These last three days have been a blur. (to be fair, this whole trip has been a blur. I can’t believe it’s almost over!) Antigua is beautiful – old colonial buildings on a grid of cobblestone streets – surrounded by a mess of imposing volcanoes. Eleanor said there are some 300 NGOs based in Antigua alone. Some are legit but I get the impression that this place is Mecca for people who want to play humanitarian but still want a cushy lifestyle. It makes for great facebook photos.
MAXIMON (pronounced ‘ma-shee-mon’) – On Friday morning I woke up to find the results of the last poll sending me 9 hours north that night to the Mayan ruins of Tikal – and that day to the shrine of Maximon/San Simon 45 minutes outside Antigua. I had high hopes for this place – in my head I’d be getting basically every voodoo scene I’d ever seen mashed together in a super ceremony of smoke and rum and chanting and chicken feathers. Maximon is a folk saint of the western Guatemala highlands. From what I understand, he’s a Mayan/Catholic mashup with a moustache and a gun and a bag of money. An evil saint of revenge who will grant you favors at the expense of others. How could there not be smoke and chicken feathers?
What we found was a pretty simple building at the back end of a compound. At the gate we met a gypsy lady who offered to perform a soul cleansing ceremony for me. We went inside to find tables of offerings – beer, cigars, tons of brightly colored candles, fruit, all kinds of stuff. The walls were covered in plaques – I thought they were to honor the dead but they turned out to be thank you letters to Maximon – for the car or the motorcycle or the new home.
My soul cleansing couldn’t have been more lethargic. I guess that’s what you get for $3. The woman poured rum on a bunch of flowers and leaves and smacked me with it – then we went up to the altar and threw rum at the seated statue of Maximon. No spitting, no smoke, no chicken feathers. I have so much soul to cleanse – how can this be it? I was let down. Eleanor and I poked around a little then after going to the gift shop outside the compound, we went back in to get a few more photos. That’s when I caught the real show. A couple was at the altar vigorously spitting rum and rubbing Max’s blanket with cards and spitting on the cards and beating themselves with leaves and throwing rum and getting on their knees… It was an intense 20 minutes. After them, two ladies climbed the stairs for a similar ceremony. Rum and cigs and whipping. It got intense. This was the soul cleansing I was looking for… I discreetly filmed a bit from the side and then left a donation in the hopes Maximon won’t come after me.