Friday, November 4, 2016

Seven Days in Guatemala - Finding the Mayan god of smoking and drinking

Sun Oct 23 - Day 5

When we signed up with Elizabeth Bell for a walking tour through two villages of Lake Atitlan, we had no idea we would get to see the infamous Maximón, also called San Simón.  Maximum is a folk saint venerated in various forms by the Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala.  He is not your ordinary saint and he is not easy to find. No posted signs and no guidebook to lead you to his temporary home (he's a mobile saint) and he is moved to a different house each year.  He is a different kind of saint too as he mostly just sits around drinking rum and smoking! You will find him with a cigar in his mouth or an opening where alcohol can be poured. This veneration of Maximón is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Anyway, we thought we were just going to get a tour of a couple of the villages. At the last minute on Sunday morning, we got a call at our hotel advising us that if we could make it to the meeting location 30 minutes earlier than our previously scheduled time, we could add a 3rd village to the tour (no extra charge). "That's great" we thought.  So we hurried up, had a little breakfast and headed into Pana.

BTW - Have you ever wondered what happened to the Mayans? Well, they have not disappeared — and if you come to Lake Atitlan, you will see them everywhere! Each town has its own signature style of clothing. It's really quite interesting. 

Also I didn't take as many photos of the tour, considering it was all day and 3 villages. I think I was too fascinated with what I was seeing. I did get quite a bit of video though, which I edited down to a reasonable length to post.  Be sure to check it out at the end of this post. 

Happy to report that the water was much calmer for our trip on the lancha. No tripping out of the boat this time!  

It was truly a picture perfect day!

Departing Pana

First stop was San Juan La Laguna which was my favorite village. It was clean and the perfect small Atitlan town with colorful buildings, friendly people, and not overcrowded with tourists. The highlight was watching the women weave and buying a piece of art form a local artist.

Old photo of the family that operates the medicinal garden above

We bought some teas and ointments here

Beautiful churches in all of the villages

Our 2nd stop was San Pedro La Laguna.  

It is said to be the most economical location on the lake, therefore it is the home to many "backpackers" and a popular spot for long-term travelers. It has good accommodations, excellent food, and a big party/ nightlife scene.

A very nice place but was a bit noisy. 

We bought some Guatemalan coffee here

Our 3rd village was Santiago, which is the largest village on the lake. It is a bit isolated but has gorgeous views!!

Santiago is famous for its church (people make its saints handmade clothes!), its market, and the home of Maximon. 

Selfies taken by Maya children in the highlands of Guatemala

The legend of Maximon
One day while the village men were off working in the fields, Maximón slept with all of their wives. When they returned, they became so enraged they cut off his arms and legs (this is why most effigies of Maximón are short, often without arms). Following this, he somehow became a god, or perhaps prior to this he had been possessed by the god. Later, with the introduction of Christianity, Maximón's effigy was replaced by one of Judas Iscariot in Holy Week carnival rituals 
Where Maximón is venerated, he is represented by an effigy which resides in a different house each year, being moved in a procession during Holy Week. During the rest of the year, devotees visit Maximón in his chosen residence, where his shrine is usually attended by two people from the representing Cofradia who keep the shrine in order and pass offerings from visitors to the effigy. Worshipers offer cigarettes to gain his favor in exchange for good health, good crops, and marriage counseling, amongst other favors. The effigy invariably has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and in some places, it will have a hole in its mouth to allow the attendants to give it spirits to drink.
Maximón is generally dressed in 18th-century European style, although with many local variations. In Santiago Atitlán he is adorned with many colorful garlands, while in Zunil (where he is known as San Simón) he has a much more intimidating style, with his face obscured by dark sunglasses and a bandanna. Source

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