Posted by: ktzefr | April 2, 2010

Easter Celebrations: Holy Week in Latin America

“Words, one by one/arrive on the empty page/like honored guests.”  ~  Wimal Dissanayake (Sri Lanka)

I found a few…and some pictures, too…and, if you read to the end, some pretty good You Tube videos to boot!  Check out the way our neighbors to the south celebrate Easter.


Some years back we were in Latin America for Holy Week.  Two years in a row we ate our big Easter meals at Burger King in the Miami airport.  Incredible journeys, new experiences, good food — the airport burgers being the only fast food we had the whole trip.

Semana Santa or Holy Week is a HUGE deal in Latin American countries.  Some places celebrate for weeks; some have parades/processions every day; some set off continuous rounds of fireworks.  It’s a lot of hoopla on the one hand and a reverential religious holiday on the other.  There’s no better place to experience the spiritual passion and religious fervor of Easter, along with immensely satisfying good times!

One trip, one moment…

The day after Palm Sunday.  Cold nights; warm days.  Clear, blue skies and everything smelling as fresh as new linen…Vicente does not speak a word of English, but he has agreed to take us horseback riding in the mountains.  When he points to the horses, we saddle up and ride.  Hooves slip and echo on the cobblestone streets through the village where chickens cackle in pens outside small concrete houses.


horses at cusin


We pass an old woman bringing her cattle home for the night.


woman and cows cusin


We head up a steep trail further into the hills with Vicente pointing out the peaks — San Francisco, Imbabura, Cotacachi.  Some in the distance and others up close, in shades of emerald, brown, and purple.  Soon their tops are gold-striped by the going-down sun.


mountain cusin


The sun falls quickly on the equator and with nary a streetlight in sight, we enjoy those last few golden rays and head back down the mountain.  Vicente hurries the horses along.  In the far distance a car creeps along the only road that passes this way.  San Pablo’s residents do not have cars and there’s no electricity in the village except at the hacienda where we are staying.  By dark everyone will be indoors, shutters closed, candles lit.

Suddenly, a rumbling sweeps down the mountain from behind us and we turn in time to see a herd of cows coming around the last curve in the trail, heading straight for us.  No time to move as they thunder past with their young master close on their heels, riding a bicycle and wielding a leather whip.  The horses startle and instinctively scurry out of the way, their hooves clinging to the cliff’s edge.  I lean left, afraid to move, afraid to look down at the straight-as-an-arrow drop off.

Vicente looks back, smiles and nods.  His horse takes baby steps into the dust stirred up by the cows and we follow him down the mountain past llamas that run to the fence to greet us, past the chicken coops and pig pens and the open windows where dishes rattle and women laugh and children smile and wave.

I notice that Vicente’s horse has lost a shoe and I try to tell him in Spanish but I don’t know the word for horseshoe and can’t remember the word for lost.  He smiles at my garbled attempt (I get lots of smiles when traveling).  Only later do I wonder if I said his caballo, cabello, or cebolla — horse, hair, or onion — had no shoe.  And, of course, I used the word for “people” shoes…


Back in the room in front of the adobe fire with the wood scent filling up every corner and settling into our blankets and clothes and hair, we all have a good laugh.  This is an adventure, I say.  This is definitely an adventure.  We could have been scared half out of our wits by some high-tech space creature at Disney World or twirled into oblivion on Space Mountain, but we would have been prepared for that.  Instead, we’d almost been pushed over the side of a real mountain by a herd of cattle and a small boy on a bike.

As the village around us falls into utter darkness, I feel glad to be alive, to have a warm fire and a clean blanket, to be able to simply reach over and flip on a light.  Time pauses, backs up, settles into the present, in the headiness of wood smoke, the anticipation of the rooster’s first call.  I open the shutters and let in the moonlight, watch the flames create strange shadows that leap from the wooden chairs and candle stands and bedposts to dance across the adobe walls and ceiling.  As a child I was frightened by similar night shadows…suddenly, I’m a grownup in the mountains of Ecuador remembering being a child in the hills of Kentucky.


Ecuadorians make the best soup in the world!  Before the Spanish conquest the indigenas did not have ovens so every meal had to be prepared on the fire and the Sierra diet became rich in boiled foods, mainly soups and stews.  Soup comes in many varieties — thick or thin, with meat and/or vegetables, everyday concoctions and splendid broths for special occasions.  Fanesca, a rich soup made with fish and eggs and cheese and corn and every other grain and vegetable the cook can find in the kitchen, is served only during Holy Week!  Click HERE to check out Calvin Trillin’s quest to find the best Fanesca in Ecuador.  And HERE for the recipe to a “pretty good” version.

Check out these You Tube sites to see how Easter is celebrated in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico!

Fireworks in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

A Quechua Mass in Otavalo, Ecuador

Alfombras y Tepetas…Guatamala (note: the gorgeous “carpets” in this video are actually made with colored sawdust!  Everyone in the town or village helps design the “carpets” that line the streets for Easter and a few hours later the sawdust is scattered, the beautiful images destroyed, as the procession passes through the streets.  I had the pleasure of watching these sawdust carpets being made last fall at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC (this museum includes “all American” tribes — those from North America, as well as the Incas, Aztecs, and Maya to our south).

Costa Rica: Easter, Independence Day, Beaches (parades and pretty beaches)

Happy Easter!

Go to church…dye some eggs…enjoy good eats…hug a bunny!



  1. […]  Easter Celebrations in Latin America […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: