Saturday, April 18, 2009 5:56 PM
Guatemala Road Trip - Antigua to Quetzaltenango
On our last morning in beautiful Antigua, we fueled up with a delicious breakfast at Rainbow Cafe and headed out to our next destination, Quetzaltenango, in the Western Highlands. As I anticipated the trip would take at least 4 hours, I only built in two stops along the way: the market in Chimaltenango and a visit to San Simon in the village of San Andres Itzapa. Chimaltenango turned out to be a disappointment from a cultural perspective, but definitely the place to be if you need to "pimp your ride" in Guatemala with seemingly hundreds of stores selling auto parts and accessories.
San Simon, also known as Maximon or Ry Laj Man, is a fascinating figure very important in both the traditional Guatemalan Catholicism and pagan Maya religion. Often referred to the patron siaint of drunkards, prostitutes and gamblers, this colorful and mystifying character is revered in Guatemala and often sought after to grant wishes, heal the sick and bestow prosperity among his devotees. The plaques that decorate the walls of the "Casa of San Simon" in Itzapa all give testimony and thanks to his great powers.
Figures of San Simon, holders for burning copal and other "recuerdos" for visitors to take home.
The store where all the candles, herbs and cigars are sold.
Each different color represents a wish: green for work and prosperity, red for love, yellow for protection, black for revenge.
Outside the "Casa of San Simon" devotees burned offerings in the courtyard, leaving smoldering piles of ash. Along one wall of the compound, several men and even one woman, sat in the shade smoking the gigantic hand rolled cigars, allegedly a favorite treat of Maximon.
Rather than pews, this church-like home is furnished with a dozen metal tables on which his followers burn candles and leave lit cigarettes. Dressed in traditional Western garb, a dark suit and hat nd spoting a heavy black moustache, San Simon holds court surrounded by flowers and other offerings. At the altar, visitors leave money, cigarettes and alcohol as gifts to please Maximon and win his favor. While were were there we watched a purification ceremony where a woman flogged a man with a bundle of herbs and then sprayed alcohol on him from her mouth. He then tucked money into the pocket of the saint and sprinkled him with more of the potent booze.
After our fascinating visit with San Simon, we made tracks for Quetzaltenango in the Western Highlands. As we drove, the pine forests of San Andres Itzapa gave way to vast expanses of farmland, a perfect patchwork of small homesteads growing, cabbage, lettuce, melons, and beans. Along the way, we happened upon this lovely restaurant, appropriately named El Mirador, set high in the hills on the Pan-American Highway, overlooking between Santa Cruz Balanya and Tecpan. We ordered the "Parillada", two enormous platters overflowing with grilled chorizo, lomito, chicken, longaniza, potatoes and spring onions which came with a pile of home made tortillas, soup and a pitcher of naranjada. Fabulous!
Several hours later and just after nightfall, we arrrived in Quetzaltenango or Xela, as it is more commonly called. We easily found our hotel, Pension Bonfaz, located just off the Parque Central, threw our bags in the rooms and headed out for well deserved cocktails and dinner. Just across the plaza, the impressive Pasaje Enriquez invited us inside to investigate. We had drinks and pizza at the local hot spot for locals and the many students studying Spanish in the second largest city in the country. Salon Tecun, reported to be the oldest bar in Guatemala, has a great time worn atmosphere and really decent food. Just what we needed after a long day on the road.
Tomorrow, market day in Almolonga and the Fuentes Georginas.