If you survived August in Xela, you probably think you can sleep in again in September. Well, all those school bands that kept you from a good lie in are nothing in comparison to the Independence Festivities. However, if you are freshly arrived and wanting to dig your teeth into Guatemalan culture you are in for a treat. From the 9th to the 18th of September Xela goes into “full party” mode.
It all starts with a beauty queen extravaganza that leaves you wondering whether all those Miss World and Miss Universe scandals ever made the news here. There are 11 beauty queens crowned during the Feria de Independencia. I kid you not. Some of the contests seem pretty obvious: Daughter of the People of Xelaju, Señorita Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltecan Sports Queen , the Mayan Peoples’ National Flower and the Independence National Queen. All just as you would expect. Then it becomes obvious that this town has a beauty queen addiction problem: the Municipal Employees’ Girlfriend and Miss Electricity Company are the uncontestable evidence of this.
Aside from a glut of local beauties, who parade mounted on vehicles for the viewing pleasure of the entire city, there are fireworks. A city that does not provide wheelie bins to houses for their weekly garbage collection can afford a few million Quetzales in a spectacular fireworks display. It also manages to find funds and space to host the Juegos Florales Hispanoamericanos, an international sporting event which also somehow commemorates independence.
Yet this is all just preparation for the marching bands: 18th Century military dress troops, little girls dancing cumbia down the street, Mayan beauty contestants in traditional dress, all of whom at some point in time break into dance moves. It is also an excuse to try all the various Quetzaltecan sweets on offer: coconut slices, caramel fingers, sweet tamarind balls, nut slices. Head o
The culmination of the Feria is the scream of independence, which the mayor of Quetzaltenango belts out on the 15th, w
hich is Independence Day across all of Central America. Curiously, the Feria also coincides with the Virgen del Rosario celebrations. Any excuse for a party, it seems. So bust some moves at the feria, you won’t regret it.