Saturday, April 25, 2009

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4/25/09 Day Trips: Zunil, Salcaja, Fuentas Georginas. Idol Worshipping, Old Churches, and Hot Springs

I'm pretty busy in spanish school these days but on my days off I still try to take in some sights. Last week this included the mountain town of Zunil which is famous for being the home of Maximon, who is a saint recognized by many indiginous people (not Catholic, more like Santeria). Basically this guy is dressed up in jeans, shades, cowboy boots, a hat, and a bandanna over his mouth. He is a patron saint of drunks and supposedly looks out for them. Also, if you need to put a curse on someone or want something for yourself in some kind of shady way, Maximon is your guy. So I get to this town and eventually find my way into a little alley with a little beat up sign that says "Tienda de Maximon." I go inside and it is dark as hell, with lit candles covering the floor. Maximon is sitting in a chair in the back of the room. It is definitely creepy with a witchcraft vibe happening in a major way. There are two guys in there who are pretty weird, and obviously way into this whole thing. Part of the ritual involves tilting his chair back and removing the bandanna from his mouth, exposing a nasty hole where a mouth should be and pouring cups of rum into it. The rum just falls into a bucket underneath him. Lighting cigars and cigarrettes and placing them in his mouth is also part of the deal. I don't do any of this, but I do have to give Maximon 10 Quetzals (about $1.25) to stay and hang out. Among the candles lighting the floor are other offerings like lit cigarettes and pairs of cowboy boots. As I mentioned before, the two guys in there with me were pretty cool, but would all of a sudden start closing thier eyes and worshipping this idol. Weird shit, I was happy to get out of there and I hope I don't go to hell for giving him money! I get on the bike and ride back home to Xela, about 7 miles away through some serious mountain fog. The next day, I ride north about a half hour to the town of Salcaja. It's well known for having the oldest church in Central America (Iglesia de San Jacinto, founded 1524) and for it's local, semi-legal homebrews called cado de fruta and rompopa. The church was nice but I only saw the outside as it was closed (on a Sunday?) and I wasn't able to find any cado de fruta (sweet fruit liquor) or rompopa (basically alcoholic eggnog). To be honest I was a little bored, there was dust everywhere and the town is pretty run down and filled with trash. I noticed this in Zunil as well, especially in the river. Guatemala has a serious garbage problem, and although it is recognized, not much is done about it. However the town had an interesting market which sold almost everything you could think of. I think I'll return and look harder for that booze and maybe check out some of the local weavers which the town is also well-known for. A couple of days later, I decided I wanted to go to Fuentas Georginas which is a set of natural hot springs located way up a mountain nearby. I took my friend Tim, a traveller from England who wanted to go because his roommate and her friend were going to be there. After an awesome ride through yet more steep mountain passes with 2-300 foot drops we arrived. You can smell the sulfur from the springs as you approach them, and when we arrived there was a good amount of people there, both locals and gringos. Between the really, really hot naturally heated mineral water and the company of friendly acquaintances (especially the ones in bikinis :-) I was really enjoying myself. I haven't been in hot water in several weeks and I have a new found appreciation for the stuff. Riding back through the mountains and being so high up that you could look down on the fog was a first for me, and also awesome.