbs in the land’s crimps.

The smoke of Old Man Year’s fires & of the fireworks lowers with the silence, mingling with the clouds lowering, obscuring this valley’s slopes.

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo