Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan
This is the beginning of the of a two week religious celebration in Santa Elena.
At five in the morning people gathered in the church with the occasional rocket going off outside the massive church doors.
The cavernous church echoes the sound of the blast.
Santiago says that when he was a child the church was full, now there are only several dozen people here. He fears that in a few years this part of the ceremony may die out completely.
We decide to go up to the top of the roof by means of an ancient spiral staircase. In the old days they used candles.
We light our way with our cell phones.
The wedge shaped steps are four inches thick and embedded in the stone walls. We stop to explore the balcony in the back and the upper side chambers along the side, then we head up onto the roof.
The steps are sturdy, except the second step from the top is missing, and it is a long way down.
I have come this far, a simple scary missing step is not going to stop me.
I ease myself up to the roof and look out over the city. There is not much to see in the darken city, but it is wonderful to be here just the same.
During the wars, this is where they placed their lookouts. There are some big iron bells up here. In the old days they would ring them for celebrations such as this one. I am right next to them.
This morning I am glad they are silent.
We head back down the stairs to the processions.
At the bottom the ladies are offering a drink of finely ground corn, sweet potato, and water. I think it is an acquired taste, but the tamales they give us are excellent.
Then we head over to one of the village houses where there is a statue of a saint that the ladies are singing to. Other ladies offer the celebrants more tamales and a hot coffee and cinnamon drink.
I much prefer this over the liquid corn and sweet potatoes.
Then they add some slats to the statue of the saint and start a procession with the celebrants and a small band of drums and trumpets. They take this saint to another house with another saint and sing outside with the musicians playing.
Again cinnamon and coffee drinks are offered along with tamales.
Then both saints are taken in a procession the the church, with the musicians and the occasional rocket being fired.
In another house in the village they now start the slaughter of the pigs.
The pig is on a rope harness and tied to a tree. The pig-sticker deftly stabs it with a knife. In a minute or two the pig dies from blood loss.
These are not smooth pink city pigs. These have a heavy coat of hair.
They then proceed to remove the hair from the pig. This is an involved process. They pour water over the pig then use knives and a blowtorch for the hair removal.
They killed four pigs this morning. The killing and hair removal are done with the curious addition of the musicians playing in the background.
The pig stabbing and dead pigs was not an easy thing to watch.
But I had some bacon that morning, and felt if I was going to be a meat eater, I should be able to watch the process as to how a living animal becomes food.
I vow to pay homage before each meal to creatures that provide me sustenance.
At the end of the hair removal process, I returned home for a short rest.
My camera battery was dead and did did not get much sleep the night before. I took a bit of a nap and returned.
I missed the hog butchering, but was able to see butchered pigs hung up in a Maya hut, and watch them make sausages and fried pork rinds.
I now see why they spent so much effort on removing the hair.
Pork rinds have always been one of my favorite foods, and it gave me a strange sense of satisfaction to munch on them while remembering the live pig I saw earlier in the morning.
There were about three times as many people for the feasting as there had been been for the procession. And they were playing salsa music on a boom box rather than the drum and trumpet live band.
The next day there were going to provide a feast for the poor of the village.