Last Friday we celebrated El Día de la Independencia, or as we say in proper English: Independence Day. I looked forward to this day, because I had no clue what this day would look like or how the Guatemalans celebrate Guatemala’s 195th birthday. 195 years of freedom from the Spanish colonists!
The week prior to September 15, every town proudly showed the Guatemalan blue and white flag. You could see them everywhere; in the supermarket, on cars, at schools, in the streets… It was kind of like a Dutch Kingsday but then with blue and white. Or when the Dutch national football team has to play a game and everything turns orange. But there is one thing different and that is that the Guatemalans have an amazing tradition called the Antorcha de la Independencia-relay. The relay starts in the night of September 14, when the Guatemalans remember their independence hero María Dolores Bedoya, who ran through the streets with a torch as a sign of her hope for a free future of her country. And now Guatemalans all over the country participate in the relay. People run from the village they live in to the city (and back), with a burning torch. When you live in Antigua, you’re lucky, because you and your team only have to run about 35 kilometers. But when you live all the way up in Petén, you have quite a challenge in front of you because that is over 520 kilometers from the city! I think it is an amazing tradition, because we saw a lot of teams running through the streets with burning torches with a van behind them. When a runner is tired, he passes the torch on to a team member who takes over the running. The relay creates great excitement in Guatemala, because people on the side of the road are loudly cheering for the runners as the torch passes their village and every team wants to make it to the final destination. Although it creates a lot of traffic, it was quite fun to see.
But an Independence Day in Guatemala is not an Independence Day without protests against the current president, who turns out to be just as corrupt as the former ones. Some new laws now make it possible to bail yourself out of jail for a ridiculous small amount of money, so corrupt politicians and tough criminals can be out on the streets within a few days. I don’t think I will every understand the Guatemalan system and how immensely corrupt it is, but I do know that I was happy not to be in the city center with all these protesters.
During the day there were still a lot of noisy parades with people in blue and white and at the end of the day my first Independence Day was closed with a lot of fireworks and loud bombs!
¡Feliz cumpleaños mi querida Guatemala!