November 7, 2009

Celebrating el Dia de Los Muertos in Todos Santos

In Guatemala, there is a big celebration on the  1st of November. One of the place to go for this occasion is Todos Santos, a small village in the Cuchumatanes mountains in the north west of Guatemala. They have kept their traditions alive and one of them is the horse race on the 1st of November. I had wanted to go the years before but never had the opportunity. So I decided to organize a trip with Simone and Emma, two friends from England.

We left on the 1st November very early from Xela to see the races. Its origin is vague. It could be the celebration of the triumph of a group of Mam who escaped from the Spaniards by horses.  Or it could be linked to the purification of the ground, as participants kill a chicken before the race. It is not a competition, people just ride for fun, which is hard to understand for foreigners. Who wants to ride a horse completely drunk with the risk of falling and killing yourself? But it’s fun to watch! The riders dressed with plumes feathers, a special belt and jacket, ride from one side to the other side of an one hundred meter track. Arriving at the end, they come back. And so it goes,  all day long. Some are so drunk that you wonder how they can stay on the horse. The riders had stayed up the night before drinking and organizing a big party for their families and friends. Sometimes some fall off their horses and if someone dies it means it’s going to be a good year for the town. Riders have to participate to the race for four following years. No more, no less or it’s bad luck. For their last year, they have to eat a full chicken the night before. During the race, they carry another chicken on their horses and at the end of the day cut its head. People can spend up to 20,000 Quetzales during these three days which is a huge amount of money for them.

We spent the day watching the races under the rain and in the cold. We couldn’t drink a shot of alcohol to get warmer because in Todos Santos the consumption of alcohol has been banned. It’s allowed only for 5 days during the November celebration. But you can’t buy any alcohol in the shops, you need bring your own. For a few days, the town is full of bolos (drunks) trying to stay on their feet or sleeping on the street in the mud.

On the 2nd of November, we went to the cemetery before heading back to Xela. The population of Todos Santos goes to the cemetery to celebrate their dead. They decorate the tombs with garlands, flowers and candles. They improvise small ceremonies in the sound of the firecrackers and marimba. 

To see more pictures, click here

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