Alfombras of Semana Santa (Holy Week Carpets)

Semana Santa in Guatemala is a stunning combination of colors, smells and sounds. Guatemalans love colors, as evidenced by the brightly painted houses and beautiful woven fabrics here, but nowhere does this love of color appear more strongly than in the alfombras or carpets of Semana Santa.

These are not actual carpets, of course, but rather temporary ones created for the processions that wind around Antigua (and other towns/cities) during Holy Week. The carpets are designed months in advance in many cases and the stencils made or purchased. Every year, the designs are different, but the insane amount of work that goes into these temporary works of art is the same.

There are several different kinds of alfombras. The most impressive ones are made of colored sawdust, which is sold in bags of color or hand mixed with dye by those making the carpets. Here is a sawdust carpet (alfombra de aserrin) in progress:

A base of plain sawdust is laid down to fill in the cracks in the cobblestones and create a flat surface. On top of this, colored sawdust is smoothed out, usually using pieces of wood to form the edges.

The next step is placing stencils on top of the base coats and adding the elaborate colors. Sometimes multiple stencils are used to create more complex designs, such as portraits of saints.

Other alfombras are made of pine needles and flowers. Here’s an example:

These are made by arranging a thick layer of pine needles over the street, then topping it with flowers, sawdust or fruit and vegetables. It’s not uncommon to see children running along after the procession, darting between legs to grab flowers and fruit that hasn’t been completely destroyed yet.

The carpets take hours to create, so often, people work all night long on them, finishing minutes before the procession arrives to destroy their hard work. There are usually a couple of different processions going at any given point in the day, so the carpets have to be carefully planned to be done between one procession going through and the next one passing.  I will be posting more photos when my sister and I go to Antigua to check out the processions next week, so stay tuned!

If you want to see the alfombra making process, this is an interesting video:

What’s a Tuk Tuk?

I sometimes forget that people outside of Guatemala read my blog, but obviously, there are some terms that people who have never been here might not understand. A commenter recently brought this to my attention, so I figured I would let you know what a tuk tuk is. These are not exclusive to Guatemala, I’ve seen photos of them in other countries, such as Thailand, as well.

This is a tuk tuk:

It’s a moto taxi with three wheels and a little seat in front for the driver. The handlebars are similar to a motorcycle. These are quick and easy transport around town when a full size taxi is too big. They’re very handy for getting around carpets during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Semana Santa and Sisters

This is the busiest time of year around here. Irving, his dad and his youngest brother are all rushing here and there to play in processions and vigils around Antigua and the capital. Add to this the fact that Irving and Melvin are also in a band that continues to have gigs every weekend and we barely see the guy these days.

It will only get worse as we reach the actual Semana Santa. Then Irving will be playing in processions that last up to 18 hours, only to finish and grab a tuk tuk to the next one. He rarely sleeps during the week and food is minimal, usually sandwiches handed out by the band leaders. This year, we have the added challenge of his diabetes. The white bread sandwiches and packaged cookies that they usually give the musicians are definitely not what he needs to be eating. I’m still working on that puzzle. Back before kids, I used to walk with the processions and bring him food and drink, holding the stuff while he played. That hasn’t been an option for years now.

semana santa antigua

My sister, Sarah, is coming down tomorrow. This is the first time I’ve had someone here during Semana Santa, so we will be doing the tourist thing and dragging three kids through the streets to see the processions and carpets. I guess after living here for so long, the novelty has worn off and now I tend to see Semana Santa as more of a nuisance, but it really is spectacular. The boys have only been to Antigua once during this week (twice if you count the long walk with Dorian when he was 4 months old), so it should be interesting to see how they react. They have music flowing in their veins, so I suspect they will enjoy it.

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 79

Me: “At Disney World they have the Beast’s castle and you can go eat there. Sometimes the Beast even comes in.”
Dante: “A real beast?”
Me: “No.”
Dante: “A robot, then?”
Me: “Just a guy dressed as the Beast.”
Dante: relieved “Oh, okay.”
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Dominic: upon returning from running errands with Irving “Any food here? I need FOOD!”
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Dante: “When I’m a man, I’m going to open a pizza shop and make my own pizza. It’s going to be great and we’ll have LOTS of money!”
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Dante: “Mama, do we have any chemicals that explode?”
Me: “Um, no . . .”
Dante: “I thought I asked to you to buy some the other day.”
Me: “I forgot?”
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Dominic: “More eye-peem!”
Me: “Can you say ‘ice?’”
Dominic: “Eyes.”
Me: “Can you say ‘cream?’”
Dominic: “Peem. More eyes-peem!”
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Dante: “I HATE school! This is stupid! Why do I have to do this?”
Me: “Well, when you grow up, you’re going to need a job to make money and school helps you with that. Plus, math helps you figure out if you are making the right amount of money or if people are shorting you.”
Dorian: “AND, if you are building houses, you need to know how much wood to buy and how much to charge people.”
Dante: “Oh, that’s why? Okay.” Buckles down to work.
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Me: “Dominic, can you say London?”
Dominic: “No.”
Me: “Can you say Londres?”
Dominic: “No. Papa can say it.”
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Me: “Auntie Sarah is going to sleep in your bed, since you don’t sleep in it.”
Dominic: “Oh, Sawa sleep here.” looks around. “Oh! Need a pillow!”
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Me: “Dominic, what are you doing?”
Dominic: “Nothing.”