I discovered anew the beauty of second hand books this morning with my teacher; Spanish grammar books are terribly difficult to come by in Guatemala. Several stores sell them new at extortionate prices ready to pounce on the many students of the some-50-odd Spanish schools here in Xela. However, many treasures were found and purchased at Vresna, one of the few gently used book stores here in the city. Gosh how I enjoy the world of 2nd hand goods .
Today’s activity was far more popular than my weekend adventure to HueHue. We all piled into a local minivan (otherwise an overladen taxi piling in people, lap upon lap) first before transferring to a chicken bus and then finally a pickup truck, destination Zunil. Zunil is a town near Xela, 30 minutes by bus. In the central plaza is a Catholic church, the front resplendently painted in sunflower gold and adorned with a magnificent Baroque façade, while the rest is pure snow white. At the other end of the village (a steep climb huffing and puffing to get there) lies both a Mayan church and the residence of the Mayan saint, San Simón (also known as Maximón — his housing is discreetly changed every year in the month of November after the annual fiesta; daily ceremonies are performed in the house that he inhabits). How to explain San Simon? First off, the Catholic church frowns upon the ‘evil saint’ and the cult-like worship to his effigy. Although it may seem rather strange and quite humorous to a non-believer, the chaotic and entertaining ceremonies are actually quite serious. When I say entertaining, you have to really see ‘him’ in person to believe it. A mannequin is dressed in Western clothes and is fed a steady stream of both cigarettes and alcohol. He has a ‘receptacle’ for a stomach and the alcohol is emptied whenever full (usually every few days). Also, an attendant is employed to guard San Simon, to feed the Saint the alcohol as well as to remove the ashes from his burning cigarette. However, he was nowhere in sight on our visit. Those who visit often are there to ask for assistance of some sort, specific to the colour of candle that they burn … Red for love, white for health, yellow for a good harvest, purple for the safe passage of travellers (usually those trying to cross the US border from Mexico) and black to wish ill on an enemy. On November 1st, the alcohol which has been collected throughout the year is shared amongst the community at a grand fiesta. Fascinating indeed, other peoples religions and beliefs.