Some noisy, noticeable events unrelated to Semana Santa

The carpets, floats and sorrowful dirges of Semana Santa carry centuries-old tradition reserved for the holiest period of the Catholic calendar. But, in Guatemala during this special season, you’re also likely to encounter sights and sounds that are common year-round.

Before you panic thinking there’s a shootout down the street or a UFO hovering nearby, here’s a brief rundown of what’s happening.

Pistols at dawn

Sounding like an all-out gun battle, those firecrackers and bombas that sometimes erupt at dawn are happy noises. Really. For birthdays, anniversaries and other special events, a family member or a close friend will set off long strands of high-octane firecrackers and perhaps launch a rocket or two outside the honoree’s home. Not to worry, your hotel is not under siege—it only sounds like it.

Red-light district

No, you’re not walking past a brothel. That red light glowing beside many a front door or window on Friday and Saturday nights means that the homemade tamales inside are fresh, hot and ready to eat! Knock on the door or ring the bell, buy a few and savor a Guatemalan favorite.

Who needs helium?

While enjoying nighttime views from one of Antigua’s rooftop terraces, you might notice a shimmering, orange sphere rising slowly into the sky. It’s a globo, a miniature hot-air balloon, powered by the heat generated by a candle burning inside. Launched for a variety of special occasions, globos carry prayers, hopes and good wishes into the heavens.

Lava me now or lava me not

If you awaken in the middle of the night to distant thunder—and it’s a cloudless sky—you may be hearing Volcán de Fuego. Erupting moderately for a decade, Fuego has been acting up lately. Daytime racket usually masks Fuego’s belches, but late at night, the rumbling sometimes drifts into town. Run out and take a look, you may see orange flares and glowing streams of lava. We’re not in Kansas anymore!

How’s your gas?

Now and then, a low-octave buzz crackles out of a loudspeaker mounted on a mini-pickup truck rolling slowly down Antigua streets. Following the momentary racket, a deep voice intones, “Zeta Gas? Zeta Gas?” Except it doesn’t sound like “Zeta Gas.” It’s long and drawn out, with a rising inflection at the end: “setaGhaaaass? setaGhaaaass?” Meaning: A propane gas vendor is outside, in case your tank is low.

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