Once again, Guanaja celebrated "Festival del Caracol" (Festival of the Conch) with 6 days of activities for young and old. This was the 3rd Festival and from my observation it is getting better and more organized each year.
I have little information as to why the Festival was created, my first thought being a way to get Guanaja recognized, attract tourists and provide a celebration of heritage for its inhabitants. While all reasons may be be applicable, it has turned into a fun week and a challenge for the islanders!
The first year we were surprised at the inventiveness of the islanders in decorating. With limited resources at their disposal it was something to see in the initiative taken and the ideas that were formed.
The Festival was created to celebrate the landing of Christopher Columbus on the island of Guanaja on July 30, 1502. It has always been part of the tales told on the island that he landed on Soldado Beach after a lengthy voyage. He christened the island "Isle of the Pines" and after a short stay (no one is sure of the length) he sailed on toward the northern continental coast and to Puerto Castilla. I find little information to say if he ever returned to Guanaja nor what his encounters consisted of while here. Of course, because of this fact the locals here have turned his landing into a Festival complete with a re-enactment of what they think may have taken place. This is re-enacted on the final day of the Festival on Soldado Beach.
During the 6 days of Festival, there are parades, bands, dancing, food, fireworks, floats and a spectacular flotilla on the last day culminating this event.
I have missed most of the celebrations in the past due to a lack of information as to the time of day when the activities would take place. The fact that most of the "action" happens at the far opposite end of the island from where I live means I would be traveling at night which is not something a cherish when I am not familiar with the reefs in that area. Therefore, knowing a time schedule would help considerably in attending those events that take place during daylight hours.
This year we were in Mangrove Bight for opening day and had heard that the parade would take place about 3:00 p.m. Mangrove Bight earned the privilege of opening the Festival with the Coronation of the Queen of the Festival this year, which had, to this point, been held in Bonacca Town. Our Granddaughter, Alyssa, who was visiting us was taking dive lessons from George at G&G's Clearwater Paradise Resort, and my husband and I took the boat over to Mangrove Bight to view the festivities while she was occupied.
The morning apparently was dedicated to games for the children and people were still setting up their stands in anticipation of the parade and coronation. The decorations were outstanding. This year someone bought a mold for a cannon and the townspeople collected recyclable plastic, melted it down and used it for the molding of the various cannons on display at the main dock. They were well done and quite realistic! A large platform had been erected and decorated to accommodate the coronation which, I am told, was to take place in the evening. The streets were decorated with streamers and huge colorful masks accenting the sides of buildings, fences and poles. Palm fronds were added and the whole effect was one of a well-planned effort by the people of Mangrove Bight.
Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at G&G's but thought I could take photos when we returned for the parade. This was not to be as when we headed back to the Bight for the parade, a sudden summer storm produced piercing rain which made it almost impossible to see while driving our boat. So, we passed up the Bight and drove on home in the blinding rain.
More activities followed during the week: a celebration in the town of Brisas del Mitch, a barbecue at Graham's Place complete with two live bands, a celebration in the town of Savannah Bight and more parades and fireworks on El Cayo (Bonacca Town) on Saturday. Sunday was the final day and this is something I look forward to every year.
Boats are gaily and artfully decorated. They are first motored around El Cayo and then they head to Soldado Beach were the pageant will take place. Every year the "Pirate Ship" gets better and better. This year the new "molded" cannons were present and they were actually firing them! People dressed as pirates had costumes which had gotten better since the first Festival and, to top it off, there was a boat decorated with a life-like, beautiful huge sea turtle and underwater sea life! A boat was decorated and provided who's sole purpose was to carry the Festival Queen to Soldado, another decorated as a mock-up of what might have been an Indian Hut on the beach. There was another one, just for fun, decorated with palm trees!
The beach was packed and parking was at a premium. With no spaces left on the beach people anchored their boats off shore and viewed the festivities.
There were booths set up from which one could buy refreshments or food. Of course, all during Festival, conch soup was high on the list, with fried pork or chicken being served as an alternative. A stage for the planned show of dancers in grass skirts and a scheduled live band to appear had been built. Of course there were speakers everywhere playing typical Caribbean Music. People were still in costume and, when we arrived, the pageant had commenced with the re-enactment of C. Columbus' landing.
Children played on the beach, women laid in the shade provided by umbrellas with babies, lovely women strolled along in swimsuits and, of course, a soccer game was in progress. The day long activity was to be culminated that evening with a bonfire.
All in all, in spite of being rained out on many days, the weather was picture perfect and a good time was had by all.
I truly expect next year's Festival to be even better.....maybe someone will finally post event times which would help considerably in enabling people to attend many of the festivities! I plan on attending more of the activities next year so I can report on even more advancements with Festival! Hmm, maybe they could hold a dance or a "talent" contest for young and old alike to get more people involved. Local crafts could be displayed and/or sold ..... the possibilities are endless.
I offer my congratulations to all the people whose hard work made the 3rd Conch Festival a wonderful success, a great show and fun for all. It was truly a labor of love which showed in all planned activities.