Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Crossing the Usumacinta – Travels in Mexico and Guatemala

The villages are nevertheless charming, with people still wearing their traditional attire, vivaciously coloured. They travel continuously on these buses from the Fifties that scurry, dragging children and babies along, loaded with fruit or chickens or beautifully handcrafted fabrics for selling at the small open markets. At the bus stops, or at road crosses, the driver assistant leans out of the door and shouts the name of the final destination, although this is correctly indicated on the bus itself. Probably they do so to help the major part of the population who cannot read or write.

Guatemala is a living contradiction, a turbulent Country, politically and geologically – it’s full of volcanoes, some of them still active. The Indios are shy, and reserved, but if you smile to them they respond with a toothless or metallic smile, according to the level of desperation. They speak their Maya languages, and a pidgin Spanish, in some cases worse than mine. They are very religious, happily and freely mixing Catholicism with ancient Maya rites. In some cases they took over the catholic churches and use them according to their traditions, without benches, with little coloured candles lightened up on the stone floor. The worship Saints, everybody their own, according to the cofradia (fellowship) they belong to.

In Santiago Atitlan, we visit the house of Maximon, a wooden idol that develops from the figure of Judas Iscariots. The gringos must pay to be admitted to his presence. The room is filled with people, between the cofrades and the believers. Outside they spread incense and play marimba. A cofrade takes me under his protection and explains that Maximon is able to fulfil your wishes, to protect the harvest and the health. At the two sides of Maximon there are other statues: Christ laid down from the cross, Saint John the Baptist, and the Virgen Comadrona (midwife) whom the cofrade exhorts me to pray, seeing that at the venerable age of 31, and provided of boyfriend I am still childless – I tried to explain that this is a choice etc. but surely it goes behind his imagination – here 20 year old women normally have two or three kids already.

In Zunil, just off Xela (real name Quetzaltenango), we visit another Maximon. This is even more interesting, as he facilitates malice too! Should you have a vendetta to accomplish, you must buy black candles, and offer Maximon cigarettes and aguardiente. Otherwise you can lighten red candles for love, green for the harvest, yellow for good health, and so on (I take no responsibility for the wishes rainbow: I would recommend that you ascertain that yourselves before you put your hopes in the wrong colour….).Maximon is attired a la gangster from the Seventies, with big dark spectacles, hat, scarf and boots. At his feet, 14 little representations of Maximon, every one with a lit cigarette in his mouth. The space in front of the statue is covered with the believers offerings: fresh flowers, brandy, many coloured candles and now two black ones in a corner too – those bastards from the bus robbery will surely pay!!!!

Note:The above diary was written in 2001

Francesca Cellauro continues her travel diary in Next Month’s ThreeMonkeysOnline – moving through Chiapas, the pacific coast of Mexico, and onwards to the largest city in the world – Mexico City.