Guatemala’s endless passion is fireworks: firecrackers, mortars and anything that goes boom, bang or lights up the skies in bursts of colors is a vital part of any celebration. Firecrackers, known as cohetes are made in small factories, sometimes using child labor under unsafe conditions and have colorful names such as Utz Pin-Pin, Maximon and Puma. For about 70 quetzals or $9 USD, a string of a hundred is yours to light off later. The smaller shops usually have a few strips of paper-covered crackers and when the major celebrations come along such as Easter Week and Independence Day, the more elaborate fireworks stands appear in the markets. Due to the occasional mishap, such as the explosion that went on for hours a few years ago in Antigua’s central market, they’ve been relegated to being far off as possible these days.
Fireworks have always been an essential part of celebrations in the United States but over the years, the phrase “safe and sane’ has become the watchword. Sparklers are banned in California but you can buy almost anything pyrotechnical in Nevada. Do you want rockets, M-80’s or cherry bombs? Maybe the illicit nature of having things that go boom made me wonder about the sources for these in Guatemala.
At the rate of almost daily events that take place here, there had to be local production centers, and I had assumed that many towns had their own ‘Mom and Pop’ stores, rolling the firecrackers in the back room. Or what is, in essence, a Guatemalan ‘cottage industry’.
A few months ago I started asked locals and ex-pats in Antigua about a fireworks factory nearby: mostly vague answers were given but the common answer was ‘somewhere around San Juan Del Obispo’ an outlying village south of Antigua on the upper green slope of the volcano we call Agua.
Earlier this week, armed with a camera, notebook plus a guide and driver that both speak English, I decided to find this factory, ‘somewhere around San Juan Del Obispo.’ What we found was astonishing to all of us. Tomorrow, Part Two, “Turn left at the yellow house.”