Coming from a relatively under-populated country (it’s almost embarrassing to do the calculation, but a little under 3 people per km sq), one of the hardest things to adjust to here was just the sheer amount of people crammed into what I formerly thought of as my space. Everywhere you look, there are people. Turn around and you bump into more people. The feeling of brushing up against people, which was – with a few exceptions – something you had to actively seek back home is now commonplace. Pretty much everywhere – buses, markets, bank queues – you’re jammed up against someone with your face in their armpit.
Or, due to obvious height advantages, with their face in your armpit.
Holidays are no exception. In fact, they’re pretty much what makes the rule. Where extranjeros think of a relaxing break in terms of getting away from it all, Guatemalans seem to think that holidays are for getting out of town and going some place where everybody else is going.
Over the Semana Santa break, keep an eye on the front page of newspapers and you’ll see what I mean. Every year they publish a photo of a beach – usually Puerto San José, but sometimes our very own Champerrico – that is horrifyingly, comically crowded. We’re talking people literally shoulder to shoulder in the water, the whole problem exacerbated by the fact that many Guatemalans aren’t great swimmers (and many Guatemalan beaches have killer riptides), so you get this insane crush from the shoreline until the water gets about waist deep and after that beautiful open water.
More agoraphobic nightmares are to be had in Antigua around this time of year. The throngs – Guatemalans and foreigners alike – pack in to see the world-famous processions and the crowd is then doubled by all the pickpockets who hit town looking for some easy pickings.
The bright side to these mind-boggling crushes of humanity is that they pretty much empty the rest of the country out for the rest of us to enjoy. Here in Xela we have a humble Easter tradition – some solemn processions and a little bit of partying, but nothing like the over the top scene down in Antigua. Hotels fill up with visiting relatives, but the streets empty out. Go further afield and you’re likely to have a whooole lot of space.
So bunker down and ride it out, join the masses or head in the opposite direction – whatever your strategy is, have a Happy Easter.