Friday, July 24, 2009
Flower Celebration in Guadalupe Etla
The “Festival of Virgin Carmen” is one of Guadalupe Etla’s most anticipated celebrations of the year. On Friday, July 17th, our adventure began with a taxi ride to the 2nd class bus station, with an enthusiastic bus driver eager to fill us in on the city’s festivities. Passing a church plaza with a temporary stage set up, we learned of a MUST-SEE event that would take place Saturday. After our usual wandering, we found the “Street of Taxi’s.” where we grabbed a cooperative to the community, about 17 kilometers from Oaxaca City. The ride out to Guad Etla was quick and painless, as most taxi rides are in Mexico. Arriving an hour early for the 5pm festival, we found the town mostly deserted to our amazement. A mini carnival ride sat alone in still anticipation in the Zocolo (town square), awaiting the dozens of children who’d giggle and enjoy them later. In only a few minutes of wandering, our ears had led us to a band warming up nearby. Concerned we’d missed it or arrived on the wrong day, we asked Susan to inquire with the church’s Bell Ringer, who assured us that the festival would indeed begin at 5pm.
Setting the Stage:
In front of the church sits a nice courtyard with a lovely garden. The church boasts the typical twin bell towers, and a row of chairs has been set up for the band. Large bamboo and paper-mache figurines -- an oversized blond woman and gangly armed brunette man -- stand guard on either side of the main door, appearing like some kind of strange sentries.
As the clock chimed 5pm, the band marched up a side street towards the church, led women dressed in colorful, traditional costumes (skirts & hand-embroidered blouses) who carried large wicker flower basket arrangements on their heads. A man equipped with far too many skyrockets, which would serve as his sound-off that the festivities were underway, headed the march. The band assembled in the church courtyard and proceeded to play very loud, off-key mariachi for about an hour. The flower women danced skillfully while balancing the 20 pound arrangements atop their heads, which adds about 10 feet of height to each.
The tall figurine sentries came to life as two men slipped inside and began whirling viciously around the plaza; giant globes floated through the crowd. Soon the crowd , complete with figurines, globes and flowers, formed a line and began strutting down a side street. We followed along, the tres gringos in a sea of smiling locals. Little did we know this was the start of a 2-hour long parade that would wind throughout the entire town. Not a moment passed without the startling rocket explosions making us jump from up ahead. The whirling figurines had found 3 more tall, gangly friends; the band played loud and proud; flower ladies juggled their arrangements cautiously among the 200+ parade participants.
Boy, did we stand out! The parade stopped several times along the route and the flower ladies performed a series of line dances, the men twirled and juggled the large ornamental globes, and the figurines continued spinning. Kids scrambled to catch their share of candy strewn along the parade route.
After several stops, an animated local offered us some “mescal”, a local drink made with agave, and insisted we partake. Several of the flower ladies wanted us to mount the dancing figurines on our heads or twirl globes, but we kindly declined. Finally, the parade wound back to its starting point, and we felt as though we’d crossed finish line. Children mounted the mechanical carnival ride and the rolling street party turned into the Zocolo party. Our time was up, and we hopped a cab back to Oaxaca.
The generosity and friendliness of locals didn’t end their; upon arrival to Oaxaca we needed to cross a wide, busy street. Susan asked a policeman for directions and he instantly turned around and stopped traffic (3+ lanes in each direction), and walked us across the street. We are constantly blown away by how nice and helpful everyone is each time we ask for help, directions or even suggestions for restaurants. On our way home we stopped to have dinner again at the Escapularia, where Susan did her magic and we had various “tapas” and sampled all 5 different local “mole’s”.