Saturday, August 16, 2014

El Palo Volador en Joyabaj - The Flying Pole Dance!

There are so many little Mayan ceremonies and traditions here that we will never see, not necessarily because they are secret and hidden away but because there are just so many of them and the villages where they can be found are widespread, we just won't get the chance to see it all in the two years we are here. But we can try.

Now we can check off El Palo Volador, we just saw it today and it was pretty darn cool. An early Friday morning start got us on the road at 6am and after a 6 hour drive northwest into the mountains above Chichicastenango (the famous market town) we arrived in Joyabaj, a small normal town in full swing for the flying pole festival.

We drove slowly through the congested streets looking for a parking spot for little Wasuby (our green Subaru) and found a nice quiet spot in front of a pharmacy. Just around the corner we each paid Q2 (about 50 cents) to use the bathroom in a dirt parking lot which were two makeshift outhouses with water-bucket-dump toilets. Refreshed and ready, we headed into the center of town where all the noise was coming from and all the people were walking towards. We only saw 2 other foreigners on our way in who we recognized as USAID folks. This is truly a local festival, not just a show for tourists.

The noise got louder and louder and as we rounded a corner we found out why, there in the central plaza was the 30m tall pole with 3 stages surrounding it all blasting competing and clashing music. Not very organized, or maybe it was...

Around the pole were a couple circles of dancers in costumes and masks dancing and acting out different scenes. One was a bull that was super mischievous and wanted to steal the stuffed animals and baby dolls the other dancers were holding, the bull also liked poking the other dancers in the butts with sticks. Another group was a mischievous cheetah chasing the other dancers around. Also dancing in a rhythmic circle were about a dozen little hand carried floats spinning in circles and moving around the circle followed by groups of men and groups of young women holding poles with streamers on the ends shaking and dancing around the circle. All live marimba bands and latin top 40. But hard to tell who was dancing to what sound system.

The Flying Pole Dance was of course the coolest part. Five guys in matching costumes climbed up this huge tree trunk that had been recently cut down, de-limbed and erected in the town plaza. Three guys stayed up top and the other two hooked one leg through a loop of rope and hung upside down while the rope unwound from where it was wrapped around the top of the pole, spinning the two guys slowly down to the ground where they eventually got close enough to sit up, unhook their legs and then touch down and run it out. Pretty brave and amazing.

This pole ceremony is still performed in several Mayan towns in Mexico and Guatemala. What it symbolizes varies, from a dance to make the Gods happy and bring them rain, to birdmen recreating the world.

We saw several different groups of Voladors have a go while we munched on little Guatemalan enchiladas (crispy fried tortillas with carrot salad, ketchup and mayonnaise on top), lychee fruits and water melon slices. The music and the random firecrackers finally just got too overwhelming for us to take any more so we followed a slow parade around town for a few blocks, shopped for a cowboy hat for Hubby, and watched the groups of dancers do their thing.

A few hours at the festival chaos was more than enough for us so we headed back down the road we came in on to a bigger town named Santa Cruz del Quiche where we got a room for the night and wandered around the main plaza enjoying some street food and people watching.


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