Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Semana Santa in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: March 23-29, 2016

Four days after returning from our Botswana/South Africa vacation, I was on a plane without Dan and headed to Mexico for a Santa Fe Photographic Workshop in San Miguel de Allende (SMA). This is Holy Week and there were so many photographic opportunities.

Celebrations leading up to Semana Santa (Holy Week) begin the Saturday before Palm Sunday. This year Palm Sunday was on March 20. The Friday before Palm Sunday is the "Night of the Altars" for the Virgin of Sorrows (Dolores).

On Palm Sunday there is a procession with palms and Jesus is on a donkey. Monday is the "apprehension of Jesus", on Tuesday Jesus is in prison and the sacred statue named "Jesus of the Column" is paraded.

The first event I saw was "The Abandonment of Jesus" on Wednesday. From the Oratorio Church, a procession wound its way through the historic center of SMA. People of all ages carried sacred statutes decorated with flowers and some carried other symbols of Jesus' last days leading up to his crucifixion. The procession stopped at each station of the cross for prayers.

The pot of new grass symbolizes resurrection. Grass seedlings are covered until Palm Sunday. By Easter, the grass has turned green.
Sweet Angelitas waiting for the processional walk to resume
Children at another Station of the Cross

Holy Thursday was The Last Supper. The crowds were so thick tonight, it was overwhelming. On this night there was also the visiting of the 7 Churches--seven to represent the last seven words Jesus said on the cross: "Lord, Lord, why have thou abandoned me?"

Friday, Good Friday, to avoid the crush of SMA as a group we went to a small town near Guanajuato called Santa Ana to photograph their unique Good Friday commemoration. Participating men are dressed in shades of purple. They are penitents. At one time, the hood would have been a disguise so they could ask forgiveness of their sins without anyone knowing who they are. Now, the hood is part of the costume. Our guide said that the darker the fabric, the longer the person has been participating in the Good Friday Procession. Also, the longer the rope, the more sins that need to be forgiven. The fabrics are very rough and itchy.

The penitents carry the very heavy statue of Christ (carrying the cross) as well as men dressed as Roman guards and three little angels.

Groups of barefooted women also carry statues out of the church. 

As the procession wends it way across the church grounds and out into the village and back, lines of additional costumed penitents replace the original penitents in carrying the platform.

Back in SMA, Friday evening was for the funeral cortege Procession of Holy Burial. I managed to find a spot where I wouldn't be jostled too much. Every aspect of the crucifixion was part of this solemn procession beginning with Jesus on the Cross and ending with the carrying of his casket.

In between there were men dressed as Roman soldiers, angelitas spreading flowers and sweet-smelling herbs, groups of choir boys, and sacred statues carried by women or men dressed in funereal black.

A procession of women carrying lanterns followed the casket.

Saturday, a day of mourning, had no sacred events until quite late when a procession led by crosses departed the Oratorio to slowly walk through the streets. A large candle was carried along on a platform. Halfway into the walk, this candle was used to light the candles carried by the procession.

The procession returned to the Oratorio for mass by candlelight.

I joined those that weren't observing a day of mourning, and I went to a bull fight. The bull ring in SMA is quite small so no matter where you sit in the stands, you feel close to the action.

I stayed for only 3-4 bulls because I wanted to make sure I was able to watch the candlelight procession. The first lucky bull was met by recortadors. This was a bloodless exhibition. "Los Recortadores Españoles" do not kill the bull. These guys use the bull as a scary acrobatic prop. The bulls that followed were for the more traditional style of bullfighting.

The death-defying moves of the "Los Recortadores Españoles" were exciting and fun to watch made even better because no one was hurt or killed.

Sunday morning some of us left the hotel quite early hoping to see an Easter Sunday procession of children. That didn't happen. Since we were already up, we looked for a procession of pilgrims leaving SMA. We didn't find any pilgrims. Near the railroad station, we did find three guys who had been up all night and probably not for religious purposes. They agreed to be our models.

Javier with "The Beast"

More photo ops presented themselves on the walk back to the center.

Sunday's Semana Santa event was a lot less solemn than those of the prior days. Sunday at noon is the "Burning of the Judases." This event dates back to colonial times when burning of effigies was used as a lesson to show that actions have consequences. In today's "Burning of the Judases" effigies are political figures, witches, or anything or anybody that someone might want to blow up.

The effigies are made of paper and a ring of fireworks circles the waist. The only effigy I could identify was Donald Trump. The effigies are suspended along a rope that is lowered to light one waistband at a time. There were a lot of effigies!

Effigy of Donald Trump
After most of the effigies had been blown up, The Donald was one of the last three still hanging. The crowd began to chant, "Trump, Trump, Trump" so his effigy was next. The explosion did not disappoint and the crowd cheered.

Trump Loses Head

After all effigies have been blown up, the heads that survive can be bought. The head of The Donald was a valuable, in-demand prize today.

And, then it was time for me to go home.

The crowd, the week of events was exhausting but so lovely, thrilling, memorable. The demands of the workshop were challenging and made me venture from my normal safe zone of photography. I enjoyed it!

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops The instructors for the Holy Week in San Miguel de Allende were Jennifer Spelman & Michael Amici. Both are excellent instructors and artists.

Hotel: Hotel Posada de La Aldea

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Chobe National Park, Botswana: Feb 29-Mar 1, 2016

The drive from Savuti to Chobe was a very long drive with rain most of the way. Getting there, we drove through a large reserve of Teak trees. Cutting of teak is prohibited in this reserve.

We've seen impala in all the parks, but Chobe seems to have thousands. They are everywhere. Near one of the large herds of impala, we spotted a Leopard Tortoise. This tortoise is one of the "small 5" of Botswana.

The geology of Chobe is another unique feature. The soil in this part of Chobe is quite red, and the western park boundary is also the border of Botswana and Namibia. Botswana is higher than Namibia because the Namibian land sunk as a result of an ancient geologic event. The Chobe River divides the two countries in this area.

After a short siesta at our camp, we headed out to explore more of Chobe. Like in Savuti, there is a large and fierce pride of lions. We went to look for them.

In our search, we saw more impala, elephants, banded mongoose, and we found a lion family lounging in the road. This group included several adult females, mixed sub-adults, and young cubs. We could see nine lions on one side of the road and on the other side was one 16-month old male whose mane was just beginning to grow. From a nearby bush we could hear the sound of new cubs and see a female. The unseen cubs sounded like Tasmanian devils with their little screams, roars, and meows.

We lingered with the lions until almost 7pm and returned to our campsite as daylight was turning to dusk. As we were freshening up for dinner, Moses saw a lion laying in the grass behind his tent. He quickly let us know that there were lions about. His order to us was to "minimize our movements." Eddie our chef had been cooking three kinds of meats for our last dinner in the bush and the lions thought they were invited. Within in minutes, daylight was completely gone. Moses shined a flashlight into the grass and we saw eight pairs of lion eyes staring back at us. Moses and Duks set up additional lights around our dining canopy, and we continued with our dinner plans, moving slowly, and sat down to eat a fabulous meal. Eddie, the chef, bravely sat with his back to the lion infested grass. Within a few minutes we saw the dark forms of the lions move, grumbling and making low calls, away from our campsite.

Whew, eight lions and five humans walking! That was exciting and scary, and it meant that I wasn't going to sleep well--I didn't. Sleep didn't come easy or fast to me, but I must have fallen asleep because I woke to the noise of group of elephants grazing next to our tent. In the night I heard the low calls of lions and trumpeting of elephants. Then, it began to rain hard.

In the morning it was still raining while we packed and ate our last breakfast. Moses took us for a last drive in Chobe. It took three hours to get to the park gate and along the way we saw some white-backed vultures perched on a dead tree.

The group of lions we saw yesterday afternoon, were still in the same spot. They were so lazy, probably full from last night's hunting, that we didn't stay long.

We watched several large Chacma Baboon groups. This guy contently sat next to the truck alternately dozing and serenely watching us.

At the Chobe River we found a drama in the making. We saw a sub-adult male lion sitting on a small hill in front of a depression. Soon, a female hippo and her very, very young baby emerged from the depression followed by the male hippo. The hippo family slowly headed toward the river with the lion following.

The mother and her child finally made it safely to the river where they were safe from the lion. The male hippo kept watch until the baby was safe.

Not too far from the river, we found a black-backed jackal enjoying someone's leftovers. He was chewing on the leg of an impala.

We found more baboons enjoying the puddles caused by the recent rain.

Each day that we have been in Botswana, we have seen giraffes. This last day was no exception. The giraffes and some impala had placed themselves near the exit gate and it was like they were saying goodbye to us. Moses delivered us to the Kasane Airport for our flight to Johannesburg.

We saw such a diversity of animals and landscapes on this mobile safari with Unlimited Safaris and Moses:

Lions:           58 plus the heard, but not seen cubs in Chobe
Elephants:  100s
Leopard:         2
Buffalo:      100s
Rhino:             0

Besides four of the "Big 5" we saw hundreds of giraffe and zebra, thousands of impala, and so many other amazing animals like hippos, the cheetah, the caracal, baboons, monkeys, many different kinds of antelope and birds.

Our guide was Moses. He is the owner of Unlimited Tours & Safaris UnlimitedSafari. We asked Unlimited Safari to design a trip for the two of us and couldn't be happier. Our chef was Eddie and he along with Duks made sure we had excellent food and a comfortable tenting experience complete with hot showers and a clean camp toilet.

Credit cards (Visa & MC) were widely accepted in Maun (the town we flew into to begin our Safari) and at the airport in Kasane.