Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish, is the biggest annual holiday in predominantly Catholic Latin America and usually a big event on Utila.
It starts a week before Easter. The churches, or at least some, have early-morning prayer meetings and sunrise services. On my morning mountain bike training run I had to avoid a Nun and some parishoners logging a 12-15-foot cross.
And then THEY COME! Ferry load upon ferry load of tourists from the mainland of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many bring their own coolers with drinks and food. Some arrive a little green around their gills and glad to have solid ground under their feet. Once ashore, the hunt for a hotel room is on.
Obviously Semana Santa is good for business, as hotels and restaurants are packed and planes, ferries and taxis are super busy. It’s a time when even people who don’t care for the ocean go to the beach. One can observe beautiful bikini-clad tourists parading down the beach or soaking up the sun!
Chepas Beach, located to the west of Utila Town, is under siege during Holy Week. Dozens of champas (kiosks) are erected by locals and natives competing for customers to offer drink and food. Each champa has its own music system, blasting all manner of tunes at full volume. Native families used to cook a delicious local dish – fish bando – but now it has been mostly replaced with barbecues.
A trip to Water Cay, where the famous SunJam takes place every year, is another option for our “Party Crowd.”
The organizers of SunJam had a big techno/reggaeton party during Semana Santa on Bando Beach, with tunes into the early morning hours, to the dismay of many neighbors – sound carries well over water. When I went for my early morning tech dive I had to maneuver between glassy-eyed, wabbling all-night revelers. It was like doing a slalom with my tank on.
Some of the more hardcore party animals go right through Semana Santa partying til they pass out. That’s the not so “holy” part of “Holy Week.” Those who prefer a more quite Easter stay home or escape to some quiet beach on the north side. Tourists who want to avoid the madness leave before the stampede starts.
Lance Bodden donated speed limit signs – to remind our speed-happy motorcyclists the speed limit is 25 kmh and not 70 mph – as well as stop signs. There were also a lot of private signs in front of shops calling attention to the speed limit, in light of the tragic death of Kenner Jackson in February (see April Voice). We even had several people standing on the road brandishing hand-held speed limit signs. One could observe a definite reduction in speed as most motorists took heed. Increased police presence also helped to keep the party-happy crowd under control.
With Easter Sunday came the great exodus, with hundreds and hundreds of tourists trying to get back to the mainland. Usually there is a big slump in business after Holy Week. Strangely this hasn’t happened this year. We are still pretty busy here on the Rock.
More and more people are falling in love with Utila after seeing its natural beauty and experiencing its easy-going lifestyle. One of the biggest lies here is: “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Try it, you’ll like it! Until next Semana Santa.