On November 1st many countries celebrate the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos), a holiday that originates in Mexico but has spread out to more Central-American countries and even to other countries around the world. On this day, people remember the friends and family members who have passed away. A day to honor the dead. It is very common for people to visit the graveyard and leave food, beverages, candles and valuable possessions on the graves, as a gift for the dead. There is often a band playing some music and people decorate the graves with paint and flowers. On some occasions, people even spend the night on the graveyard, to wait for the spirits of the deceased ones.
But when every person in the city headed to the cementary, we decided to drive to Sumpango for the annual Festival de Barriletes (Kite Festival). In the early days, people wrote messages on the kites so they could ‘communicate with the dead’, but nowadays it is just a tradition that is often used to express feelings of peace for the leaving. Sometimes there is a deeper story behind a kite, such as the Mayan oppression or governmental problems. But actually it is mostly a day of fun, food, drinks, sunshine, music and colorful kites.
When we got to Sumpango it was still very early in the morning, but the small streets of the little town were already filled with people, places to eat and vendors who were mostly selling paper kites. It was freezing cold and I had a hard time keeping myself warm and the weather did not seem to improve one bit. When we made our way to the festival field, we could already see some small kites up in the air. Eduardo (the fiancé of Estefany, the girl I lived with for three months), quickly bought our own kite, so we could fit in with the people around us. It took a while before out kite was up, because apparently we did not have a really good one. The second one did a lot better, but after a while the string snapped and we could see our beautiful red kite dissappear into the distance. Luckily, the sun found its way through the clouds, so it quickly became burning hot on the open field. One by one, the giant kites (gigantes) were set up. The one even bigger than the other. Every time I thought the kite could not get any bigger, an even more incredible one appeared in the distance. In the meantime, the field was filled with people flying small kites and the sky was one big, colorful party. (We even met a lady from Boer Zoekt Vrouw, for my Dutch readers, but that is just a small detail…)
After being on the field for hours, we made our way to the toilet in one of the most crowded streets. When we wanted to go back, we got stuck in the crowd and the heat and the smell of burned pig meat did not have a possitive effect on us. There was no way we could make it back to the field, so we got up on the roof of a small restaurant, where we had a beautiful view on the kites and the massive crowd beneath us. I can’t believe nobody fainted with so many people pushing each other. Unfortunately, there was not enough wind to make the big kites fly and I don’t even think that it would be smart to lift them up in the sky, because they are made of bamboo sticks, cloth and paper. The kites are often made by groups of students or communities and it takes them a whole year to make and paint them!
It is a day full of color, food, happy people, sunshine (I hope) and music, so if you ever find yourself in Guatemala on November 1st: go to Sumpango!
Here is a little impression of how a day at the Kites Festival looks like: