If you already read our handy Semana Santa Primer post, then skip ahead to the pretty pictures. For the rest of you…Alfombra is the Spanish word for “carpet” and that’s exactly what these temporary, organic pieces of street art are meant to be–fancy carpets that pave the way for elaborate Semana Santa processions which we witnessed last week in Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts the most mind blowing Easter celebration in The Americas.
People spend as much as they can on alfombra ingredients which range from flowers to vibrantly dyed wood shavings and sawdust to fruits and vegetables to tiny Noah’s arcs. Styles vary too. Some are hand-made and, thus, imperfect. Others are done meticulously using stencil cut outs and exact measurements. Some designs are circles or even 90 degree angles around corners. Some are covered in vegetables. Some are playful. Some are not.
Alfombras are typically created by an entire extended family on the cobblestone street in front of their home but local businesses create alfombras too. No matter who made them it’s the approaching procession that destroys them. Hundreds of feet carrying floats weighing thousands of pounds walk right over the alfombras. Once the procession has passed, a clean up crew arrives and sweeps the once beautiful alfombra into a pile so a mini front-end-loader can scoop up the mess and lift it unceremoniously into a waiting dump truck.
Like life, alfombras are impermanent. The process reminded us of the sand mandalas we watched Buddhists make (and then destroy) during our travels in Asia.
We fell in love with alfombras of all shapes, sizes and styles and we’ve included many of our favorites in the slideshow, above. And don’t miss the slide show at the bottom of this post which shows us helping to make an alfombra with Evelyn Herrera and her wonderful staff at Hotel San Jorge.
Click on the thumbnails, below, to open a larger version of the image
We got two special Easter gifts this year. The first was from our friends Judy and Gene who so generously let us stay in their beautiful home in Antigua over Semana Santa when its nearly impossible to find a hotel room unless you’ve booked WAY in advance.
The second gift was from their friend Evelyn Herrera whose family owns the lovely Hotel San Jorge (Central location! Big garden courtyard! A fireplace in every room! WiFi! An economical mid-range price!). She invited us to help make the hotel’s alfombra, which turned out to be a blast as we snipped and stripped the flowers Evelyn had gone to the market to buy at 6 am.
Evelyn also picked up a four foot (1.5 meter) long, hard, canoe-shaped pod of something called corozo. The thing grows on a palm and when you split it open (with some considerable effort) the inside contains a large stem full of what looks like pliable rice. This is a Semana Santa must-have and almost every alfombra uses corozo.
We pulled the rice-like stuff off the vine and sprinkled it into the design, the hard pod was cut up and used to fashion baskets on both ends of the alfombra. Heck, with more than 800 quetzales (a little over $100) worth of ingredients it was all hands on deck to get the stuff prepped and placed just so following Evelyn’s design.
The slide show, below, shows you our progress from naked street to finished alfombra to passing procession to pile of trash.
Read more about Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Read more about travel in Guatemala