By the way, it´s a sacred Maya lake …

11 Jun

So it was fixed last night: I would rise at four-fifteen to shower, get coffee and be out on the street in full hiking gear to await Edwin, who would drive and then guide me and two other gringos up Chiqabal, an inactive volcano twenty miles away, before leading us down to the shores of its crater lake. “And by the way, it´s a sacred Maya lake”, Annie added helpfully as, mindful of the early start, I made ready to turn in. “So don´t piss in it.”

When Los Conquistadors brought the love of Christ it got mingled and mangled with Maya religions much as, 2000 years earlier, the slow spread eastward from India of Buddhism had had to reckon with Asia’s countless “paganisms”. In both cases the hybrid results are alive and kicking, with tobacco a big part of spiritual life here, as is rum. In Antigua I saw a life size model of a dude who looked like he´d stepped off the pages of Carlos Castenada: indigenous, but decked out in black two-piece topped off with necktie and stovepipe hat. That was a model (not that you or I would know the differ­ence) but it isn´t always so. The wonderfully written Rough Guide to Guatemala has several dry takes on this and other matters but here it surpasses itself:

Every year on November 1 … San Simon is moved to a new house. His effigy sits in a darkened room, dressed in Western clothes, and guarded by several attendants, including one whose job it is to remove the ash from his lighted cigarettes – this is later sold off and used to cure insomnia, while the butts are thought to provide protection from thieves. San Simon is visited by a steady stream of villagers who come to ask his assistance, using candles to indicate their requests: white for the health of a child, yellow for a good harvest, red for love and black to wish ill on an enemy. The petitioners touch and embrace the saint, and just to make sure that he has heard their pleas they also offer cigarettes, money and rum. The latter is administered with the help of one of the attendants, who tips back San Simon´s head and pours the liquid down his throat, presumably saving a little for himself.

Be warned though:

While the entire process may seem chaotic and entertaining, it is in fact deeply serious and outsiders have been beaten up for making fun of San Simon.

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