We departed overland for Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. We stopped at the small Kaqchikel Mayan mountain village of Sumpango where we met Julio at the school where he is a teacher. He is one of the founders of the local kite festival," Giant Kite Festival where over 80,000 people come to view the elaborate kites.
He showed us one of the kites that had been used in the past. It was created from layers and layers of tissue paper glued one on top of each other to create multiple tones. It was amazing to see the detail that could be obtained using this technique.
Each year on the Day of the Dead, people from the town gather at the soccer field next to the town's cemetery to join the kite contest. The ancestors’ spirits are free on this day to revisit their earthly homes. They are welcomed with flowers, their favorite foods, and family members, who devote the day to freshening their graves and visiting with them. One story says that noise from tails of the kites frighten away disruptive spirits and assure a peaceful reception for the ancestors. As early as the 16th c., priests noted the flying of small kites during October and November and incorporated this indigenous practice into observances of Catholic holy days. In recent years the “culture of the kite” in these villages has also become an important way for young Mayans to affirm and fortify their own identities.
We stopped at municipal laundry in Patzicia where women and children were doing the wash. This is an opportunity for the women to get out of the home, socialize with other women, and catch up on the latest gossip. This is also a good place to meet a wife. A traditional young man looking for a potential wife can check out the girls at the laundry. He can determine the ones who are already married by the wide belt that they are wearing. A girl with calloused hands indicates that she is a hard worker. To show his interest he will offer to carry her wet laundry home for her. If she is not interested she will decline. He will give her back her laundry one block from her home so that he is not seen. He does this until the parents figure out what is going on and they accompany her to check out her suitor. If he is acceptable, they invite him to bring his parents to meet them. His parents bring gifts, usually rum and cigars, which are then shared. And then the real decisions are made.
We stopped briefly in Sololá, to see a church where the colored, geometric pattern on the windows represent bats [zotz, messengers to the underworld] which is revered this community as the symbol of the last Cackchiquel dynasty. The church consisted of both Catholic and Maya relics and an example of religious synergy with worshippers of both religions attending the church. The weather very cloudy and gloomy so after stopping at the cemetery for a quick visit, Luis gave us an admonition not to get locked inside one of the tombs. Our bus continued from Sololá, descending 500m through pine forests, past waterfalls, with fabulous views of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes of Toliman, Atitlán and San Pedro, down into the Lake Atitlán basin.