|La Dolorosita,gouache on watercolour paper, 55 x 70cm|
Sunrise wouldn’t be there for another half hour, but already the sky was streaked with purples and reds. The ringing of church bells carried loud and clear through the crispy early morning air. Despite the ungodly hour, the sound of shuffling feet echoed off the sleepy walls in my street. So it was happening indeed…
I had been living in Guatemala for less then three weeks and was excited to be able to be present for Semana Santa for the first time in my life. Not that Easter was anywhere near yet, it was only April 6th, but processions were already in full swing in Antigua. One of the biggest processions would be the one of San Bartolo, the village I happen to live. It’s not much of a village although it has the cutest mini-central park with its typical white church and public pila (washbasin). I’d read in the newspaper that around 100,000 people were expected to participate in the procession, which I laughed off as misprint. No way 100,000 people would fit in the whole of San Bartolo!
I woke up the friend who was visiting me that weekend and we quickly got dressed. Armed with nothing but our cameras and keys we left home. The first rays of sunshine made it over the mountains in the East of the valley. My street was busier than ever with people streaming out of alleys, front doors and backyards, all huddled up against the morning chill before joining the steady flow of people heading towards the church.
When we turned around the corner we could barely believe it: hundreds of people poured into the narrow street that led to the church, carefully avoiding the colourful sawdust carpets in the middle. Apparently the central park was already filled up, because people stopped half way down the street, politely lining up. Whole families were present and surprisingly, many adolescents too. I saw people carrying stools, iceboxes and toilet paper rolls. Well prepared for an event I myself barely know what to expect of.
Instead of getting stuck in the long line in front of the church, my friend and I decided to go against the stream and try to make it to the main road that leads to Antigua. It took a while, but we made it. More sawdust carpets followed, one after the other, every one even more colourful and stunning than the previous.
Although the road was much wider, it wasn’t easy to continue walking towards Antigua with the hundreds, thousands of people going the opposite way. But it was our first procession and at the time we still insisted on seeing each and every sawdust carpet.
About an hour later we had progressed maybe a mile when we realised that we were totally unprepared. The sun was getting fiercer by the minute and we had no water with us, much less money to buy some coffee or delicious smelling pastries that were offered alongside the road. Luckily enough I had lived long enough in the community to know about a back road, so we decided to walk around the multitude and go back home to pick up what we had earlier forgotten.
An hour and about 4 miles later, we where back on the main road, halfway between Antigua and San Bartolo. We had been afraid we might miss the procession, but there was no need, Crossing the sawdust carpets, swinging sideways and back, praying and singing, the procession proceeded very, very slowly.
By then I was convinced that the number of a 100,000 people might indeed not be exaggerated. Thousands lined the 2 mile road, thousands more followed the procession, not to mention the street vendors and Cuchurucos, the men in purple who were taking turns carrying the anda (altar).
First came the Romans, proclaiming the crucifixion of Jesus, followed by a band of more scarily realistic looking Roman soldiers. Then some altar boys carrying incense burners that filled the street with acrid smoke. Finally, finally, the big anda came into view, moving sluggishly forward and sideways on the sad melody of a funeral march. The cuchurucos seemed to be in trance, suffering even, below the heavy load.
One mesmerizing image immediately caught my eye. One of the Cuchurucos held hands with a little girl, I assume his daughter. She was dressed in a white dress sharply contrasted against the deep purple, with the traditional veil of Las Doloras, the female version of Los Cuchurucos. I aimed my camera and saw her looking right into my lens. Click! I hoped my auto focus had done its work, because this could be a good one…
Later, when going through hundreds of pictures of a few hours of procession, I found out that the girl not only looked straight into the lens, she also had one finger delightfully in her nose. Great serendipitous moment! I knew then that one day I’d do something with that picture.
And I did.
And by the way, it’s for sale… :)