As I've left Guatemala and continued my journey roaming the world in free sandal wearing bliss, I just had to share on of my favourite things about my time living there. Giant Owls. No just kidding (although I do love them). On November 1st of each year a world of colour explodes in Sumpango in the form of giant kites. All sizes and shapes, heights, designs, big or small... if you can imagine it then it's represented in the annual Kite Festival at Sumpango, Guatemala.
As you can see, not all kites are the traditional diamond shape with a little tail I had as a young girl racing along the beach. No, here they let their imaginations soar and create such wonders as giant Tecolote (owl - look up).
Why an owl you ask? Well, in Guatemala they are called Tecolote and are believed to be the bringers of good luck and fortune. The Chinese have their waving kitties, Guatemalans have Tecolote. But seriously, imagine how much good luck you'll receive with one that is about three stories tall!
Taking months to build these amazing kites, whole families and communities participate in this creative endeavour. Imagine an entire town or a whole block of neighbours all getting together to contribute to this one project. A giant Tecolote. Now that is beautiful.
Animals are always a crowd pleaser so you'll find them in many designs be it a part of the patten itself or the major concept.
From kitties to tigers they all stand proud in front of you as you shade your eyes, tilt your head back and look up to take in all the glory of a multi coloured tiger twice your height.
Now that is a tiger! But not all kites are animal based. You will find Mayan themes such as the Mayan Calendar below showing the corresponding animals with traditional names. Gods and Goddess' or the story of mankind. Even the devil has his place... right next to a giant teddybear.
All are welcome, all are wondrous and all are the pride of a family, neighbourhood or village.
By far the most popular design is a round shape which catches the wind making it easier to launch. Surrounded by tassels and often taking upward of 4 men to launch, these huge kites take off to resounding applause from the grandstand where thousands flock each year to see the competition. Feet stamp, hands clap and even grandmothers stand and cheer. It is truly a sight to behold.
It's also a good vantage point away from the danger as not all of them stay up and quickly plummet back down into the unsuspecting crowd which is part of the fun. People jump to try to save them, children on their fathers shoulders reach out desperately to touch a flying tiger, squealing with delight as their little hands caress it on the way past. This all adds to the family day out.
Crowds stand in front of the kites to have their pictures taken and crafty entrepreneurs patrol the crowd offering to take your photo, for a small fee of course.
So it doesn't matter if you forget your camera or don't own one, they will help you out with a trusted souvenir of your time at the festival.
After all, it's not everyday you see kites starting at twice the height of you and receding in layer after layer of multi coloured wonder until they stand three stories tall. I know I certainly don't see a teddybear bigger than my house very often.
Or an owl whose outstretched wings make you gasp in awe (well I did at least). There was that moment when I looked up and just stood there with my mouth hanging open saying 'WOW'. Until a fly flew in and I choked a little bit bringing me back down to earth.
Wandering around soaking up the fun and enjoying the ambiance can be tiring but don't worry this annual event is such a crowd pleaser they erect temporary restaurants for you to sit in the shade and rest your weary feet. Of you can go out the back and there are food stalls galore in a paddock on the side of the mountain for you to choose from. Traditional food - tostadas, BBQ, elote and whole fried fish, alongside huge tubs of cool drinks like my favourite Rosa Jamaica or Tamarindo are readily available as you wander around. Children running around flying kites adds to your entertainment as you sit picnic style on the grass enjoying your lunch.
Elote is a big grilled corn on the cob with lime and salt. Tostadas are like a giant corn chip the size of a tea saucer with your choice of toppings (my favourite is refried beans, guacamole and pico de gallo (tomatoes with cilantro and onion) so it's easy to find an amazing lunch to enjoy while you recline and watch the kids go crazy running around laughing with their kites.
Just remember to keep an eye on them because it's not the kids that you have to watch so much as the adults. Their the ones whose kite control is lacking! I watched one tourist couple continually get tangled up with everyone around them and they just kept apologising then doing it all over again. Thank god the Guatemalans are so patient!
But overall it's a great day out surrounded by happy, smiling people, amazing kites, colour and wonder. These kites are something I will certainly remember for the rest of my life because you know what ... it's not everyday you see something so fabulous as a three story high multi-coloured good luck owl. It's the stuff of children's wishes and dreams!