This past September 15th, Guatemala celebrated 190 years of independence from Spain.
Events leading up to this big anniversary were festive and feverishly prideful.
The week before September 15th, people all over my town of La Antigua, where I was studying Spanish, wore blue and white, the colours of Guatemala. They also proudly displayed their flags and other national paraphenelia. I was impressed and humbled by this show of love for their country -- in the corner of Canada where I am from the nationalistic fervor never seems quite this passionate.
So it was my pleasure to participate in one of the traditions involved with Guatemala's Dia de la Independencia. Amongst the parades and the flying of flags, every year on September 14th, Guatemalans all over the country commence the "Antorcha de la Independencia," or the running of the torch. A tradition also done in other parts of Latin America, groups of Guatemalans will procure and light a torch, and run with it from town to town, passing it to a number of ecstatic torch bearers along the way.
The students and staff from my Spanish school decided to undertake the task. A group of us piled into three minivans and drove to a small village 18 kilometers (11 miles) outside of La Antigua. Once there, we procured and lit our own torch, and in shifts, physically ran it back our town of temporary residence. Our three minivans followed closely behind us runners, occasionally stopping to pick up those who were tired so they could recharge their batteries, and drop off those who would pick up the slack. The ultimate relay race.
I ran 12 kilometres of the 18. I was not naive enough to think I would be able run the full 18, but decided to run as far as my legs would take me. When my body gave out, I got into the van and cheered on those who took my place. It was an exhilirating experience.
Passerby cheered us on, visibly excited that us foreigners were taking part in a tradition that is not our own. We got honks of support from cars, and had people come out of their homes and gather on the street to wave and offer us drinks. In a good faith gesture that is common practice during the antorchas, people on the street set their hoses upon us, dousing us with water in an effort to cool us off.
I don't have many pictures of us running because I ran most of the way myself, and when I finally exhausted my energy I was much too tired to think about taking photos. However, toward the very end of our run, I got back out of the van and walked the last two blocks. By this time, we had run back into our city and the roads were thick with traffic and other groups running with their torches. I managed to snap this picture as a few of our group members took the last corner before the straightaway to our school.
The tone was gay and jubilant once back at our building. Triumphant, I got these pictures taken with me and the torch before the flame was forever extinguished.
After a shower and a brief lie down, I was ravenous. I decided that, as a reward for my efforts, I would treat myself to a nice lunch at a restaurant I had been to twice before, and loved. Coincidentally, the restaurant is named Las Antorchas. Funnily enough, before the race, I had no idea what the name of the restaurant meant. Realizing the significance, I thought it apt to eat there after participating in such a symbolic event. I had a hearty meal, rested a bit, then left to go to Guatemala City to attend what was to be my first soccer game ever. What a great day.
This experience made me realize that this is why I am happy I travel.