Fiesta in Panajachal, Lake Atitlan

You think you are such a lucky traveler to stumble across a fiesta, but after a while you realize that they happen so often, you would have to work to avoid them. Fiestas and markets form the centers of life in Latin American towns and villages. People work hard, and the fiesta provides some legitimate slack time for most, and a chance to earn some extra money for some.

I think this was a fiesta for San Francisco. The usual saints were trotted out and there was a beauty queen. Mostly I just wandered around amidst chaos, noise, smoke and smells wondering at it all. Trying to make sense of it would be hubris. The people here have been celebrating this particular whatever for hundreds of years and the accretion of meaning should humble the most well versed anthropologist.

The fiesta centered on the cathedral and old town square, and a huge stage with over-sized sound equipment that had seem too many bumpy country roads. The Cathedral was a silent backdrop. As in a lot of Latin America, the indigenous culture dominates, with a nod to Christianity.

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A combination of live and recorded music blasted from the speakers which crackled with deep garbled bass. An unbelievably fast beat underscored the pops and whines, and dancers in modern dress maintained a sort of go-go cadence. The beauty queen nobly stood to one side.

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Meanwhile, on the square just below the stage, two other large groups of indigenous dancers attempted their traditional routines. One group wore the local woven clothes and face masks that look like gringos, or maybe conquistadors?. It was like white-face. One of the mysteries to be unraveled. I know that in Mexico a lot of the costumes with European white faces are in fact representations of conquistadors. But why? And what is the implication?

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This was for sure, they had not practiced to the same sort of music screaming from the stage, and there was utter confusion and lack of coordination amongst the dancers.

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Next to this group was a group of feather clad dancers. They, too, were forced to move their feet and bodies to the disco beats emanating from the stage. And they were equally flummoxed in their efforts.

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The procession consisted of three floats and a marching band, complete with a marimba toted by a group of men.

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Inside the brightly colored, feathered and balloon colored floats there are saints, but one has to look closely to see them.

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