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Published: August 7th 2007
We took the night bus from Flores at 22pm, the air conditioning system above our heads drenched us. We climbed up and up in altitude where the air became poorer but the views got richer, the Quiche Maya people were traditionally dressed in colourful homemade textiles. The tiered farmlands rich with coffee plantations, onions, carrots, beetroot, radish and potatoes spread out like a massive patchwork quilt. Many come to Xela to study language mainly Spanish, there is a huge student population; the main Centro square has some great English style pubs. Unfortunately with the climate high above sea levels, my ankles and feet swelled to oedema proportions. Migraines commenced throughout my time here which is a common complaint to visitors.
This is a live volcano district; fluffy clouds of volcanic steam hide their peaks. We experienced a small earthquake, which could have been some other pissed off traveller laughing out loud as they had just heard the price of the tourist bus from the border! The whole room shook for a few seconds, it then rained hail stones as big as chickpeas for 30 minutes, where to hide? Couldn’t stay inside in case of falling debris, couldn’t go outside in
Maybe 10,000ft up.
case I got sliced to pieces by sharp ice. The last recorded earth quake was in mid June it hit 6.8 Richter scale and rocked this part of the world for 49 seconds.
We walked up the cobbled streets passing custom dressed Quiché ladies standing small and shoeless in 5ft tall doorways; to the untrained ear their language sounded more Vulcan than anything else. An impressive white Catholic Church is very prominent in the main square, but this is too normal for me so we heading straight for the well-documented weird cult doll called San Simon. Some people say he was once a living person who was a witch doctor and helped in good ways and bad but is now considered a saintly figure within this area, some say he never existed at all. He is moved once a year and housed in various Zunil homes, to host this privilege the residence put their names down on the list during teenage years, I was told that the family that house him now certainly make a good living from tourists as they can charge up to 20Q for every photo, unlike the Chamula (Mexico) were cargo elders see
it as a curse holding such events for one whole year as it completely drains their bank balances deep into the red, hence the title Cargo meaning heavy load.
We met the Zunil family who were mainly teenage kids and elderly grandparents. I saw San Simon for the first time, I contained my laughter. This really is a life-sized doll, from the Keith Harris family The floor around him is covered in lit candles. He sits upon a wood carved throne before a table with bunches of flowers, a round cocktail sized glass of water with a crystal ball disguised within, coloured tissue paper flags and coke posters, plants and offering bowls filled with candles, fags, cigars, salt, eggs, limes, kindling and booze, Christ, this is some strange religion! San Simon’s face is a mask and is painted similar to Liza Minnelli in Cabaret; carefully balanced in his mouth is a long cigarette holder and burning fag. Resting upon his nose are half glasses, a red bandana is wrapped around his head under a black fedora, he is dressed in a three piece pinstripe suit with co-ordinating silk purple tie, decorative jewellery hang from his neck with many beach
towels wrapped around his slim shoulders, fleece gloves cover his plastic hands and real leather cowboy boots are worn on his plastic feet.
There was a married couple sat on the floor by his leather boots, heads bowed low praying in a very manic fashion. The female was desperate for something or other as she placed his sacred gloved plastic hand upon her pitiful human head. She kissed his knee joints while picking off bits of dust and fluff from his suit, talking to him like a child to a father. Her husband did the same as they weaved in and out of each other like ribbon on a May pole. Later a family came in with a spirit man called a brujo, he took the fedora off Simon’s head while the couple knelt in front of him and the brujo shook the hat while walking three times around the effigy. They wrapped Simon up in a red blanket to protect his suit tipping the throne and Simon backward feeding him Quetzalteca sacred liquor; of course this drink ritual was systematically performed after he had finished smoking his fag. The sacred liquid falls through San Simon like some Tiny
Tears out into a hidden bowl beneath his throne then re packaged and re-sold in the shop opposite as sacred liquor for someone else to repeat.
The family suddenly became hysterical as the ceremony matured; at the height of this fever pitch hysteria the females became insane. As San Simon finishes one activity they perform another cycle of offering more booze & fags to keep him and the gods happy, they believe it to help ward off evil thoughts and heal the sick, quite the opposite to western thoughts and beliefs about this specific social combination and not bad going for a bit of plastic and the host families bank balance. On the opposite side of the courtyard up on the first floor, a controlled cleansing fire raged, beside it stood an old man who was acting as the spiritual cleanse conduit. He used only fresh limes, fire and prayer.
Although I did wait for the sacred tarot reader who was sat at the end of San Simon’s room busy with clients, he looked like Charles Bronson and wore a fedora, with a black towel wrapped around his shoulders. He had his own cocktail glass filled with water
with a crystal sitting in it placed next to him on the table. I must say the confirmations about past events and present messages of guidance he gave me via the worn out pack of tarot and our English-speaking tour guide were interesting. In fact one serious warning he gave me about 'a woman close of blood' was so spooky and scary it made me hold my head in my hands and shake it in disbelief for 30 whole seconds, he told me in three years time a man in uniform was coming to claim me, I swear I have not done anything that warrants an arrest.
LONESOME VOLCANIC HIKE IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
This was a personal challenge as I hate hiking up steep hills and the darkness. The volcano that stands an impressive 12,372 feet above sea level first erupted some 30,000 years ago and it last erupted in 2006. We started our hike at midnight along with four other very fit twenty-year-old American med students, a tour guide and his dog. I was struggling within the first 100 yards, very ready to just turn back and go home as the air was thin and freezing
cold, most the way up I hyperventilated just trying to catch my breath, this made me feel dizzy. It was becoming impossible to climb as my legs felt like lead weights, especially as they had ballooned up only two days before hand with the altitude. As we climbed up further the moonlight guided our next steps. The others raced on ahead without a word, leaving Stu and myself behind, which could have been dangerous and scary in unfamiliar terrain but it was in fact fine as it was only one main path to the top, this was a blessing because I suddenly felt very unfit, slow and useless.
The volcano was steep and the path was very dark, rocky, muddy and narrow, covered with trees and forest bush where it became more like a cave in places as it tunnelled into a claustrophobic space. I slipped and slid many times and there were defiantly much cursing and tears. Every time we thought the dense trees were clearing it got darker with more trees and darkness. It was totally silent everywhere apart from my heavy breathing. We found one opening where we could see the sun beginning to rise up,
it was around 5am and we had been climbing for five solid hours. We climbed a little more where I slipped 15 ft taken down by a mudslide. Finally while covered in cold wet mud I found a tiny ledge the size of a skateboard and rested. The sun rose breathing in the chilly air and sighed out the view ahead. Standing above the clouds was truly breath taking. We had no idea how much further up the summit was, as it was impossible to see through the trees but we decided to call it a day.
Heading back down, this time with no upper respiratory problems or cursing as the sun rose so did my body temperature and spirits, the birds woke up and said hello, it was fantastic to see where we had previously walked, fell and had life saving rest bites in the darkness, following the smell of fresh pine and camomile grass. We returned back to earth around 8am without our original tour guide. Completely exhausted and filthy, covered in thick mud we caught the chicken bus back into town, where the locals just stared. Even though every bone and muscle in my body ached,
it felt amazing to have achieved such a climb in the pitch-black darkness with the full moon as our guide.
Tot: 2.072s; Tpl: 0.057s; cc: 31; qc: 141; dbt: 0.0777s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.8mb