There are two characteristics that I found most notable in the cemeteries in Guatemala. The most immediately obvious is the extensive use of color. There is nothing sedate or boring about a Guatemalan cemetery.
The other trait I found so interesting is the high degree of care accorded these sites. Family members are regular visitors. I would see them cleaning up their loved ones graves, sweeping, pulling weeds, removing spent flowers and leaving fresh ones.
In the previous segment in this series, we were in the northernmost part of the Department of Quiché. Now we move on to the Santa Cruz del Quiché (known simply as Quiché), the capital of the department, and then to Chichicastenango, 20 kilometers away, with the largest urban population in the region.
This is the very unassuming approach to the cemetery in Quiché. I must have been able to get pretty clear directions because nothing about this would have been obvious.
But when I reached a break in the surrounding wall, this is what I found.
A broad, stately avenue lined with large mausoleums led up to the chapel. Some were in good repair, others were crumbling away.
On the left side of this avenue were once elegant structures.
At least half of the imposing monuments along this main avenue were no longer being maintained. Families all dead, or gone from the area? One wonders what stories they could tell.
More roads and pathways led away to newer mausoleums and gravesites.
And another main avenue, in need of new paving. But the care is so evident – no rubbish, no weeds.
While the avenues are nice, getting off the main tracks is even more interesting.
Back behind the large mausoleums are carefully mounded graves, many with fresh flowers.
And a bit farther out the graves seem more transitory, many just heaps of dirt with wooden markers. There is less money to spare for the dead.
And on to Chichicastenango, which in fact is where this all started. Before I ever even thought about traveling to Guatemala I had seen photos of the cemetery in Chichi. And that is when I knew that I had to see this place.
The route I took to the cemetery in Chichicastenagno was the most direct by sight, but not the ‘correct’ one. I entered from the back, by the little trail at the far left.
Coming up the hill, approaching all these colorful little ‘houses’, discovering what I had waited for and longed to experience.
Multitudes of mounded graves, with cement crosses marking them, and the main part of the town visible in the distance, just as the city of the dead had been visible from the other side.
And finally up into the main part of this extensive cemetery
In the middle of the site, the house of the dead, and ongoing cremations.
And after a lengthy wander, following the paths up the hill to the main entrance.
The white building with the tiled roof is where I ought to have come in. But I preferred the route I took, the trail of discovery.
And so, for now, we bid farewell to the beautiful and evocative cemeteries of Guatemala. But just for now, for I have notes and maps to a dozen more that I still just have to see.